CEO, AITHR Automotive Intelligence
Ted Lam has always nurtured a diverse team during his time in the Canadian auto industry, first as a manager at various leading dealerships and now as the CEO of auto finance software company AITHR Automotive Intelligence.
The Chinese-Canadian Lam started out as a salesman in a predominantly white dealership and worked his way up through the auto retail ranks. Once in dealership management roles, Lam said he hired young people without focusing on gender or color. All that mattered was an “ethical mindset” and strong work ethic, he said.
“Because I believe in opportunity,” Lam said. He said his parents were given an opportunity when they immigrated to Canada, and he felt an obligation to provide it as well.
Lam said he also ignored candidates’ resumes but participated in every interview. For a sales job, “what’s on paper doesn’t matter,” he said.
This combination of hiring philosophies wound up organically producing a diverse staff. “It just happens that there is 25 percent of every [demographic] that fits [the job],” Lam said, referring to his own experiences hiring staff.
Lam said his last auto group reaped the rewards of this mindset, with no turnover on his team for several years — a rarity in the industry. “I had a lot of inclusion, and that’s why people liked it,” he said.
Lam’s sales teams also led the Calgary, Alberta-based Sunridge Mazda, Sunridge Nissan and Calgary Hyundai dealerships to first-place rankings for the country.
But he ultimately walked away from his successful dealership career to found AITHR. The company’s business includes software comparing available models and loan approvals to find a vehicle for subprime borrowers. It also attempts to help phase out a customer’s negative equity, Lam said.
According to AITHR Chief Communication Officer Anne-Marie Bruzga-Luchak, Lam’s impetus for creating the company included a desire to provide a better experience for subprime borrowers, a clientele that skewed toward immigrants and fellow minorities. She said Lam’s time in retail exposed him to how the subprime market took advantage of those groups.
Lam set inclusion goals for his new company, desiring half of the staff and half of the leadership team be women or minority. AITHR achieved both in its first 6 months.
“It’s making us super different,” Lam said.
Lam said this 50-50 split developed organically as he sought to add different skills and languages to AITHR. Now, the company actively seeks to preserve that ratio, and it named Bruzga-Luchak its diversity, equity and inclusion leader a few months ago with an eye toward that end, he said.
“I think the automotive industry needs a little bit of a shake-up,” Lam said.
He said he was also inspired to create the post after hearing war stories from women in automotive about interactions with men.
“I heard their pain,” Lam said. He recognized he had felt the same as an Asian interacting with whites in the industry.
“It really changed everything for me,” Lam said.
— John Huetter