Business in VancouverMarch 21-27, 2006   Issue #856
Business in Vancouver - Profile: Ken Smith

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 accomplish

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 information.

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 public.”

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 create that.”

Former Vancouver police chief and current MDC chairman Robert Stewart believes Smith has been integral to what the organization has accomplished.

“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.”

apetrozzi@biv.com

www.mdcbc.comm

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