Rick Blacker new President of Motor Vehicles Retailers of Ontario

Written by Perry Lefko

More than 50 years after he started out in the automotive business and achieved his dream of owning a store, Rick Blacker has become the new President of the Motor Vehicle Retailers Association of Ontario.

“I’m more than proud to take the position and, hopefully, make an impact for the dealers and hope to keep things rolling along,” Rick said when I interviewed him.

Rick and I talked about his interesting journey and the impact of his 88-year-old father, Don, who has been involved in the automotive industry for more than 70 years. Don started out as a parts truck driver as a 16-year-old for City Garage, a full-service General Motors dealership in Cambridge. He moved around working in various cities and dealerships in a multitude of roles, many in upper management. He has been selling cars for more than 50 years, and in 2022 was honoured by Toyotoshi Group Canada for 25 years of service. He has a permanent star with his name on it placed on the showroom floor of Dixie Toyota.

In the summers during his high school years, Rick began working for his father at Dan Creed’s City Chev in Oakville, washing cars on the lot, helping out in the parts department and driving the parts truck.

“That’s where the interest in the business kind of grew on me,” Rick said. “It’s just like any other guy who loves cars, you’re sitting in these new ones and one thing leads to another.”

Following high school, Rick began working full-time in the automotive retail business, starting in the parts department of a General Motors store, gradually moving up from Assistant Parts Manager to Parts Manager and then became Service Manager. He subsequently began working as Fixed Operations Manager at Applewood Chev Olds. After six years, he moved on to Richmond Hill Toyota as Fixed Ops Manager and then General Manager. He then joined Hyundai in 2005 as GM of a franchise in Markham. He started his own consulting business and in 2012 joined Toronto Hyundai as GM. Throughout his journey, he dreamed of owning a dealership, and his father helped him.

“He taught me about lots of stuff, but predominantly to get me into this position was don’t give up, don’t think something can’t happen,” Rick said. “You can make it happen; you just have to work hard. You’re not always going to benefit, but sooner or later you will. Something good will happen, and he was right about that. The other thing he instilled in me was the importance of not just selling cars, but the customer service is part of it.”

Working for Toronto Hyundai, Rick developed a relationship with owner Benny Leung and his wife, Lorri. Benny had his own interesting journey, a native of Hong Kong who had no background in the automotive world when he came to Canada as a teenager and worked his way up as a salesman who eventually owned his own dealership. He became a member of the Toronto Automobile Dealership Association, which was merged with the Ontario Dealers Association in 2012 and became the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association. He became President of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association in 2013, and President of the Canadian International AutoShow in 2014.

Benny told me that because of his time and commitment to the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, the previous name of the MVRO, he hired Rick in 2012 to manage the Hyundai dealership.

“Rick has helped me quite a bit,” Benny said. When Benny had a chance to buy West Toronto KIA dealership, he offered Rick a chance to become a partner, which allowed him to own a store.

“At one point I didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” Rick said. “It just kind of all came together when you don’t think you’re going to get the chance, when the big groups were buying a lot of stores. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

While his father became the early influence in Rick’s career, he said Benny later became a significant part of it. When Benny and Lorri started Marsim Auto Group in 2017, they made Rick Vice President of the company.

Lorri told me she has always felt Rick and his family are “very honest, salt of the earth” kind of people. “Rick and his wife Sharon are such a lovely couple,” Lorri said. “Over the years we have spent much time and a great deal of fun traveling together on various business trips. Rick has been instrumental in helping us not only run the day-to-day activities with the three brands – building relations with other dealers and the Corporate OEMS – but he has played an important role in the real estate investment and development for Marsim Auto Group.

“For the past several years, Rick has been involved with keeping the Billy Bishop project on track as we build two new dealerships at Dufferin & 401. It’s a very exciting time for our group. Rick has been working closely with head office, the planning teams and trade partners to bring our vision to life. His expertise in the automotive retail industry has made the project run seamlessly through the critical areas of planning, cost control, budgeting and execution, Lorri said.

“Benny and I are very proud of him as President of the MVRO. His knowledge and input will add much value to the association and dealers of Ontario. We look forward to an exciting future together.”

Rick said Benny is a lot like his father because he strongly believes in the customer service aspect of the business.

“Benny is the real deal,” Rick said. “He thinks exactly the same way that I do. We think so much alike. I think that’s why trusts me with the store. When he was busy and doing the things I’m doing now (with the MVRA) he knew it was in good hands and the CSI would stay there. It’s a good feeling that people have bought two or three cars from you. It’s huge. There’s a lot of trust been going on there.”

When Rick became an owner, it allowed him to be eligible to run for election on the TADA Executive Board, and Benny said he urged him to do it.

“How proud he must feel about himself to be the President,” Benny said. “A lot of people that come into the car industry would love to become President of the MVRO. I know he will do a good job.”

It’s believed this is the first time two people from the same ownership group have served as President in the association’s history, which is more than 100 years old including its various iterations. Rick will become President of the Canadian International AutoShow in 2025 after his one-year term as President of the MVRO is over.

“As far as what to do and where to step in (with the MVRO), Benny will be invaluable with that kind of stuff, but the actual show is very dynamic,” Rick said. “It’s really, really changing quite a bit with all the different manufacturers. I’ll definitely be bouncing things off of him, no doubt about that one.”

Rick’s son, Brandon, has followed him into the business, working for him in the consulting business, Toronto Hyundai and then West Toronto KIA. He came Partner/General Manager five years ago. Rick said he instilled in Brandon the enthusiasm for working in the business, but his son naturally gravitated to it.

“He grew up with it because of his grandfather and me and he had the love for the business, too,” Rick said. “He was interested in getting into the car business ever since he was a little guy. As soon as I got home from work all he wanted to do was get into the car and play. You could kind of tell the direction in which he was going.”

The fact his son and grandson have followed him full-time into the car business has made Don extremely proud.

“It’s kind of unusual, eh?” Don said. “Brandon was always a car guy. He used to steal the keys from my car when I went to visit and hide them and stuff like that. He was a real car kid.”

It has not been lost on Rick how much the automotive business has meant to three generations of the Blacker family.

“It’s been a career thing for me,” Rick said proudly. “My dad’s been in the business, my son’s in the business, it’s one of those things you kind of kick around the table all the time wouldn’t it be nice to own your own store or be involved in your own deals, have the opportunity to call your own shots, do your own thing. “My son bought shares from Benny, so the three of us now own the store.”

Read more from Canadian Auto Dealer & from the MVRO.