The fall issue of Fine Lifestyles Saskatoon is just around the corner, so as is my wont, here’s the cover story from the Summer 2010 issue, on Saskatoon businessman Vaughn Wyant (of Vaughn Wyant Automotive Group) and his partner Lori Leach. Enjoy!
Vaughn Wyant was born in Chicago and grew up in Saskatoon; his significant other, Lori Leach, was born and raised in the small town of Dinsmore; but despite their different backgrounds, they share the same work ethic (and the same zest for life).
It’s an ethic that has seen both of them build their own businesses from the ground up, and together forge Vaughn Wyant Automotive Group into one of Saskatchewan’s flagship companies.
Vaughn’s father, Dr. Gordon M. Wyant, was a physician interning in Chicago when Vaughn was born. Originally from Germany, he practiced medicine in Chicago after the Second World War, then moved to Saskatoon with his wife, Annie, and three children in 1954. He became a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and was the first Chief of Anaesthesia at the newly opened University Hospital (now the Royal University Hospital). Vaughn’s two younger brothers were born in Saskatoon.
Vaughn attended Grosvenor Park School and then Evan Hardy Collegiate. “I left high school after a less than brilliant academic career … but I passed,” he says.
He went to Great Britain to work and travel for a year. “I started out as a labourer for a welding company,” he says. “I spent most of my time working in high-rise steel construction in London.”
“The street-smart guy”
He returned to Saskatchewan to attend university, but only for a year; then it was back to London. “When I went back the second time I really tried to figure out a career path,” he notes. “Dad was an internationally renowned doctor, Order of Canada, military man, respected to the highest degree possible, really quite intimidating. I had two older brothers who were very academic, very intelligent. I was the ‘street-smart’ guy. I had to go back and figure out a career path of success, in the shadow of two pretty dominant brothers academically and, of course, my amazing father.”
He answered an ad to sell cars in north London, and found it “to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done…I’m reasonably gifted at talking to people and selling to people. I love selling stuff. That’s been the genesis of my career.”
He returned to Canada but stayed in the automotive industry, progressing from sales to management at a dealership in Vancouver. In 1980 he purchased a small Ford dealership in Carstairs, Alta.
“It was a gas station more than anything else,” he says. “I did everything from pumping gas to writing service work orders and reports. I worked seven days a week.”
Over the next 3 1/2 years he slowly hired staff and successfully grew the business, acquiring more dealerships along the way. “Our growth has never been premeditated,” he says. “In Carstairs I bought a second dealership, in Beiseker, because they were a Mercury dealership and I was a Ford dealership. There were lots of Ford/Mercury combinations in Canada because Mercury Grand Marquis at the time were all the cars farmers wanted to buy. I bought it, then Ford had to give me the Mercury side in Carstairs.”
The results of that expansion, he says, were not “a crowning achievement,” but he still considers the experiment worthwhile. “It showed me early on that you can’t touch everything and it turns to gold. It requires a lot of analysis of the individual market to really realize whether there’s any potential.”
Home to Saskatoon
In 1983 Vaughn had the opportunity to return to Saskatoon as owner of Jubilee Ford, the dealership that remains the foundation of his business. He has received numerous industry awards, including, in 2008, the esteemed Laureate Award from the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, judged by the Richard Ivy School of Business. That, he says, was really about Jubilee Ford.
But although Jubilee Ford is the foundation of the business, Vaughn Wyant Automotive Group is much more than a Ford dealership today.
In the ’90sVaughn purchased Golden Ears Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Maple Ridge, B.C.(now Maple Ridge Hyundai), and the Jaguar and Volvo franchises for Saskatchewan. In the past few years he has added Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz and Audi to the mix in Saskatoon, as well as Volvo, Hyundai and Subaru dealerships in B.C.
The newest addition: Porsche of Saskatchewan. Already on sale in a temporary show room, these super-premium German automobiles will get their own dealership in Saskatoon in 2011.
Vaughn has other business interests, too, of course. Among other things, he’s Chairman of the Board and a partner in Great Western Brewing Company. He’s also Chairman of the Board of a privately owned insurance company headquartered in Bermuda. “That’s been a success story unlike almost anything else that we’ve done,” he notes. “Rather than giving [our insurance needs] to a third party, we own our own insurance company!”
When Vaughn met Lori
“I came from a different background,” says Lori Leach. “I was born in Dinsmore, Sask., grew up on a farm, went to a rural school. I love that I had the very unique experiences of growing up in rural Saskatchewan! The lessons and values learned have served me well in life.
“I did pretty well in school and at graduation had two distinct career possibilities: one in art and design, and the other in kinesiology or physical education. I was accepted to both the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary and the University of Saskatchewan here in Saskatoon, so I was very quickly at a crossroads.”
She chose to stay in Saskatoon, graduating with distinction from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. “I worked in my discipline for a time but was drawn back to my other great love—art and design.”
She got her on-the-job education working on for McKay Goettler and Associates, now MGM Communications, for five years. It was there, in the late 1980s, that she met Vaughn, who was one of the firm’s major clients. (“She saw this sharp guy, she couldn’t keep her hands off me,” is how Vaughn describes it).
Eventually he decided he wanted to bring someone in-house to do his advertising work for Jubilee Ford, and Lori took on the challenge. “So his significant other also became in-house person for advertising and marketing,” she says.
As his “dealership empire” grew, Lori notes, so did the level of her work. “Life got busier as a one-person operation, so in 2000 I incorporated my own design firm, called Kinetic.”
Kinetic now employs six people. “We do all of the advertising and marketing and media planning for the Vaughn Wyant Automotive Group, but also graphic design, advertising, marketing and web development for a varied list of clients. We extended our reach, and it’s very exciting,” Loris says.
“The automotive industry is a major player for Kinetic, but it’s great to expand our scope and offer opportunities for my employees to become an important part of the business. My life is not only running my own firm but, with Vaughn and his much larger business and social activities, trying to balance our personal and business lives.”
“Lori’s story is one of equal success,” Vaughn makes clear. “She’s a real entrepreneur in her own right.”
But what do they do for fun?
It’s pretty obvious Vaughn and Lori spend a lot of time working. But when they aren’t?
“We have a cottage in northern Saskatchewan where we spend a great deal of our leisure time. It provides me with that release in doing mechanical and manual labour, which I love,” Vaughn says.
“We love to golf, but we don’t enjoy enough of it,” he continues. “We like to golf and relax, because the rest of our life is complete pandemonium—completely out of control. We’re both Type A personalities.”
Although they enjoy many great restaurants in Saskatoon, Vaughn notes that since he travels so much he’s constantly eating out. “One of my great loves is, ‘You mean I can be home tonight? Eat snacks and actually watch TV?’ My favourite restaurant is at home, a glass of wine…no need to be anywhere else.”
Lori agrees. “Some of our favourite time is just the two of us at home or time spent with close friends. We like to get together, share times with lots of laughter…at our home or at our cottage in northern Saskatchewan. Those are the moments we truly treasure.”
They both enjoy concerts, the Jazz Festival, etc. but Lori notes, “Occasionally we miss out because of Vaughn’s hectic travel schedule. It can be difficult to capture Vaughn!”
They’re tremendous sports fans. They have Rider season tickets and trying to attend games as often as possible. One game they always make (which, alas, doesn’t always involve the Riders) is the Grey Cup. “Wherever located, Grey Cup games are a family holiday for us,” Vaughn says.
Although Vaughn likes to see a few sights when he’s travelling, generally his business travel is all about meetings, “just trying to get in and get out,” as he puts it.
“I’m going to Toronto tomorrow on business, then a meeting in Saskatoon Friday, then Indiana on Saturday and back home on Sunday,” he describes by way of example.
Vaughn, who is divorced, has three children. Philip, 28, is the oldest. “He’s our lead financial guy (CA), and works as an understudy to our Chief Financial Officer,” Vaughn says. “He’s being groomed to take over as CFO.”
Michael, 27, studied automotive marketing and finance at Georgian College in Ontario and graduated from Northwood’s University in Michigan with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) , and is general sales manager for all the Vaughn Wyant dealerships in Saskatchewan.
“My daughter, Melissa, is 24 and just married to a young man who works for me,” Vaughn says. “She’s a hair stylist, trained at Vidal Sassoon in London, and a makeup artist.” She operates Salon Twist.
Lori and Vaughn both love animals, especially dogs. “We have one now, a black-and-white English Springer Spaniel named Wally. We had two dogs for a long, long time, but they eventually get old, like people,” Vaughn says.
“A dog is a big part of the family,” Lori says, and adds, “Wally keeps us grounded. It’s calming. If you have a bad day, he can make you feel a lot better off. The love and adoration are unconditional.”
Giving back to the community
Vaughn and Lori are involved in many Saskatoon charities. In fact, says Vaughn, “There aren’t too many causes we’re not involved with, in some shape or form.” Among those: the Sherbrooke Community Centre, the United Way, the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon City Hospital Foundation, the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, the Royal University Hospital Foundation, the University of Saskatchewan and many more.
Vaughn has also served as president of the Saskatoon Club, the Riverside Golf Club and the Saskatchewan Motor Dealers’ Association.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re a small community and I believe it’s a corporate responsibility to pay your dues,” he says. “I just don’t think you can take out of a community. You have to give back, you have to show responsibility to your employee group, your colleagues and your families. You need to leave your community better than it was when you got there. It’s a point of pride.”
Vaughn takes pride in running businesses that are good to their employees. “We have very little staff turnover and I think this can be traced to the kind of organization we are: people whom employees want to work for, who think about their communities and have a social conscience. I think these are everyone’s responsibility.
“My Dad was a Holocaust survivor, my mom came from very humble beginnings in rural England—very basic English village farmers,” Vaughn continues. “It’s not atypical of many people who live in this part of the world. They have a work ethic that is inherent…it’s just there. It’s not something you acquire.” He laughs. “It’s like my stunning good looks. I just came by them honestly. I was born with that…. and my humility, too!”
Lori echoes that thought (well, about the work ethic, anyway). “Coming from a rural background, a work ethic is understood. It’s just something you have. You undertake projects wholeheartedly, 150 percent, without second thought, for the reasons Vaughn mentioned: to make our community and province a better place to live. We’re very proud of this place we call home.
“When we travel, then return to Saskatoon, it reinforces how lucky we are to have what we have, the type of community, the friends and colleagues, the environment we are so fortunate to share. There are lots of beautiful places in the world, but we think Saskatoon is the without a doubt the best.”