GMC email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-10-14 published
The 'godfather' of Ottawa's retail auto industry
After more than three decades of hard work, he went on to become the first full-time executive director of the Ottawa New Car Dealers Association
By Randy RAY, Special to The Globe and Mail Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - Page R7
Ottawa -- During a career in the auto industry that spanned more than 50 years, Don MANN was tagged with his share of complimentary nicknames. As a Datsun dealer in Ottawa in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, he was known as "Don Mann, your Datsun Mann," a phrase used in his dealership's advertising.
Later, as executive director of the Ottawa New Car Dealers Association, he was often referred to as the "godfather" of the city's retail auto industry and an "ambassador" for Ottawa's new-car dealers.
When he first started in the automotive business, working with Industrial Acceptance Corporation to help dealers finance their inventory of vehicles, he had a reputation as hard-working, honest and friendly. Mr. MANN died in Ottawa on August 12. He was 76.
Born in Toronto on October 16, 1926, he spent about 15 years working for Industrial Acceptance Corporation in Sudbury, Sarnia, London and Ottawa before deciding to go into the car business for himself. In 1969, he opened Don Mann Datsun Limited in Ottawa. He sold out to an Ottawa General Motors dealer in 1983 and after a brief retirement, joined the Ottawa New Car Dealers Association, becoming the first full-time executive director of the group, which was formed in 1957 with about 25 dealers and now has more than 60 members.
"He was a great ambassador for new car dealers in Ottawa," said Pat McGURN, president of Surgenor Pontiac Buick GMC. "He was the guy who lobbied with a local college to establish training programs for our employees when there was a shortage of qualified people." Over the years, he secured more than $250,000 in dealership training dollars from government, said Mr. McGURN.
"I determine a need, find a trainer, agree upon a program, then I go to the dealers," Mr. MANN once told an interviewer, adding that dealers pay for the programs because there's less training money available from government.
In his capacity as executive director of the car-dealers association, Mr. MANN also worked with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to ensure dealers provided healthy and safe working conditions. He worked closely with Algonquin College in Ottawa and Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario, to set up financial awards for top graduates. In 2002, a local apprenticeship committee established a Don Mann Award, given yearly to a major contributor to Ottawa's apprenticeship program.
"Don was the glue that kept things together," said Mr. McGURN. "He made decisions that have made dealers in Ottawa stronger and made things better for consumers." Mr. MANN, who worked as a police officer in Toronto for six years before switching to the automobile business, helped launch the Ottawa-Hull International Auto Show about 20 years ago and over the past two decades built its profile to the point that it now attracts 35,000 visitors. Money raised through the show helps fund training programs, said Mr. McGURN.
Mr. MANN was known for his solid grasp of issues that affect the auto industry at the dealers' level and at the legislative level where laws are constantly changing, said Mr. McGURN, who notes that Mr. MANN's leadership and organizational skills kept local dealers working as a coherent group.
Ever the diplomat, at one point he convinced Ottawa's fiercely competitive car dealers to close on Saturdays during summer long weekends so staff could enjoy a holiday like everyone else. It was also his job to keep dealers current on legislation and guidelines dealing with used-car sales, consumer protection and advertising.
"His forte as executive director of the Car Dealers Association was his access to politicians, and on the education side, his contact with car dealers," said his son Brian of Ottawa. "He knew little about cars when he first started... It took long hours of hard work to build that knowledge.
"He was a great one for the job, he saw his role as an ambassador."
Mr. MANN was also known as someone who could bring people together to get a job done, said his son, whether it was organizing dealers to speak with one voice to governments, or to pull together a golf tournament at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club.
Fellow club member Gordon EDWARDS remembers Mr. MANN as an adept snooker player and golfer with great patience.
"He was able to concentrate well, ... he was deliberate and careful, always calculating each shot to make sure he got it right," said Mr. EDWARDS, who played in Mr. MANN's foursome for 17 years.
Mr. MANN leaves wife Verna and children Maureen, Brian and Bruce.
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