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Dealer’s Voice: Saluting a pioneer in auto retail

Bryan Rowntree, a true visionary and pioneer in automotive retailing in Canada.

Published July 13, 2012

Occasionally in this column, the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) pays tribute to a colleague whose leadership and influence have helped to shape our industry.

I’d like to honour Bryan Rowntree, a true visionary and pioneer in automotive retailing in Canada.

Bryan’s activity and success in sports car racing and rallying where he competed for Ford, General Motors, Jaguar, Triumph and British Motor Corporation, led to a career in automobile sales beginning in 1957. In 1963, he joined Golden Mile Motors where he became general manager and then a dealer principal.

During the mid- to late-1960s, Golden Mile Motors was one of Canada’s top-producing GM stores. Under Bryan’s leadership, the dealership sold 3,200 new and used vehicles per year. In 1968, Bryan earned the coveted Canadian National Quality Award from Time magazine for excellence in dealership operations.

He was among the early participants in performance group meetings, where dealers from different regions meet to share best practices. Bryan was also an original member of the Toronto General Motors Dealer Association.

In 1981-82, Bryan served as president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association and president of the TADA AutoShow. During his involvement with the TADA, Bryan was a key player involved in re-locating the Toronto AutoShow from Mississauga to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

In the 1980s, Bryan took a leading role in promoting education and training initiatives. He created Success Training and Management, a national school for dealership personnel. He was influential in the formation of the Automotive Business School of Canada at Georgian College in Barrie. He has served continuously on the board for 27 years and is a past chairman. He has been awarded a Georgian College Fellowship for his contribution and a lecture hall is named in his honour (Rowntree Theatre).

Bryan’s advocacy for the retail auto industry has extended into the political realm as well. In the 1990s, Canada’s big banks declared their intention to enter the auto leasing business, a move that would have severely impacted the viability of auto dealerships.

Bryan was awarded the TADA “Award of Merit” for leading the first opposition to banks in leasing. Over the years, Canadian auto associations have successfully lobbied the federal government to maintain the status quo.

During the 1980s and ’90s, Bryan owned 11 car dealerships in Montreal and Toronto, representing GM, Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, VW, Audi and Chrysler, employing 640 people.

Those 11 dealerships represented the start of an ownership trend in automotive retailing in Canada, where multiple dealerships and nameplates were owned and operated by a single entity.

Throughout his career, Bryan has maintained a strong interest in auto racing. In 1961, he participated in the British Columbia International Trade Fair Rally (representing Ford). While doing promotional work for Molson Brewery in the early ’60s, he suggested that Toronto should host an IndyCar Series race.

Twenty-five years later, in 1986, Toronto hosted its first IndyCar Series race at Exhibition Place, which is still a major summertime event for Toronto.

He was a board member of the Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit along with Caroll Shelby. He was one of the original members of the J.D. Power Automotive Roundtable, the founding chairman of Co-Auto Warehousing and a founder of Symtech Rustproofing.

Bryan’s philanthropic activities do not end with Georgian College. His gifts of two to four cars a year to the fundraising efforts of local hospitals such as Sunnybrook, Scarborough General, Providence Villa, Centenary and North York and the Brazilian Carnival Ball have gone on for years.

Today, Bryan is still active in automotive retailing. He is the president and CEO of Rowntree Enterprises Inc., which owns Toyota On The Park, Lexus On The Park and Scarborough Toyota Scion.

Lexus On the Park and Toyota On the Park are located on the site of the former In On the Park luxury hotel, and are part of a multi-phase project that will combine the two dealerships with other developments.

On behalf of the TADA, I’d like to congratulate Bryan for his many progressive accomplishments as a dealer principal, and for his lifelong dedication to promoting the auto industry.

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