BY: APRIL CHADWICK
“Dealers are very involved in the community, contributing far more than the general public realizes,” says Greg Mason, president of Ontario Hyundai.
Mason had just finished signing the last of the cheques that will be mailed out to universities across the province as part of Ontario Hyundai’s new scholarship program aimed at needy youth in the Durham Region.
The Ontario Hyundai Scholarship program offers $1,000 a year, renewable for four years, to 10 highschool seniors going onto higher education.
Inspired by the importance his family has placed on learning and a need to have greater control over charitable giving, Mason took the plunge and set up his own foundation.
“I wanted to do something for kids that show the potential, the desire, and the drive for higher education, but who need help. We discussed it as a family, and it was something that I wanted to do for the community that had supported us all these years.”
Open to students from across the Durham region, applicants are rated equally on academic talent, leadership potential, career goals, and financial need.
“In 2013, the first year of the program, we had 93 applicants, of whom 56 meet our selection criteria,” said Mason. “From this number we narrowed it down to 15 interviews, selecting 10 finalists and one alternate.”
“Once the scholarship program is in full swing, there will be 40 students at any one time receiving $1,000 per year, requiring an annual outlay of $400,000.”
Starting out as a salesperson with a GM franchise in 1983, Mason moved over to Agincout Hyundai in 1987 as sales manager and later general manager of Ontario Hyundai.
He bought the underperforming dealership in 1997 and “has never looked back.”
“Starting off with a staff of 14, some of whom are still with us, we now have over 90 employees, and Ontario Hyundai is the largest dealership in the Durham region. Quite an accomplishment when you consider we are in the heart of GM country.”
It has been part of Mason’s goal all along to encourage others dealers to follow his lead and establish scholarship programs of their own.
“It is an opportunity to have a lasting effect on the community,” he noted.
“These teenagers are our future and will be the dominant force over the next 20 years. They really are that impressive.”
Once he had made the decision to go ahead with the scholarship program, the process wasn’t as difficult or as expensive as he imagined.
“The beauty of the car business is that we make so many connections with great suppliers and other business partners. Simply put, we hit up everyone to help us.”
Scotia McCloud’s philanthropy department, along with Ontario Hyundai’s accountants, printers, and web development partners, all worked pro bono to help make the scholarship program a reality.
Ontario Hyundai staffers also volunteered their time to review applications and interview scholarship candidates.
The most challenging part of setting up the scholarship program, according to Mason, was getting the word out to the school boards.
“We quickly discovered that the key was to reach out to the guidance counsellors. They know who needs the help and who shows the academic and leadership potential.
“At first we were worried we wouldn’t even have 10 applications, but once we had the guidance counsellors on board the floodgates opened and the applications poured in.”
The dealer plans to make the scholarship website interactive in order to follow the recipients through their academic journey. He also wants to raise more money so that the size of the scholarship award can be increased.
“The scholarship program has turned out even better than we hoped,’ says Mason, “And now that we have a better idea of how to run things, we will do an even better job next year and the year after that.”