New AIA chair emphasizes the need for diverse thinking, transparency and adaptability.
Shannon Spano, Vice President, Sales, Wakefield Canada, was recently named AIA Canada Chair. Her appointment represents not only a tremendous achievement for Spano herself and an inspiration for others, but also an opportunity to highlight some of key issues impacting the auto care sector today. In an exclusive interview, Autosphere sat down with Spano, asking her about her career, what assuming the role of AIA Canada Chair means, and how the role of the association continues to evolve amid the ever-changing world of the auto care sector and wider economy.
Autosphere: Shannon, thank you for taking the time to join us today. Starting off, can you tell us a little about your background and how you got involved with the automotive aftermarket industry?
Shannon Spano: I actually began my career in telecommunications, but as I progressed, the company was acquired by a bigger corporation, and I found the culture changing—to the point I felt I was no longer in the right space for growth. I started looking for new opportunities and I applied for a position at Wakefield Canada. Through the interview process and during my early days I really felt at home, being a part of an amazing Canadian success story and the entrepreneurial aspect of the company really rubbed off on me. Even though I didn’t have a lot of experience in the automotive sector, prior to joining, I’ve since come to love this industry and the people in it. Being part of AIA Canada has further reinforced that automotive is where I truly belong.
AS: What have been some of the key highlights of your career so far?
SS: When it comes to your career, I firmly believe you must both broaden and deepen your path, in other words, grow vertically and horizontally. I was very fortunate to join Wakefield Canada as a Category Manager in 2006. I then moved on to different management responsibilities in the national account space. I was later promoted to Retail Channel Manager, which gave insight into leadership, as well as support and guidance for a channel of business within the aftermarket. I was then promoted to Vice President of Sales for consumer sales— the automotive new car dealer and retail side in 2018. Then, in 2020, I took over the industrial commercial division of Wakefield as well. Currently, I oversee the field sales team, our national accounts team and our customer experience team. We have an incredible reach across Canada with the Castrol brand. And I’m very grateful to be part of this success story.
AS: Congratulations on becoming AIA Canada Chair. Tell us what the significance of this appointment means to you?
SS: I really see the appointment as having two sides for me. There’s the personal side, where I’ve been very inspired to both lead and volunteer with AIA Canada, which I see as a learning journey and opportunity to give back to the industry, as well as helping my own personal and professional development. There’s also the vocational side. As a female, I’m very honoured to be only the second woman in the association’s 86 years to be named AIA Canada Chair, and follow in the footsteps of Susan Hitchin, who was the first female Chair and a big inspiration for me. Susan took the reins during the COVID-19 pandemic and provided so much guidance and connection during a period of tremendous uncertainty. Now, as the world has opened-up again, I look forward to connecting with people personally, having conversations and understanding member value. I truly believe, as an association we need to provide support, as well as a platform for ideas and concepts that benefit the industry, whether it’s equal opportunity, or supporting those businesses that represent the vital auto care sector across the country.
AS: In assuming the AIA Canada Chair role, what are some of the key things you’re looking to accomplish going forward?
SS: I think a key one is to highlight and demonstrate the opportunities available in this industry. Being female in what is traditionally seen as a male-dominated sector, provides a tremendous opportunity to showcase what’s available in terms of career development in this industry. There are amazing opportunities available to both men and women. Many of us within the auto care sector are truly passionate about the work we do and, in reality, ours is a very diverse industry. Celebrating that and providing opportunities for people to connect is and will continue to be hugely important as we go forward. And this applies whether we meet virtually or in-person. Besides creating a fair and just workplace, right to repair legislation is also hugely important and the lobbying efforts put forth by AIA Canada will help ensure we have a level playing field when it comes to servicing vehicles and proving consumers freedom of choice. The impact of this cannot be understated and it’s a real opportunity for all of us to participate in something greater than ourselves.
AS: In being a part of AIA Canada and recognized as a Young Leader of the Year, as well as an active member of the board, can you tell us about how the association has been able to shape your journey in the automotive aftermarket?
SS: When I think about my personal career, and my development with AIA Canada, I’ve felt that both have moved forward concurrently. As I was learning and growing in my career, trying to broaden my own perspective, as well as understand a bigger, more complex marketplace and a network of organizations I wasn’t familiar with, AIA Canada’s Young Professionals in the Aftermarket (YPA) program proved instrumental. It really provided an opportunity to learn about so many unique perspectives and people with diverse backgrounds, working in different parts of the industry. I felt like a sponge, soaking it all up as part of my own, personal learning journey. Being part of YPA really gave insight into just how complex the industry is and how, by leveraging my time, I was able to gain access to a greater network of individuals and groups as well as allowing me to develop leadership skills. In 2020, I joined the board at AIA Canada and that was another great opportunity—learning about how the board operates, its role within the association and the interests of the industry it represents. Being part of AIA Canada has been a huge benefit for me, not only in terms of career growth and leadership but also in the ability to connect with customers in the industry and improve the services we provide.
AS: As our industry moves forward, what do you think there are some of the key things we need to consider when it comes to ensuring success?
SS: We need to ensure the future of Canada’s $37.8 million auto care sector, and a key part of that is ensuring we not only attract a talented and diverse workforce, but that we continue to offer high quality vehicle repairs and maintenance locally, and at a competitive price. And that means we do everything we can to ensure the independent auto care sector continues to thrive. Whether that’s through AIA Canada and the work we do in supporting and representing the interests of the industry, or whether its tackling issues such as skills shortages and ensuring our industry is trained and equipped for the vehicles and technology, all of it is essential. There’s also the question around research and insights. Traditionally, organizations have tended to rely on historical data to support future strategy. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic showed us that traditional models don’t always work and as an industry, having lived through some very unpredictable times, broader insights and leading indicators will be needed as we continue to navigate a dynamic and evolving marketplace. I think that’s where associations like AIA Canada can play a pivotal role, providing an incredible bridge to our industry in terms of research and data to help it and the businesses within it succeed in an ever-changing environment.
AS: Where do you think an association like AIA Canada can really help both its members and the auto care industry when it comes to supporting and representing their interests, particularly given the current economic and political climate?
SS: I think that value to members shows up in different ways. Whether it’s an organization supporting customers or an association like AIA Canada supporting its members, you’re always trying to understand what value is, how it translates and understanding the pain points and needs of the members at large. By listening to those concerns and trying to articulate value both broadly and specifically, that is where you’re going to be successful. You also need to be able to adapt to evolving needs. At AIA Canada, transparency of information is key, and a good example is in the lobbying work of the association and how that translates via media strategies and connectivity with our members and the industry. Multiple connection points, whether it’s through social media, events and trade publications/platforms, are essential today, along with advocacy efforts, support groups, access to research and training programs. By offering these services, it enables us as an association to stay focused, relevant, and adaptable to changing conditions.
At AIA Canada, transparency of information is key, and a good example is in the lobbying work of the association and how that translates via media strategies and connectivity with our members and the industry.
AS: What advice would you give to aspiring young leaders in the automotive aftermarket industry today, based on your own experiences?
SS: I think it’s important to understand, that as you grow and evolve through both personal and professional development, you don’t have it all figured out. When you realize that, I think it gives you a much better opportunity to be open to new perspectives and engage a true growth mindset. Allow learning to come to you and take constructive criticism, because if you do, it will result in you becoming that pinnacle leader you’ve always wanted to be. I find the most successful leaders are those that are the most inspiring, and that people simply want to follow. It’s not about status, or achievement, but creating an environment of trust, encouragement and confidence that engages those around them. If you can build those leadership strengths and attributes with a belief and a purpose of serving others, as well as embracing truly diverse thinking and new ideas, you’re far more likely to succeed and prosper, along with those that you lead.