Shifting Gears

Mercedes-Benz Burlington CFO Shawn Taylor discusses his unexpected career path, the patience that guided him back on course, and his company’s new flagship locations

Mercedes-Benz Burlington would like customers to become familiar with a new concept: the destination car dealership. With a spa facility, a golf simulator, and a bistro—in addition to traditional automotive services—the location even caters to those who aren’t necessarily looking to buy a car. CFO Shawn Taylor is overseeing plans to take the idea on the road, using Mercedes-Benz Burlington as a blueprint for the transformation of the company’s other dealerships in Canada into lifestyle facilities. Here, Taylor explains how his career path swerved into the automotive industry and how Mercedes-Benz’s approach is setting it apart from the competition.

Advantage: In your career, you’ve been able to combine your love of cars with your skills in finance. Out of curiosity, what was your first car?
Shawn Taylor: It was a Volkswagen Fox. I got it in 1997 before I started university. I loved that thing. I waxed it every weekend. It sounded like a sewing machine, but it was mine!

So how did you get into the world of finance?
In high school, I planned on following in my father’s footsteps and becoming a mechanic. My parents, who had never interfered in any decisions in terms of school or my career, told me they felt I had a different calling. Business was another interest of mine, so I headed in that direction.

Was a position at an automotive company always the end goal?
The path you take always has some rough patches. My first placement was at a firm that was not a positive or encouraging environment. I considered changing course and leaving public practice completely. But after consideration, I wasn’t going to let one experience define my career. My focus was always becoming a partner and having my own firm. But along came an opportunity to help Mercedes-Benz Burlington establish itself as the benchmark in our industry.

Shawn Taylor’s
Career Milestones

1994
Takes his first job, working in a nursery at age 15

1995
Begins a part-time job at a construction rental store to put himself through university

2002
Graduates from Brock University

2003
Obtains his chartered accountant designation

2006
Earns a senior manager position at Horne LLP

2010
Begins searching for a new position after his regional firm merges with the Big Four

2011
Joins the management team of Mercedes-Benz Burlington as CFO

So aligning your skills with your passion never crossed your mind?
The key to life is not trying too hard to make things happen. Be yourself. Life will offer you opportunities. These opportunities come along when you take care of two things: hard work and patience.

You mentioned an interest in business, but what drew you to the numbers side of the field?
In public accounting, I loved the interaction with clients and getting to know their business, them personally, and the risks they made to be where they are—and then coming up with solutions. The numbers part was just something I was good at and complemented the rest.

How does Mercedes-Benz Burlington set itself apart?
We’re completely different compared to other automotive places. We want our customers to experience a sense of comfort and know they are a part of our extended family. We have a full-service café serving fresh food every day, a day spa to offer indulgent services to relax you during your stay, or even a round of golf with our top-of-the-line golf simulator. We also host luxury events in our world-class facility.

What’s the point of these additional services?
To make this the most enjoyable experience we can for our customers. When you come here, you’re not coming to get your car fixed; you’re coming to say hello. Some people come just to eat at the bistro.

You’ve been named Star Dealer of the Year the past two years. How do you maintain that status?
In offering these upscale and unique experiences, we are able to grow exponentially every year, allowing us to remain not just viable but thriving. It allows us to be a destination like no other and set the benchmark for customer service. The ultimate goal is to carbon copy this to other dealerships.

What do you think makes you successful?
I always have a vision of where I want to be. As you go along, you will realize that your actual path will detour significantly from what you first thought; embrace those changes.

Secondly, be genuine. Don’t allow others to change who you are, and don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Third, never allow anyone to control your career path. When you know you’re not growing, move on—because no one benefits from being in a comfort zone.

What excites you about your industry?
The automotive world is one of the most innovative industries out there. We are leading the way in terms of change and environment, and the products coming out in the future will be game-changing.

I still remember getting my driver’s license and achieving that sense of independence. There’s something about owning a car and the connection you have with it. Even people who aren’t car people name [their vehicles]. They’re part of the family. Some are utilitarian. But that describes you. It’s an extension of your personality.

In our world, Mercedes-Benz is a symbol. To say at one point, “I’m going to own a Mercedes-Benz,” it’s a goal. Our brand is a destination brand.

What drives the company’s growth and readies it for the future?
We cannot just say we are great; we need to deliver, back it up, and be innovative. Why would someone come here to buy a vehicle? It’s by being different and communicating to the customer why you should be the destination.