Toy­ota Canada’s vice-pres­i­dent, sales and mar­ket­ing on the things that drive him

Sharp - - CONTENTS - By Peter Salts­man

Cyril Dim­itris, VP of sales and mar­ket­ing at Toy­ota Canada, on what he’s learned in busi­ness and be­yond.

“For my gen­er­a­tion, your first car was a rite of pas­sage. I had my li­cence within 15 days of turn­ing 16.”

Who in­spires you?

My par­ents were im­mi­grant Cana­di­ans who worked re­ally hard for very lit­tle. My fa­ther was a lens grinder who worked in a fac­tory that was two blocks from Massey Hall — where I’m now on the board of gov­er­nors. But he al­ways had a sense of style about him. He loved mu­sic. I learned from him that you can have a full, rich life with­out a lot of money. Even though my ca­reer has gone dif­fer­ently than his, my value sys­tem still comes back to fam­ily, re­la­tion­ships, and a life steeped in cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity.

Speak­ing of cul­ture, you’re re­ally into mu­sic. How did that start?

I had a re­ally cool cousin who had the best record col­lec­tion you can imag­ine. My par­ents would be up­stairs and we’d go down to the base­ment with the vinyl and just play mu­sic. His dad owned a lit­tle greasy spoon across from the Ma­sonic Tem­ple, which was a rock venue at the time, so any time bands came through they’d give him a cou­ple tick­ets. We saw the Who, Led Zep­pelin, the Bea­tles twice, Jimi Hen­drix. Only later in life, when I was about 30, did I start tak­ing it more se­ri­ously. I took some gui­tar lessons. Now it’s a power hobby of mine. It bal­ances my life.

What gui­tars do you play?

I have four, in­clud­ing a 1977 Guild Blues­bird, a semi-hol­low, semi-solid elec­tric. It’s as close as I’ve got to some­thing vin­tage. My favourite is a Fender Amer­i­can Standard Tele­caster. And I have two acous­tics, a K. Yairi from Ja­pan and one I built from scratch a few years ago.

Why is be­ing on the boards of Massey Hall and Roy Thom­son Hall im­por­tant to you?

Massey Hall is an amaz­ing space in this city that needs to be pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. I have so many great mem­o­ries of peo­ple I’ve seen there, from Neil Young to Van Mor­ri­son. But it also plays a huge role in artist de­vel­op­ment. I think the soul of a city stems from its cul­tural scene. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­velop Cana­dian artists be­cause we have so much tal­ent, and Massey Hall is one lit­tle piece of that.

How does cre­ativ­ity come into play in the busi­ness world?

There are some busi­nesses that pur­sue the bot­tom line at all costs, but there are al­ways dif­fer­ent ways to get there. My chal­lenge is to ap­peal not only to peo­ple’s minds but also to peo­ple’s hearts. And I think that comes down to un­der­stand­ing what mo­ti­vates peo­ple — what are those fac­tors that in­flu­ence their de­ci­sions? There’s a lot of cre­ativ­ity in that stage. You can be just as cre­ative with busi­ness strat­egy as you can in ad­ver­tis­ing.

How did you first get into cars?

For my gen­er­a­tion, that first car pur­chase was a rite of pas­sage. It gave you a space where you could be in­de­pen­dent. There was a feel­ing of ex­cite­ment and adren­a­line when you first drove a sporty, quick, nim­ble car. I had my li­cence within 15 days of turn­ing 16. And when I joined Toy­ota, I was in the mar­ket for my first new car. I ended up buy­ing a bright red ’89 Cel­ica GTS five-speed. I loved that car. I sold it when we had our first child, but if I could find it and get it back today, I would.

What’s your dream road trip, and dream road trip playlist?

Route 66 — Chicago to L.A. I’ve never done it. The ve­hi­cle would be a Lexus SC400 con­vert­ible — with Mark Levin­son sound, of course. And the first three songs on the playlist would be: Steely Dan, “Dea­con Blues”; Neil Young, “Cin­na­mon Girl”; and Ja­son Is­bell, “Trav­el­ling Alone.”

What’s some good ad­vice you’ve learned along the way?

Dress well. It makes a dif­fer­ence. My kids are 29 and 23 years old, so hope­fully I’ve given them some good ad­vice along the way. What I’ve no­ticed about youth today is that they are so much more tech­ni­cally skilled than we were at their age — and they’re in­cred­i­bly sharp thinkers. Any­body of any age can draw on that en­ergy and op­ti­mism and use it as an in­spi­ra­tion. But also — and I don’t want to sound like an old guy — wis­dom is im­por­tant. So be open to it and use it as a guide. Stay open to any­thing and ev­ery­thing, and stay cre­ative.

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