Michelle is CEO of all companies under the Western Group and Dealer Principal for all its dealerships. The Western Group of Companies, a family-owned group of automotive dealerships and related businesses, has its roots in the Corner Brook area but now extends to central Newfoundland.
Michelle did not set out to pursue a career in business. She trained in social work and had a job, but her father, a business owner, kept bringing her to conventions and meetings, drawing her gradually into the family firm. Eventually Michelle took a leave of absence from her position to work with her father. After that, she says, there was no turning back. She loved the flexibility, the control over decisions, the ability to seek guidance from her team and solve problems together.
Michelle feels strongly about the importance of creating a work environment that supports employees. She describes the work culture as being respectful and says the employees are like family. This, she feels, contributes to the overall success of the business. Fostering and preserving the team dynamic has become more challenging with the growth of the business, but it remains a priority: “We hold off-site team-building sessions for our managers and leaders, and we hold weekly management meetings to review and set our goals and KPIs, as well as to discuss safety and employee engagement.” The staff BBQs, off-site functions, Family Fun Days, annual softball tournaments, and Christmas parties are all ways of showing appreciation to staff and getting to know their families— having a team that is committed and engaged translates into customer engagement.
Inspiration comes to Michelle in a variety of forms, from the natural beauty of this province to the stories of customers, co-workers, and other business owners: “I experience inspiration every day,” she says, “by seeing how our team helps and interacts with our customers.” She has learned from her participation in the Women Presidents’ Organization and appreciated the opportunity to share challenges and successes.
Michelle’s parents served as role models in their passion for the culture they provided for their employees. Even when her father was diagnosed with ALS and her mother was struggling with terminal cancer, their attitudes remained positive. They continued to stay connected to their employees, and they cared deeply about the well-being of others. “My Dad would say, ‘there’s no such thing as a bad day, just that some days are better than others.’ Watching how they dealt with this put things in perspective for me and is a constant reminder how fortunate we are.”
Michelle has this advice for entrepreneurs: Know what you’re passionate about; know your strengths and play to them; get help with your limitations. “Don’t focus on finances and numbers: focus on employees and customers, and the numbers will take care of themselves.”
Michelle sounds quietly confident about the future of the business and is undeterred by challenges: “If you’re not afraid and not outside your comfort zone, you’re probably not growing.”
Entrepreneurial Excellence recognizes an entrepreneur who has owned and been in operating control of a business(es) for at least 10 years as of March 31, 2019, who has made a significant impact on the economy, and whose success is an inspiration for other women in business. Sponsored by RBC Royal Bank