Kim Day, 46
COO, Steele Auto Group
Location: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Education: Bachelor of Commerce, accounting, Dalhousie University
What drew you to the auto industry? I sort of fell into the auto industry. I worked for a company called Newcap broadcasting. The Steele family owned the majority of that company. Rob Steele being the CEO and independent business owner of Steele Auto Group, I’ve worked for him for several years. The CFO role opened up at Steele Auto Group in early 2015 and I was asked if I would help the finance team at the auto group because they were going through some acquisitions. And I ended up spending more time at the auto group than I did at my regular day job.
First automotive job: I ended up transitioning over as CFO to the Steele Auto Group in September of 2015.
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Big break: My big break was as a result of a bit of an unfortunate situation, frankly. Our then-president and COO passed away suddenly in November of 2017 in the midst of the group’s largest acquisition in its history. And I found myself stepping into that role where I had relationships with the OEMs and I had been part of a negotiating process for the acquisitions. And we had eight stores to buy and close on in a very short period of time. And myself and the team stepped up to the plate and got the deals done quite seamlessly. And it was during that process that the CEO asked me if I would consider taking on the role of president and COO.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? COVID-19 has been quite a hurdle. It happened upon us very quickly. We had to make some very significant changes to our business model, to the way that we operate, very quickly. And we knew that in order to have a sustainable and viable operation at the end of this, we were going to have to be very, very diligent and very careful on how we maintained our cash flow. Our cash burn is quite heavy, a group like this of 41 dealerships. So it was very challenging. But I feel like the group pivoted very quickly and that we were able to sustain and actually be profitable throughout the pandemic.
You’ve been in the industry five years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The most important change I believe for us has been the idea of building trust and transparency with our customers. The automotive industry has been plagued with being somehow dishonest or not fully transparent. And we’ve built in a lot of transparency into the way that we deliver service and sales to our customers that has been very well accepted, very successful.
Describe your leadership style. I’m a very humble person. I believe that leading with humility is important. I’m very collaborative. I seek the advice and the feedback of my peers before making a decision so that everything, all the points and issues are considered. And I empower my peers and give them the authority to make decisions because I trust them and they trust me.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? I’ve learned the same lesson I feel I’ve learned throughout my career: Embrace change. Be quick to change. And don’t be afraid of it. Be flexible.
How do you bring your best self to work? I start every day with a thought on gratitude. What am I grateful for today? I feel like it opens the mind up to bigger possibilities and allows you to think freely, think outside of the box. And it makes you recall what you appreciate in life.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? There are moments where it’s not as achievable as others. But generally speaking, I do believe that I have good work-life balance. I’m very lucky that I have a husband who is very supportive, who understands that my job requires travel, that my job sometimes requires longer hours at the office. And I’m also very grateful for the fact that he’s got a very flexible job so he can really shuffle things around to make it easier for me to do the things that I need to do.
Tell us about your family. My husband, his name is Phil. He is an R&D specialist with an environmental lab. We have a little boy. His name is Jeremy [and he is] 10. We enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors together when we can. So winter months are spent at the hockey rinks and on ski slopes and summertime we spend a lot of time camping and biking [and] canoeing.
— Melissa Burden