The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
EMPHASIZING HUMANITY IN HUMAN RESOURCES
One of the challenges companies face is letting employees know there’s assistance for them when it’s needed. Sentes Automotive Human Resources Manager Danielle Hassell believes building a rapport helps keep everything running smoothly.
Based in Kelowna, B.C., Sentes has one dealership in nearby Vernon to the north, and two in Pentiction to the south. It has three dealerships in Kelowna.
“I joined the team in 2014, and that’s when the company wanted to ramp up their HR efforts. I’ve built a great relationship with the managers and a narrative with all employees, and they know they can call, email or text with any feedback or questions.”
Hassell, 28, was working toward a business degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver when she took a summer job as a receptionist at Sentes. She found the company’s HR work fascinating enough that she specialized in HR when she returned to school. Sentes hired Hassell as an HR administrative assistant when she graduated. As business grew, she moved up to her current position. Two people were hired to assist her.
“I’m the main person oneon-one [with employees]. I’m there on their first day and throughout the first months, making sure they’re in the right role, with the right support. If they’re not, I’m the one who helps them to get more training or into another position.”
She splits her time between the stores, dealing with as many as 300 employees.
“Being physically present, face-to-face, makes my job so effective. I have to see what’s the most efficient way to see as many people as possible.
“I never realized there was potential to build a career in the industry other than sales, but I happened on this job and I’m grateful. Now we have to figure out how to recruit smart young professionals ... and teach them about the opportunities.”
VIRTUAL CONTENT TO REACH REAL-LIFE FANS ONLINE
Advertising is increasingly important and automakers are hiring specialized individuals to fill new roles. That’s how Alex Coley became social media specialist for Subaru Canada.
“I’m the national lead on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. I do the dayto-day posting and managing the [online] community with [their] comments and questions.”
The 35-year-old earned an honours bachelor of arts in history and art and then went to Toronto’s Seneca College for creative advertising. She spent a year working at the Banff Advanced Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta before returning to Toronto and doing copywriting and social media on short-term contracts. She caught the eye of a recruiter who told her about a new social-media position at Subaru, and she joined in March 2019.
As the budget for social media grew, so did her original content. She coordinates with the company’s graphic designer and video specialist to make her own content and then works with vendors, including Subaru’s agency of record, which create the rest. Coley works with non-paid social media, while a digital marketing specialist handles paid social advertising and Google.
“We have really loyal fans who go out and do things with their cars. They take photos on their adventures and I’ll reach out and say we’d like to use it on our channels,” she said. “I’m helping on an influencer initiative and we have sponsorships and partnerships like Ronald McDonald House and Iron Man Canada, and those are content opportunities.”
Online moves quickly, and Coley has to approve campaigns and strategize their release timing. Before she reposts followers’ photos, she thoroughly checks their feeds for any inappropriate posts, and makes sure she follows Canada’s anti spam regulations.
“The social channels are still young and I’m the first person in this role. Our executive team created a job that focuses on what I do best.”
A LONG-TERM FOCUS ON USED-VEHICLE SALES
Automakers build new cars, but they also must pay attention to used vehicles. Remarketing is like the stock market: hard to predict, but also the lifeline of the automotive market’s economics, said Christopher Nabeta, national manager of fleet, CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) and remarketing for Volvo Cars Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont.
“I’m in charge of all rental and fleet business, as well as our CPO sales,” said Nabeta. “As we increase our lease portfolio, I put the strategies together to increase our penetration in the used-car market.” This includes working with regional and store managers on such factors as residual value and CPO programs, and making sure that new Volvo vehicles get into the rental markets.
Nabeta, 37, moved to Toronto from his native Ivory Coast in West Africa in 2003 to study business at York University. His fluency in French and English led to bilingual jobs, including customer relations at Hyundai Canada. He rose through the ranks to become regional manager of dealer development.
“In 2018 I left corporate and went to [auto] retail. I needed to understand dealers better and the best way was to do the job. I did retail for three years and then in September last year I came to Volvo as a national manager.
“Volvo is smaller and that’s a plus, because here I get to do everything and harmonize the flow of the work. I’m creating demand through brand equity building and I’m working on our electrification strategy. We need to have a vision for growth.”
Nabeta also is a founding member of Accelerate Auto, a non-profit that aims to develop Black representation within the auto industry, including automakers, dealers, and suppliers. It launched in February 2021 after a year of planning.
“It’s about sustainability, to have an auto industry that is representative of the customer base it serves.”