Eric Latino loves speed.
This past May, the president and CEO of Global Emissions Systems Inc., set a Canadian record in pro-modified racing: a 5.871-second quarter-mile at 245 miles an hour in his 1969 Chevy Camaro. The 47-year-old entrepreneur is also a master mechanic, co-founder of the emission control technology GESi – a type of catalytic converter that can be used on almost any combustible engine – and his Whitby, Ont.-based company’s chief technology officer.
Throughout his career, Mr. Latino has battled exhaust emissions of every kind, from gas-burning lawn mowers to power-generation plants. Although he quit racing 15 years ago to focus on business, he’s back with a cause that combines his love of drag racing with his company. He’s passionate about taking his carbon reducing technology into motor sports and figures the best way is to lead his own Team Green for some R&D at the track.
We caught up with Mr. Latino between races to talk about his success story.
Q: You founded your first company, Redline Automotive Inc., to service classic autos and on-track race cars when you were barely out of high school. How did you start?
A: I had just turned 20 when I started Redline in 1985. I used to work for a great guy called George over at Broadview and Danforth (in Toronto’s east end) who specialized in Corvettes and classic cars. He was a great teacher. I grew up in the neighbourhood so when I was 12 and 13, I’d hang out there and watch. Later, I’d skip high school because I wanted to go to work so badly. I did pretty well in school anyway – I finished and became a licensed mechanic. George would go off on trips leaving me in charge so I learned to answer the phone, order parts and deal with the customers. After my parents moved to Markham (Ontario), it was a long drive. Around that same time, George didn’t want to do much classic car work any more, so I opened my first location at Markham Road and Steeles in (Toronto suburb) Scarborough, which was central to Markham and George’s existing customers.
It was a four-bay shop that I worked by myself – seven days a week to get things going. I didn’t have an office – my desk was in one corner of the workshop – and I didn’t know much about business. I just knew how to fix cars. I didn’t know how to properly charge for the work so I made barely enough to keep the lights on. It took me three years before I increased my service fees. I was too young – busy having fun and making friends with the people who brought their cars in.
Q: Where did it go from there?
A: I rapidly grew the business from that one location. Within two years, we had expanded to a seven-bay shop, hired new mechanics and in three years, outgrew that place. I had an opportunity to take over a Bridgestone/Firestone tire and auto-shop franchise in 1993. I used to purchase my tires there and knew the owner well. Originally, I didn’t want to be part of a franchise, but Firestone offered us great support.
Q: How did you raise the money for that?
A: The owner liked me and was ready to retire so he sold it to me really cheaply. He took back a 50-per-cent finance and I went to Scotiabank and got a small-business loan. I paid it off in less than two years. Buying it was the best thing I ever did.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
A: It was tough times in 1993, but when I put the two businesses together, it worked out well. I brought Redline into that location so it doubled the business and took away 30 per cent of the expenses (heat, hydro, rent). We kept all the staff.
Q: How did you get into racing?
A: My older brother took me to the drag strip when I was 14 and I got the hook. I grew up in the ‘70s in a neighbourhood where everybody had a muscle car. When I was 16, I drove myself to the race track with my first car, a 1969 Pontiac Acadian SS, put the racing tires on and went down the drag strip at 14 seconds. That was a pretty decent car for the time. I changed the engine and went 12 seconds. I changed the whole car and it ran in the low 10s, then down to nines.