Retail veteran Tammy Darvish quietly departed AutoCanada Inc. this year after leading its U.S. division since 2019, when she was tasked with turning around its previously struggling Illinois stores.
"I just kind of felt like I completed my mission," said Darvish, AutoCanada's former president of U.S. operations. She is taking some time off before deciding on her next step.
The dealership group, based in Edmonton, Alberta, said in April that it had tapped James Douvas, a 20-year veteran of automotive retail in the Chicago area, to become its vice president of U.S. operations. He has now effectively taken over for Darvish, reporting directly to top executives in Canada, as was evidenced by his role on the second-quarter earnings call this month.
Darvish, one of Automotive News' 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry in 2020 and 2010 and a former executive at DARCARS in Maryland, was tasked with restructuring and rebranding the group's Illinois dealerships, which the company bought in 2018. Shortly after purchasing them, AutoCanada said the stores were plagued by "highly abnormal" costs, and they proved to be a drag on the company's financial performance at the time, losing $17.3 million Canadian ($13.7 million) in the second quarter of 2019, Darvish's first full quarter on the job.
Darvish, 57, undertook a rebranding of the U.S. stores, now called Leader Automotive Group, renegotiated contracts and oversaw the closure of two underperforming stores in 2019. The group's financial fortunes began to turn around in the U.S. in recent quarters, allowing it to purchase AutoHaus Peoria, an Illinois dealership that sells Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen, last fall.
"We had to put a lot of stability in there and put together a team," Darvish said. "There were a lot of hardworking men and women who took a chance at that point, and we turned this company around."
The U.S. division reported net income of $3.7 million in the second quarter of 2021, a feat Darvish said few of AutoCanada's business partners would've thought possible in 2019. AutoCanada Executive Chairman Paul Antony credited Darvish with building the "foundation of the business" in the U.S. over the past two years.
"Tammy Darvish went in and … really, really cleaned up the business," he said, adding that without her work, Douvas "wouldn't be able to execute on the business the way he has."
Now under Douvas' leadership, AutoCanada's U.S. group is pursuing an aggressive used-vehicle strategy, Antony said. He said Douvas has established a centralized used-car unit in the U.S., helping to bolster the division's sales.
The company, which lists 17 U.S. franchises and 49 in Canada, sold 1,797 used retail vehicles in the second quarter in the U.S., up from 693 a year earlier.
"At a time like now … you're either selling used cars or you're really not in the business," Antony said. "We saw this as a massive opportunity right now that we weren't actually executing on."
AutoCanada's improving fortunes in the U.S. come as its overall financial outlook improves. It reported a second-quarter-record CA$1.28 billion ($1.01 billion) in revenue, up 76 percent from a year earlier, and net income of $37.7 million, compared with a $20.1 million loss last year.