By Andrew Petrozzi
Education and professional development are just as important as enforcement when it comes to regulating the province’s motor vehicle industry, according to Ken Smith, the 58-year-old inaugural president and registrar of the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia.
With his extensive background in mediation, law, regulatory regimes and education, Smith was a natural choice to lead the newly created industry council when it started operations in April 2004.
Instead of demonizing the industry by keying on enforcement, Smith focused his approach on improving it through education, licensing and professional training, while ensuring those who broke the rules were held accountable.
“We’re an independent regulatory agency that has been delegated the authority to use certain pieces of legislation to create a successful marketplace,” said Smith, whose modest corner office is located at MDC’s headquarters in a Burnaby industrial park and features pictures and images of his passions – family and sailing.
“British Columbia’s industry was in a very bad place and we’ve already started to have significant impact,” said Smith of the organization.
The MDC oversees a $10 billion B.C. industry that includes 1,700 licensed motor dealers, 7,000 salespeople and 5,000 related employees.
Mission: Continue to improve the reputation and
professionalism of the province’s motor dealers’ sector
Assets: 30 years of diverse professional experience
relevant to what the Motor Dealer Council of B.C. seeks to
Yield: Committed organization dedicated to improving
public perceptions of the industry and instituting professional
standards and educational and development programs
“When I arrived, there was a previous philosophy that this
legislation [the Motor Dealer Act] was for consumer protection. I’ve
been able to convince our board and the forces around us that we are
really here as a tool for industry development.
“Consumer protection is a key component, but there are several
other components that we need to try and work with to build the
success we’re looking for.”
For Smith, it was not just a regulatory framework and enforcement
that was needed to elevate the public perception of the industry.
Professional development, education and licensing are also integral
to the process.
“Most business people want to do the right thing and do it the
right way if you give them an opportunity,” Smith said. “When you’re
setting boundaries in a regulatory environment, the first
responsibility you have as a regulator is to make it clear to
everybody what the boundaries are and what will happen if they step
over those boundaries.”
Progressive enforcement, he said, starts with education and
Smith’s approach was fashioned during his previous tenures in both
the private and public sectors.
Prior to joining MDC, Smith ran Discovery Leadership International
Inc., a company that provides leadership, facilitation and coaching
support for senior executives and boards of directors.
He also taught leadership programs at the Banff Centre, where he was
presented with 2001’s Faculty of the Year award.
Smith served as CEO of the Alberta Agricultural Marketing Council
from 1987 until 1994, where he supervised the complete overhaul of
the province’s agriculture marketing legislation. Prior to that, he
practised commercial law.
“I understand the many sides of the questions,” he said of his
various professional experiences. “I bring those experiences that
have been very helpful to me and to the people I’m working with.”
As to an organization highlight achieved thus far in his current
role, Smith points to the certification of most B.C. motor vehicle
salespeople through a two-day course and exam that are now a
requirement of licensing.
“Virtually everyone in the industry is now licensed and there is a
whole new standard that applies to selling motor vehicles to the
But for the married father of three grown children and soon-to-be
grandfather, the council’s immediate future involves expansion.
“In the next six months, we’re going to grow the organization by 50
per cent,” he said, adding there would be a significant increase in
its licensing and enforcement capacity.
“The bigger dream is to create the professional development
opportunities where we can really help people learn and grow into
what they need to be more professional.”
Smith also envisions an educational campaign for consumers.
“An informed consumer working with a professional in the industry is
what makes a successful market. We’re kind of working just on one
side right now, but the bigger plan is to bring these pieces
altogether. It’s certainly going to take us three to five years to
Former Vancouver police chief and current MDC chairman Robert
Stewart believes Smith has been integral to what the organization
“He’s got a difficult task there, as we all do in this business, of
trying to improve the reputation of the industry and give the
consumers some level of satisfaction when they go to purchase a
vehicle,” said Stewart.
“I found him to be the kind of guy that you can bring a topic to the
table and be satisfied that it has been looked at from every aspect.
He’s not one to jump to conclusions. He likes to have all the
information before him,” he said. “We’re trying to do something that
is long overdue and it means analyzing the problems before coming up
with the solutions.”
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