The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
GOOD CUSTOMER RATINGS DEPEND ON RATES
It’s not enough just to offer good vehicles; automakers must also provide customers ways to afford them. At Mississauga, Ont.-based Nissan Canada Finance, John Lee works on finance and lease rates and setting residual values.
“There’s a lot of coordination with different departments, including sales and marketing, and CRM (customer relationship management),” said Lee, national manager of marketing and pricing. “Certain departments have their own budgets, and we use them to come up with competitive rates and offers.
“One person doesn’t determine everything. We work together with each department to make sure they come up with the right proposal for the customer.”
Lee, 34, studied mathematics and statistics at the University of Toronto. After earning his degree in 2013, he interned as an analyst for consulting firms. That same year, he joined Nissan on contract as a remarketing analyst, examining vehicle prices at auction to help position the company’s offerings. Lee eventually became a full-time employee, working through various roles to his current position in 2019.
Part of his responsibility is being a liaison between Nissan’s finance and auto divisions. About 90 per cent of his time is spent in meetings and strategic planning.
“We are the department proposing the [financing] programs, and then the decision is made with the executive teams in different departments.”
The programs are then relayed to dealers.
“This is critical because if a program is great but communication isn’t resonating with the retailers, it’s not effective.”
Lee believes his greatest asset is his curiosity.
“I’m always asking ‘why,’ what’s the purpose, why are we doing this? It gives me deeper understanding. If you don’t find the answer, you can’t move on to the next question.”
BUILDING BUSINESS WITH ‘PEOPLE INITIATIVES’
Bigger isn’t always better. After working at large corporations, Tausha Brideau prefers someplace smaller. As human resources manager for Erin Park Automotive’s Toyota and Lexus stores in Mississauga, Ont., she has built relationships with every employee.
“My role is a balance between aligning HR practices with day-to-day operations and also supporting how we’ll grow the business through people initiatives,” she said. Brideau, 41, initially planned to focus her studies on finance and accounting.
“But I had the best professor and she inspired me to combine my passions for business and working with people, and I decided on HR.”
After studying at Durham College in Oshawa, Ont., and Alberta’s Athabasca University, Brideau became a certified human resources leader and a member of the Human Resources Professional Association (HRPA).
Brideau worked for companies specializing in telecommunications, packaged goods and entertainment, moving around “just to learn more about business and operations.”
She spotted an ad for HR at Erin Park Automotive and joined the company in 2012.
Brideau handles onboarding, employee relations, employer compliance and health and safety, ensuring that employees and customers comply with COVID-19 protocols. She also creates the strategy for the company’s “Building a Career” pages on its websites.
“I emphasize employer value and why it’s great to work at Erin Park,” Brideau said. “We’ve changed from just selling cars to being a people business, and we need to find the right people to be able to provide that service at the level we expect.”
There’s a stereotype that HR can make or break employees, Brideau said. She works with managers to overcome that.
“My role, and the managers’ role, is to coach people to success.
“Communication between a team member and a leader is key, and that includes me.”
LOCATING THE RIGHT PEOPLE FOR THE RIGHT JOB
In the hunt for talent, Jessi Kessel and her team at Auto Careers Group help pair prospective job candidates with employers.
“We work with automotive companies and our main core service is recruitment, selecting the right individual to hire,” said Kessel, 38, national director at the Toronto-area company.
“Our primary business is dealerships and some [automaker] hiring.”
Among her duties is training employees who recruit the people with the skills being sought by clients.
“I look at how we’re hiring and training our internal staff and overseeing the sales cycles and numbers,” she said. “I look at core operations and how to make it more efficient, and then our marketing and branding.”
While studying to become a paralegal, Kessel worked part-time as a dealership receptionist, but finally decided against law.
“Automotive is more fun and different, full of dynamic and interesting people.”
After completing her schooling, Kessel worked in several auto-related positions, including launching her own dealership-marketing company, before joining Auto Careers Group in 2019 as director of operations.
“I’m very entrepreneurial, and building a team... and determining strategic direction is what I know how to do.”
She was promoted to national director in January.
“On a typical day, I could be talking to account representatives about their sales, to our clients to update where we are on a search, or our marketing team about our social media.”
Declining vehicle sales during the pandemic led to layoffs in auto retail and Kessel now finds that dealers are maximizing existing staff, hiring only when absolutely necessary.
“The most valuable people must be adaptable and have varied skillsets to match the different needs of the business of today, not the business of 10 years ago.”