Nice guys can finish first

December 27, 2023

Every year since 2006, the national association representing car dealers, the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, has awarded three CADA Laureate Awards to dealers in three distinct categories: ambassadorship, retail operations and innovation.

By my simple math that means there are just over 50 CADA Laureates remaining, (56 have been awarded, including two ambassador Laureates) and a few have since sadly passed on.

Out of the approx. 3,400 dealers across Canada, that’s a pretty small and exclusive group. You could fit them all inside a private box to watch an NHL game.

Collectively, they represent the brightest stars, most generous dealers, sharpest business operators and most innovative dealers in Canada — and likely North America. I have interviewed, and personally met just about every one of them.

Okay, I never met the 2016 Honourary Ambassador Laureate R.S. Sam McLaughlin who passed away in 1972, because believe it or not I wasn’t editing Canadian auto dealer back then!

So when I say that this group of men and women are truly the cream of the crop from Canada’s automotive retail industry, I am speaking from direct personal experience. Several have become friends over the years.

Each year, after the CADA Chairman calls them to inform them they won the award, and that they are sworn to secrecy, I’m the next person they are allowed to talk to about this award. It’s always a fun interview. They are, perhaps not surprisingly, usually humble and deflect the attention away from themselves to their broader team.

That spirit of humility and team was again on display when I attended the plaque ceremony for the latest dealer to join the ranks of the CADA Laureates in Kitchener, Ont., Andrew Ojamae from the AutoIQ Group, who won in the business innovation category.

In his interview, and in chatting before the ceremony, you could see Andrew went to great lengths to ensure that each of the 16 dealerships in his group was recognized for contributing to the award. Many of the dealer principals from those stores, or their General Managers visited Kitchener on a snowy November afternoon for the ceremony.

Even during his remarks, Andrew stressed this was a team win, and that although it might be an individual honour, the credit belonged to the group. Andrew, like his mentor and business partner Mike Stollery who won the award two years earlier, is a class act.

Andrew was right in sharing credit with his team. Innovation is a tough nut to crack. As he rightfully acknowledged during our interview, ideas are a dime a dozen, and getting them implemented is what takes work, charisma, leadership and a team willing to do it.

Andrew has all of that in spades, and his quiet and humble determination, with a steady hand of accountability and transparency in assessing the results, is what enabled the group to embark on a host of innovative initiatives that caught the eye of the judges from the Ivy School of Business at Western University that ultimately picked the winners.

Another secret to Andrew’s success is his connection to the Automotive Business School of Canada, where he himself graduated, and where he met his future business partner Stollery. Andrew once shared with me that he had his own “depth charts” of the ABSC graduating class, with insights about where they lived, where they wanted to end up in their careers, and then he actively recruited those that were a good fit.

Canada’s CADA Laureates are truly a national treasure for our industry, and the drive to become a Laureate is something that makes every dealer just that much better — and that ultimately is what the program is all about. Somewhere, CADA Laureate program founder Rick Gauthier is smiling.

About Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips is the editorial director of Universus Media Group Inc. and the editor of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Todd can be reached at

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