2024 MVRO President’s Conference Part 2: Leadership, Encouragement and Leveraging AI

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Rod Black (left) interviews Hyundai Canada President & CEO Don Romano during the 2024 MVRO President’s Members/Vendors Conference. Photo Huw Evans

There was no question that the 2024 MVRO President’s Members/Vendors Conference in Akumal, Mexico, was another one for the history books.

The setting, at Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya delivered some spectacular scenery and service, and proved to be an optimal venue for some great keynote sessions and networking opportunities.

In part one of our coverage, we talked about some of the issues impacting dealers and OEMs at the federal level via the latest updates and legislative news from Canadian Automobile Dealers Association. We also covered the tremendously insightful and personal keynote address from Don Romano, President & CEO of Hyundai Auto Canada.

Fireside chat

Following Romano’s address, he was joined on stage by sports presenter and announcer Rod Black, who joined him for an engaging fireside chat.

During this portion of the event, Black asked Romano a series of questions, including more about his time in Saudi Arabia, leadership advice, making mistakes and learning from them, how to deal with crisis situations such as the Arab Spring and later the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what the future may bring for the automotive industry.

In reflecting on his time in Saudi, Romano said that it represented a very unique experience, one where rapid development has and continues to collide with traditional ways of life. While Emirates such as Dubai in many ways represent the cutting edge of development and progress in the Gulf Region “that was the fourth mistake I made,” joked Romano, long standing traditions remain hugely important, particularly in more conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia. Referring to the Saudi Women’s Driving school and the protests that resulted at the time, Romano noted that while it was controversial, it did pave the way for changes in Saudi society, though he cautioned that in this kind of environment, small and steady steps are often the key to long-term success.

On leadership, Romano said one of the key things he learned was to listen and observe, and not try to jump into things too quickly. “When I was in Saudi, I made the mistake of not listening to my mentor and the mistakes I made would have been avoided, had I done exactly what he said.” Romano noted that the same situation often applies at dealerships here in North America, especially when it comes to young hires. “We can be too quick to move them into the business,” he said, which can lead to overwhelm, poor performance and for these people to quit before they’ve been given a chance to realize their true potential. “This is a great business and sometimes we don’t have the time or metrics to understand just how great it is.”

Expect the unexpected

Romano also stressed the need to “expect the unexpected,” with a key example being the onset of COVID. The need to pivot and make decisions that may not be popular is part and parcel of such situations he said. During the pandemic. there was a real need to ensure dealers stayed open, since they were declared an essential service and because the virus situation was so unknown and constantly changing, it was inevitable that mistakes were made. The main thing he said was to ensure business kept going, that the stores were open, and that people had the ability to purchase and service vehicles.

In looking to the future and discussing current government mandates, Romano said that ultimately, the future will be decided by the market, not regulators and timelines to adopting new technologies and transportation solutions cannot be mandated. He noted that while we are on the right path, alternative fuel sources will take time to come to market and dealers will adapt to that and new competition (such as Chinese automakers like MG) as they always have.

A heartfelt session came from Elizabeth Manley, Olympic championship figure skater, who not only shared some highlights of her career but also talked about her own battles with mental health and how today, she is helping others with this very real issue. In a very special presentation, Manley was interviewed by Ken Reid, Co-Anchor of the weeknight primetime edition of SportsNet Central who live streamed to our audience direct from Toronto.

Reid shared his own struggles with mental illness, and this keynote address was one of the most moving this author recalls at any conference or event.

Elizabeth Manley’s story is one of triumph over adversity, and her stellar win of the silver medal at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary captured the hearts of Canadians and remains one of the most pivotal moments in the country’s sports history.

A very special presentation saw Ken Reid live streaming from Toronto, interviewing Olympic figure skater Elizabeth Manley. Photo Huw Evans

Spectacular performance

The sheer emotion and spectacular performance Manley displayed during her Olympic winning skating session was the culmination of a desire to never give up. Manley recalled being at the 1988 games and feeling very sick. Wondering whether she could finish the tournament, an encounter with hockey coach Dave King during a practice session changed her life forever.  While Elizabeth was skating, King brought in his hockey team to the arena, and they sat down and watched. When she later asked King why, he said, because in their practice for their next game against Russia ‘I wasn’t getting through to them. So, I asked them to shower, get changed, and come and watch a champion.’ Those words of encouragement helped propel Manley into the history books. “Twelve hours later I had the greatest moment of my life,” Manley said, noting that it was King’s comments that encouraged her to go for it and win the silver medal.

Elizabeth Manley’s keynote session was truly inspiring. Photo Huw Evans

Manley said that while it was a crowning moment in her life, her struggles with mental health and depression and her courage to talk openly about in the 1980s—a period in time when it wasn’t discussed, led to frequent ridicule and criticism. Today however, things are different. “We’ve leaped forward a huge amount since the 1980s,” stated Manley, in regard to mental health awareness, “but, we still have a long way to go.”

Manley said she remembered talking with her father about depression and he asked why she would want to share it with the world, to which Elizabeth replied, “if I can help one person with this, then that is all that matters.”

She wrote a book in which 100% of the proceeds from each copy sold went to the Canadian Mental Health Association and today she is actively involved in helping others deal with depression and mental health issues, which have increased significantly, not helped by government lockdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She noted that while it was fantastic to win the silver medal, and that achievement was not only for Elizabeth, but every one that has ever suffered from bullying, depression and mental illness, the big win is getting that gold medal in life. “If you have the passion and the desire to be successful, you will have that gold medal, and you should never let anyone hold you back,” she stated.

Leveraging AI

The final keynote of the 2024 MVRO President’s conference came from John Datseris, co-founder of GNR8R, an organization that provides strategies and solutions for connected consumers. Datseris discussed the Emergence of Artificial Intelligence and how it’s impacting our society and businesses and how to leverage its true potential.

While there is a general perception that AI is this new-fangled mystery technology that will result in the mass elimination of jobs, Datseris explained that in reality, that is simply not the case. He noted that Machine Learning (which is what today’s AI really is), has been around for decades and traces its origins all the way back to before World War I. In a nutshell, he said AI is “math science that uses computers to process information.”

And just how much information? Try zettabytes, which represent millions upon millions of gigabytes and the sheer volume just keeps on growing. With 5.2 billion people now using the Internet on a daily basis there is an exponential need to process this vast amount of data, which has led to new tools and solutions designed to save time and augment efficiency in the workplace. A good example is ChatGPT, which doesn’t solve problems, but provides an opportunity to help users refine and steer conversations towards a specific format, style and length in the language of their choice.

In the automotive space, Datseris shared with the audience some examples of how AI is being employed, such as through educational type videos that touch upon vehicle maintenance. While these are often clunky and not entirely relevant, they do demonstrate how collaboration between developers and industry insiders could lead to some very effective marketing and retention solutions in fixed operations, which if properly implemented could make a significant difference in service revenue and customer retention for dealers.

John Datseris, from GNR8R, cut through the hype surrounding AI and how it can really be of benefit for businesses such as automotive retailers. Photo Huw Evans

Using relevant data

Datseris said that while it can often seem overwhelming, given the amount of data and information that is coming at us, the trick is not try and listen to and absorb it all. Instead, dealers need to focus on their business and what matters to their organization and then leverage the data that’s specifically relevant to that.

He noted that looking back through history and since AI was first conceptualized there have been peaks and valleys, where the technology comes to the forefront and then retreats back into the shadows. He talked about ELIZA, one of the very first chatbots, created back in 1966 by Joseph Weizenbaum at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The goal was to create a ‘natural language’ conversation with a computer, though how ELIZA performed was determined by its operating script. Weizenbaum was later quoted as saying that the only people who deemed ELIZA to be a “sensation,” were those that did not understand what it actually was.

Today, the revolution is not AI itself, but the ability to commercialize it and use it to enhance operations or services. Which is why, said Datseris, that this “commercialization,” represents a huge opportunity for businesses like auto retail centres. “The ones that know their business and know the source of that business, are those that will succeed,” declared Datseris. “Nobody can replace a dealership, nor customer service, but they can certainly [through tools like AI] enhance it.”

Alongside the keynote sessions, sponsored by CADA 360 and networking events sponsored by other MVRO partners including Kijiji Autos and TireLink, attendees had a chance to embark on a catamaran cruise in the Gulf of Mexico (sponsored by TD Auto Finance) as well as attend a1960s/Hippie themed farewell dinner (sponsored by Sym-Tech Dealer Services). The latter featured live music and streaming of the May 2 Toronto/Boston Stanley Cup playoffs game. It was a fitting end to an amazing conference, one that will no doubt be remembered by those who attended, for years to come.

Farewell 1960s/Hippie Themed Dinner witnessed some spectacular costumes and was a great way to end this year’s conference. Photo Huw Evans


Categories : Dealerships, Editorial
Tags : Event, MVRO


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