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Women in Leadership Client Profile: Laura Zanchin of Zanchin Automotive Group

12/12/2019


For Laura Zanchin, following in her father’s footsteps — and choosing to eventually run the Zanchin Automotive Group alongside her sister Andria — was a no brainer. That said, it hasn’t been a cakewalk.

Laura and her sister, Andria, are currently in the midst of a succession transition of the Greater Toronto area-based dealerships, 34 in total — a rare occurrence in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

“Being female is different in this industry,” Laura says. “We share our father’s last name, so people may assume that we don’t know what we’re talking about.  Believe me, that’s not the case.”

On top of battling those deeply embedded industry biases, Laura and Andria also grapple with the challenges of working in a family business.

“My father and mother are always our toughest critics,” Laura explains. “My sister and I cover each other’s backs but it’s hard to get their approval. They want perfection, so Andria and I learned early that we need to be perfect. It can be difficult.”

All that said, Laura wouldn’t change her decision for the world. She finds her role as the Principal and Executive Vice President to be incredibly rewarding. Case in point: she recently took over the role of General Manager at the dealership group’s Airport Mazda location in Toronto. In just over a year, she was able to turn the underperforming dealership around — and now it’s soaring.

“I love rolling up my sleeves and making a difference — it’s been fun,” she says. “I kind of wear two hats, but really it’s much more than that. Andria and I are actually everywhere — HR, marketing. Everything.”

The role also allows her to pave the way for other women leaders in the industry.

“I just learned the saying: ‘if you see it, you can be it’. I hope females can look at us and take inspiration,” Laura says. “We’re willing to mentor and help women in this industry if they’re willing to work. It’s a great industry to be in — there’s lots of opportunity. We just need more representation.”

A family affair

Started by their father in 1973, the family business has long been a source of pride — and income — for the family.

“When my dad opened up in 1973, he was an immigrant. He came over with nothing,” Laura says. “He and my mom carved out this enormous automotive business for us. They did it through lots of persistence, door knocking and door slamming.”

It took a while for the elder Zanchin to get a store with Honda Canada, the first of its kind in Woodbridge, Ontario. But when he did, it was a true family effort.  Eventually, when Laura and Andria became older, they spent countless after-school hours there too — answering phones, emptying trash bins, even cleaning ash trays.

“It was life for us — it wasn’t a choice,” Laura explains. “Our parents both just presumed my sister and I would eventually take over the business. Thank goodness we took to it.”

Through the years, the sisters have worked in different departments of the dealership, from service and parts to accounting. They both became controllers in separate stores and gained the experienced needed to confidently carry on the family business. Now, with that business knowledge firmly under their belts and their father getting older, the family has started implementing its succession plan.

The process, according to Laura, is a “work in progress”. But there are a few things that are making it easier:

  • An early start. Starting the succession hand-off early, while their father is still working in the business, has made a world of difference for the two sisters, and made succession much smoother. “It’s wonderful that my dad is still around — it would be terrible to do it any other way,” Laura says. “He can share his perspective, because this is his business and his legacy. We just want to grow it better.”
  • A strong team. In addition to a strong family ownership, the dealership group also has a long-standing executive team that meets fairly regularly. “We’ve been surrounded by fantastic people in our business. We’ve grown up with them forever and they’ve stood with us as much as we’ve stood with them,” she says. “The fact that we’ve worked side by side with everyone means we’re accepted. We’re prepared to take on whatever comes our way.”
  • Mutual respect. While the elder Zanchin places a lot of pressure on his two daughters, there’s no question that he respects their capabilities and their vision for the business — and the feeling is mutual. “Our dad doesn’t impose on us. We’re doing this together. Pressure makes diamonds and that’s how we feel,” she says.

Rise up

If Laura has one piece of advice for other women leaders who also happen to be in a family business, it’s this: Know your worth. “Too often, we underestimate ourselves as women. We have to learn to give ourselves enough credit, especially if you’re in a family business,” she says. “You’re in this business for a reason, so stand up taller. It’s time for all women to take more ownership and credit over who we are and how much we really know.”

To learn more about how MNP can help you realize your legacy with effective succession planning, contact an MNP Business Advisor.