• editor emeritus

Dealers Voice: A Story of Teamwork, and a Lesson for Us All

Who better to proffer words of wisdom than Norris McDonald.

Cliff Lafreniere By: Cliff Lafreniere April 16, 2020

In seeking to better understand the challenges that we are all facing, and looking for wisdom to cope with a strange new reality, I turned to someone who has lived through difficult times before.

Who better to proffer words of wisdom than Norris McDonald, editor emeritus of the Toronto Star’s Wheels section, and the first journalist ever to be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame?

I spoke with Norris recently about the COVID-19 crisis and asked him to share any stories or wisdom that might be a benefit to readers.

If you know Norris at all, you know that he’s a great storyteller who is rarely at a loss for words. He is also an award-winning journalist who shows no signs of slowing down.

Norris recounted a story from his days working at the Kingston Whig-Standard.

It was the early 1980s, and Canada was in a deep recession. The owner/publisher of the Whig-Standard, Michael Davies, faced a crisis at the paper. Many newspapers and media companies were laying off staff left, right and centre.

Davies wanted to avoid layoffs, and so he called a meeting with his entire staff from all departments (sales, circulation, reporters, editors, pressmen).

More than 100 staff gathered at the Grand Theatre in Kingston. There, Davies told his staff that the paper needed to boost circulation by 1,000 in order to avoid layoffs. He asked everyone to pitch in.

It was an audacious goal.

The Whig-Standard was ridiculed by staff on some of the larger newspapers. Imagine asking reporters and pressman to knock on doors to sell subscriptions? Unheard of!

When staff finished their shifts at the paper, they would go home, change, and go out canvassing for subscriptions. They did what they had to do and, within two months, the Whig-Standard had reached its goal of 1,000 new subscribers. Layoffs were avoided.

This story sent a chill down my spine. An entire company understood the dire predicament the paper was in, and knew what was at stake. As Norris said, “We had to work together back then to save jobs; now we have to work together to save lives.”

A global pandemic is a far cry from an economic recession, but there is a lesson to be learned in Norris’s story of yesteryear that applies to the COVID-19 crisis today.

We all need to do our part to get through these difficult and stressful times.

The “stay home” message has been broadcast on every media platform for weeks now, and yet some people are still playing fast and loose with the laws. They are congregating in groups, visiting parks and shopping in person for non-essential items. In doing so, they are putting themselves and others at risk.

I am the first to admit that self-isolation is tough. Being alone, at home, is a huge imposition, and many people are struggling with it. But please — do your part to minimize the risk of spreading this awful disease. Just stay home.

On behalf of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, I would like to acknowledge the recent passing of Rod Campbell, a legend in the automotive world.

Norris wrote a moving tribute to Campbell in last week’s Toronto Star.

Early in his career, Campbell covered racing events and sold advertising for radio before launching his own motorsports marketing and event planning company. He sold his company in 1999.

Throughout his career, Campbell befriended many motorsports drivers and industry giants, including Jackie Stewart, Roger Penske and Walter Hayes.

He was known for his tireless work ethic, his infection enthusiasm and his boundless confidence.

Campbell was also a champion of auto shows around the world, especially the Canadian International AutoShow (Campbell’s nephew, Jason, is the general manager of the CIAS.)

Campbell left an impressive mark on the automotive world and on those who knew him personally or professionally. He will be missed by many.

This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to president@tada.ca or go to tada.ca. Cliff Lafreniere is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is president of Pinewood Park Motors (Ford) in Kirkland Lake. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.