Carol Deacon began her career sourcing automotive parts in Detroit. After earning an MBA from INSEAD, she worked with several large retailers and consumer brands on growth strategies, innovation, and turn-around plans, before returning to the automotive world with a role at Canadian Tire. During her six years at the company, she led the turnaround strategy for the tires category, helped to revamp the company’s store-level automotive operations, and established new loyalty and eCommerce programs. Carol decided to shift gears after having her third child, and, after an extended leave, is now back in automotive as Chief Operating Officer at Pfaff Automotive Partners.
My first job ever was… at the age of 13, working at a Hallmark store. It was the first of many part-time jobs I had while in school — almost all of them within the retail sector. I think this is where my passion for customer service and retail first started.
I first became interested in cars… because of the men in my life — my father always took pride in his cars, my husband loves being on the racetrack, and my son has grown an impressive collection of Hot Wheels. Without a doubt, over the course of my career, I’ve significantly deepened my automotive knowledge, and the industry continues to fascinate me.
I decided on a career in the automotive industry because… coming out of university, my first job was at a consulting firm; I was focused on building a strong foundation in business. I was assigned to the automotive parts sector, and while it may not have been my first choice in consulting engagements, sourcing parts gave me a window into a large, vibrant, and very complex industry where I could apply my talents.
My favourite thing about my current role… is that it allows me to bring all of my knowledge and talents to the table, from automotive as well as retail and management consulting. We’re focused on leading change in the automotive retail sector, which comes with some huge challenges, but also some great opportunities.
My proudest accomplishment is… personally, raising three loving, independent, and fun children. Professionally, I’m proud of the digital Canadian Tire Money program. Canadian Tire Money is a Canadian institution and an iconic loyalty program; digitizing it came with numerous challenges, but it was an honour to work on the program and launch it successfully.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep! Unfortunately, that’s the one thing that is sacrificed with an exciting career and a busy family of five.
“Be ready for change.”
My best advice to people starting out in the automotive industry is… be ready for change. The automotive retail industry in on the cusp of disruption. It is one of the last sectors that has been influenced by digital and consumer trends. What’s interesting about this is that the industry now needs and wants people from outside of the industry to bring their experience, perspective, and knowledge to selling and servicing cars. This can be seen not just in new kinds of roles — dedicated inventory and pricing analysts, data scientists, IT professionals, to name a few — but even in the ways that existing roles have evolved. Because of a new sales model we’ve created (we call it our future retail model), some of our best-performing salespeople have little or no previous sales experience — the best salespeople are no longer master negotiators, but they’re intensely focused on understanding customers’ needs, and on following a defined process. There have never been more opportunities in our sector, and it’s one that wants and needs new blood.
I surprise people when I tell them… I once cleaned offices and bathrooms at Union Station in Toronto. It was a summer job while in university, and definitely one of my most memorable. While not the most glamorous, it helped teach me the value of hard work, and I met some of the most incredible people.
My boldest move to date was… taking on my current role at Pfaff. After working at large companies such as Canadian Tire, many in my circle wondered why I was drawn to a smaller company in what has been a traditional sector. What distinguished Pfaff was its genuine commitment to customers and finding ways to serve them better — something that aligned perfectly with both my own philosophy and my career path.
My biggest setback was… right out of my MBA, I was determined to get a managerial job within the retail industry. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that many retailers still valued experience over education, and my resume wasn’t quite there yet. I had to explore other paths.
I overcame it by… taking a job in management consulting at McKinsey & Company. While I had intended to stay only a couple of years and gain some retail experience, I ended up staying for five years. I developed skills and knowledge that continue to be valuable as a retail and automotive leader today.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting my career is… it is a journey, not a race. Sometimes the best roles are unexpected but are the most exciting and rewarding. Be willing to challenge yourself, and go outside your comfort zone sometimes.
The future excites me because… the next five years in the automotive industry will likely bring more change than the last 50. Between the changes in technology in the cars, the way customers’ behaviours are evolving, and the way all of us are going to have to adapt, it’s an exciting time to be in the business.