Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Auto trade far from an old boys network

Daughters also join the family business

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IT is not only sons of auto industry families who get the business in their blood.

Karen Vickar, Jody Thomas and Marietta Rewucki, all daughters of long-time captains of the industry, felt the tug to join the family business.

Today, Vickar fills a role equivalent to ombudsman at Ike Vickar's Pembina Chrysler Dodge, Jody Thomas is a star sales rep at St. James Volkswagen (a company started by her father, Charlie Saladin), and Marietta Rewucki is the president of Eastern Chrysler, which was founded by her dad, Joe.

Of the three, Rewucki has been in the business the longest. She started working part-time at Eastern Chrysler in 1976 washing cars and pulling weeds.

"I have worked in almost every department," she says.

In the mid-1980s, she left the company for a few years to try her hand at running a different kind of business selling infants' and children's clothing.

"It wasn't the best time for that kind of business," she recalls.

"Also I realized that my heart was in the car business. I had an excellent mentor in my father. I learned a lot from him."

She assumed the presidency of the company in 1998 following the tragic death of her brother, Gerald, in an auto accident.

"We are fortunate in that we have a really great staff who work very well together," she says. "We have also been around long enough that we have a good customer base who keep coming back."

Like Rewucki, Karen Vickar describes her father, Ike, as a wonderful mentor who has taught her a great deal in the time that she has worked with him at Pembina Dodge.

A former teacher, Vickar says that she always wanted to be in the auto business. Five years ago, with her children being older, it seemed like the right time to finally take the plunge.

"I started in filing," she says.

"I thought it best to work from the bottom up."

She assumed her present role four years ago when Pembina Dodge became one of the first Chrysler dealers to sign on for the Chrysler Five-Star Customer Satisfaction/Customer Relations program.

"It's no different from what we had been doing all along," she says, "but now we have to document it for the corporation."

Her job description involves following up on all sales, no matter whether new or used, as well as body shop and service customers to make sure they are all satisfied with the service.

"I try to get across to our customers that we are not only here to service cars but also to look after their auto-related needs," she says.

"We want to make their experience here as positive as possible."

Internally, she also works to make sure staff members are content and to promote a sense of teamwork.

"I attend a number of Chrysler seminars and meetings and report back to liaison people in each of the departments," she says.

"I always like to get feedback from our employees."

She has also initiated an Employee of the Month program to recognize staff members.

"Pembina Dodge is a great place to work," she says.

Charlie Saladin operated St. James Volkswagen/Audi from 1971 to 1992 until heart surgery forced him into retirement.

However, his daughter, Jody Thomas, only joined the sales staff in 1993 after her brother, Russ, and some partners bought the dealership from their father.

"Russ called and asked me to join the sales staff," she says.

"I had a young child still at home then and was working part time in the jewelry business."

She says that she couldn't work at just any dealership. What she likes about St. James Volkswagen/Audi, she says, is the relaxed atmosphere.

"There is no arm-twisting," she notes.

She reports that her sales figures have increased continuously year over year. Last year was her best sales year ever, she says.

PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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