CarCare Business wanted to focus your attention on Susan Hitchon—the first woman Chair of AIA Canada and a person who has diligently worked her way up in the automotive aftermarket industry here in Canada. She is an exceptional advocate for our chosen industry and an inspiration to young people who would like to join us.
CCB. Let’s start with how you got into the aftermarket and why.
SH. It was by chance really! I was working as an independent computer training consultant in 1994 and had some spare time during the summer months, so I signed up with a temp agency to do general admin office work.
I took a two-week placement at Gates Canada in Brantford and I guess you could say things worked out! I spent six years working in the Industrial Powertrain Division and then moved to a Product Manager’s role in Gates Automotive Aftermarket Division and spent another six years there.
Take us through the years and how you became the director of Canadian aftermarket sales for Schrader International, Head of Global Business Development, Automotive Aftermarket.
During my time at Gates Canada, the company transitioned through a few mergers/acquisitions and we became the Canadian master distributor for a number of major aftermarket brands under the Tomkins PLC umbrella including Trico, Tridon, Stant, Plews, Edelmann and Schrader.
As Product Manager, I was involved in introducing new parts into our system and during that process, I met and developed a rapport with the various new manufacturers introduced into our group. I was intrigued by the emerging TPMS market trend (Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems) in North America and made the decision to take a sales position with Tomkins PLC for Canada.
As National Sales Manager I was responsible for multiple markets including Hardware/Retail, Industrial and Automotive with all products other than Gates belts and hose.
As individual companies/brands were sold, and the market for TPMS in Canada was growing rapidly, I accepted a full-time position with Schrader International as National Sales Manager.
After a few years as the ‘lone wolf’ in Canada, the territory grew tremendously so I hired two regional sales managers and a technical support resource to assist with sales and customer support and I was named Director of Sales for Canada.
Later, Schrader International was acquired by Sensata Technologies which provided our automotive aftermarket group with additional resources to pursue global markets with TPMS and other ST sensors as well.
After a reorganization, I was promoted to Head of Global Business Development, Automotive Aftermarket for TPMS as well as a large selection of Sensata sensors.
After Schrader, where did your career path take you and what were some of the reasons you chose to go in this direction?
My time with Schrader was very rewarding: the TPMS product category was growing at an incredible pace, I was enjoying traveling across Canada working with my customers at all levels of distribution and I had an amazing team who worked hard and proved their value every day.
After spending some time traveling globally, I discovered that I was missing my close Canadian network and wanted to return to my roots.
I was fortunate to meet and talk with Bob Greenwood from AAEC about his vision for growing the company and after several meetings, in March 2020 we struck a deal for me to become a licensee of AAEC for the Ontario region. After years of managing a hectic travel schedule, I am happy to be servicing a smaller region now and focusing on helping ASP’s successfully grow their business.
What made you decide to join the AIA Board… and how did you arrive there?
I have been participating in AIA events for over 15 years, and in 2014, I was approached to assist with the Women’s Leadership Conference sponsored by AIA … what an electrifying event that was! It was truly the most rewarding and inspiring event I had experienced in my career. Shortly afterward, someone nominated me for the Board and I was honored to accept.
I’m pretty sure you’ve mentored people along your career path… if there were women involved, how and why did you advise them to go into the aftermarket?
I feel that the Women’s Leadership Conference was a pivotal point that made me feel like I really could influence someone’s decision to either enter into the automotive aftermarket or stay in it for their future career development. I have networked with many amazingly talented women over the years where together, we have created remarkable positive energy about opportunities for women in the aftermarket. This “energy” is what I try to promote to women who I meet and mentor.
In your view, what are some of the key things you need to develop in order to become an effective leader/mentor?
Mentoring to me is very personal. As a mentor, it means that someone is trusting you to guide them with sincere and honest counseling; the role of a mentor should not be taken lightly! I believe that people should have several mentors who represent diverse backgrounds, who have similar experiences to your own and should not be limited to the same gender.
What would you say to today’s young women/men about getting into the aftermarket and working at a job they could love?
I say this all the time … we spend more hours in a day with the people we work with than our own families. It’s sad but true! One of the best things about the aftermarket is the wide variety of jobs it offers in different professions; finance, sales, marketing, logistics, vehicle repair, customer service and so much more… the opportunities are endless.
I believe that young professionals entering the aftermarket are highly sought after and can have a long, successful career if they choose to.
What is your perspective on the aftermarket industry today?
“A rapidly changing environment” would be an understatement, to say the least. The technological advancements demanded in new vehicles is growing at a record pace and is changing the way ASPs provide services.
More than ever, they are required to make significant investments in hiring highly skilled technicians; they’re buying more sophisticated tools and equipment, and they’re offering a premium level of service to their clients to outperform the OE’s.
The needs of the ASPs flow upstream from there to their supplier partner requiring shorter delivery times so the ASP has higher shop efficiency. The need for more efficiency, lower operating costs and faster service are challenging all levels of the distribution chain and it needs a coordinated effort to adjust to these increasing demands.
And this is Susan Hitchon… aftermarket product manager, national sales manager, director of sales Canada, head of global business development, mentor, first woman Chair of AIA Canada and now teacher/trainer… a truly remarkable career for a truly remarkable woman in the automotive aftermarket!