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Management Susan Gubasta on turning 50, becoming your own best friend, and never giving up

Susan Gubasta is president and CEO of Mississauga Toyota.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

Susan Gubasta, 50, is president and CEO of Mississauga Toyota in Mississauga. In April, 2018, she will become the first female president of TADA (Trillium Automobile Dealers Association) and in April, 2019, she will take over as president of the Canadian International AutoShow, in Toronto.

I was born and raised in Toronto, first-generation Canadian. My parents came from Yugoslavia after the [Second World] war. Both of their families came with nothing. They had one suitcase. And when they got off the boat in Montreal to take their train to Toronto the government gave them $5 and said, "Get going."

When I worked for my dad [at his dealership] for the first 14 years it was called slave labour. I say it to his face. He paid me 50 cents on the dollar. I had to earn my keep. Nothing gets handed to you. I had to work for it. It wasn't easy. I kept forging through because I thought if he could do it so can I.

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The best piece of advice my dad ever gave me was "never give up." When you give up then you give in and the world stops. Your life stops. You got to keep fighting the fight. It's not easy. But never give up.

Life isn't easy. We get dealt the deck we get dealt. My brother raced cars and he was killed on the racetrack. It changes you and how you look at life. I thought his passing was going to kill our family because we were very close. But we became even closer. I thought we were going to be ripped to shreds because of it, but we made it through. You're never out the other side. You just learn to live with it. My brother had all of these trophies. We have a case [at the dealership] with all of his stuff in it. I don't want to hide it. He's a part of our lives forever.

Turning 50 has been a turning point for me in my life. With maturity you become more settled in yourself. You become gentler on yourself. You start to gather this wisdom. I was talking to a friend and I said I look at myself now and I really like who I am – to the point that I want to be my own friend. That just came out of my mouth! I stopped and went, "oh my God, I've never said that in my entire life." Fifty rocks! I love it!

My dad is 81 and still rides motorcycles. He's still a crazy person. It's just a number. Go with it. What you put into life is what you're going to get out. You don't fight it tooth and nail. Be who you are and don't worry about it.

Having a child is the best thing in the world, but it's also the hardest thing you will ever do because you live in guilt as a mom to try and find the balance. It takes a village to raise a child. I'm blessed to have my family around to help.

I've been in automotive 24 years and it's taken me 23 years to finally find the work-life balance. I can say that honestly. It's been up and down and sideways. I think I finally have it. I'm not perfect. But I have a very supportive husband and my son is at an age now where he gets it if mummy has to work.

What I have learned to get to where I am today is how to stop micromanaging. I had to allow my management team to do their job. When I realized that, my life opened up. You have to have confidence. They're going to disappoint you sometimes but you have to be willing to understand that they're going to screw up. You can't just beat them up because they did. There's going to be wins. There's going to be hardships.

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It's important to remember the customer is always right. Do what's right for the guest and everything else will take care of itself. Make things right. It's a lot easier. If we make a mistake or we do something wrong, the first thing we do is apologize. We acknowledge that we fell short and we make it right. That's our mantra.

The biggest life lesson I've learned is listen to your inner voice. Listen to the messages that come through your head because there's a reason why you get these messages. I've learned to sit still, listen and you will get the answer.

Nothing keeps me up at night. I'm exhausted when I go to bed.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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