As the CEO of a Toyota dealership, the first woman to lead the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association — and subsequently the first female president of the Canadian International AutoShow — Susan Gubasta takes seriously her position as a role model and mentor for women both working in the automotive sector, and those considering it as a career.
From this ambition came the idea for Women Driven, a special event held during the AutoShow with the specific intention of attracting new women to pursue an automotive career.
“This started with the idea that we had to reach outside of ourselves to bring more women into the industry,” Gubasta said. “For our launch event, we needed it to be something fun, a party, the kind of thing that someone from outside the industry would want to attend.”
What the industry typically did for women catered to those who were already working in the automotive sector. There was little growth potential. Susan wanted to do something more. So for Women Driven, she made it more than just a networking event.
Every industry professional that attended was asked to bring a friend who didn’t work with cars, trucks or SUVs — particularly students, young professionals looking to get a start on a career and established professionals who may be looking for new opportunities.
And she absolutely did not want panel discussions and keynote speakers.
The vision Gubasta brought to life had hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, pop-up shops and an innovative take on a fashion show. Instead of strutting down a runway showcasing the latest styles, the “models” were industry professionals who shared their journey to success in the auto sector.
“I know my audience and I know women,” she said. “We had drinks, we had shopping, we had fashion, and we ended up with a great crowd. The industry is ready for this. We went to the marketplace saying this is what we are trying to achieve – that we want to put this on the radar for women in general. Automotive is dying for women. So many companies in this sector actually have a budget for diversity. The marketplace is finally there.”
Gubasta admits it has historically been a challenge to get women into the industry — even her personal story is one where she had no desire to sell cars. But her dad — ever the salesman — convinced her to give it a try.
If she could go back 26 years and talk her younger self, she would tell her that it is a career with great opportunity.
“The people in this industry are wonderful,” she said. “There is tons of room for growth and you can make a really great living.”
And now, after putting in the work and rising to the top of her field, she has presided over the largest consumer show and automotive expo in Canada.
“This year started out as a bit of challenge as manufacturers continue to look at different ways spending their marketing dollars,” Gubasta said. “But when we got here, and you see the support we have received from the industry and manufacturers — we have put on a kick ass show. There are 10 manufacturers here with new booths and we have 38 new vehicle unveils, including a global auto show debut.”