Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2004   by Bob Greenwood

Aftermarket Needs To Rethink Male-Dominated Industry

If the aftermarket is worried about who is going to take the reins when this generation retires, they had better start casting a wider net.

Recently I had the privilege of being asked to be a guest lecturer at Georgian College in Barrie Ontario. It allowed me to see and hear the future personnel coming into our industry. When I left, I was pumped!

The young men and women in the class were bright. They were focused. They had a great sense of humour. They had a high energy level. They were sponges for knowledge on the aftermarket industry and they were overwhelmed at the size of the aftermarket and the potential careers available to them in an industry that clearly doesn’t promote itself.

I had the opportunity to talk with many of the students one-on-one during our breaks, and I even had lunch with two of them, and the department head after my three-hour session.

The students told me they were never properly inform-ed in high school what was offered in this sector of the industry. They told me that high schools still treat this as a lesser trade and not as a promising, challenging profession worth serious investigation.

I was clearly impressed by many things at Georgian College, from the faculty at the Canadian Automotive Institute (CAI), who clearly understand the independent sector issues, to the 20% of the 60 students I addressed who were female.

It was the female students that really made an impact on me, with respect to the type of questions they asked and how keen they were to listen and observe.

They were clearly well-informed about our industry–not only out of the school curriculum but also perhaps from some family background within the industry–and were not at all afraid to address the issues in a very specific manner.

They wondered what the future of the independent shop sector was, considering the current level of business acumen and the tremendous amount of high technology within the modern automobile, the shortage of knowledgeable technicians and personnel in general, and the increas-ed capital costs to keep equipment and facilities up to date.

And, with vehicle manufacturers pushing their dealerships for better customer satisfaction and increased after-warranty service, they asked why the independent sector of the aftermarket does not focus on addressing the real problems of their sector of the industry. They said that the industry looks as if it has been on the same path for the past 10 years.

By reading the various industry journals and material from the Internet, the students could see that the path many in the industry have chosen does not lead to the required solutions.

These young women demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues and the challenges facing the industry. The young men in the room were just as impressive, with their questions, discussions with me on the side, and their understanding of the industry at this time in their education.

As I drove the four hours required to get home that day, I was clearly struck by the depth of understanding of today’s students. I was impressed with the women who have chosen to make a career within the aftermarket industry. I could only recall a few women who actually carry the position of president and CEO within this industry.

Two come immediately to mind: Kathleen Schmatz, who is now the president and CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association in the United States, and Connie Deckert, who is president and CEO of Motivair Canada Ltd., a muffler and components aftermarket company located in Elmira, Ontario. I have had the privilege of spending some time exchanging views with each of them. Both are very focused people. (Ms Deckert is a scratch golfer too, and is that ever humbling.)

I also know many women in jobber businesses and independent shop businesses who are very active behind the scenes of very successful operations. I am not convinced at all that many of the men who own these businesses would be nearly as successful as they are without these women playing an important role.

But I am convinced that our industry needs more women front and centre, giving more direction and input to the industry. The male leaders in our industry are not displaying some very key attributes required today to move our industry forward.

Women have many positive attributes in business–they tend to be better listeners and more ready to ask questions or seek clarification without the burden of ego–and can be very well suited to team building and running a more organized, more analytical, more logically-run business.

Imagine, if you will, placing an informed and competent woman at the position of president and CEO of a national warehouse distributor in Canada, or directing a national aftermarket brand name manufacturer, or owning and running many more jobber businesses and independent automotive repair shops across Canada. I am convinced that if this were to become the norm in our sector, our sector would rock.

I recall the days in the late seventies when I got to know Mrs. Edwin K. Williams (of E.K. Williams management training program) who was in her 60s when she grew an international business encompassing the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia.

Presidents and CEOs of oil companies, all men, trembled in their shoes when she walked into the room, not because of her demeanour, but because of her knowledge of the aftermarket industry, specifically the service station industry. She knew far more then they did and they knew it, but they were intimidated because of their own insecurities dealing with women in this industry. She was focused and had a very clear vision of what could be.

When she died, so did that determination, focus and vision. The company was taken over by some men who just didn’t “get it,” and the company has virtually disappeared from the world stage.

This brings me back to the students of Georgian College. I am very confident that many of the automotive colleges within Canada today have students that are bright, focused, determined and very capable of understanding the real issues and problems of the aftermarket industry. But only if they are given the chance.

Please, everyone, do not snuff out their enthusiasm due to your own personal insecurities. Do not turn away because they have not been in the industry 10 to 20 years. Please do not pass off their ideas and ideals as utopian, unrealistic or immature. It is important to support them, and listen to them, and most importantly allow the young women among them to get to positions where they can have effective and credible input into the future of our industry. I think we need them.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President and CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has 28 years of industry-specific business management experience. He has developed shop business management courses for independent service providers recognized as being the most comprehensive courses of their kind available in Canada. Bob is the first Canadian Business Management Consultant and Trainer to be recognized for his industry contributions when he received the prestigious Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in November 2003. E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry preparing analytical operating statements for management purposes, personal and corporate tax returns and business management consultation. Visit them at and sign up for their free monthly management e-newsletter. Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a leading edge company devoted to developing comprehensive shop management skills through the E-Learning environment. Visit AAEC at . Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 and by E-Mail: or