MMDA’s Shirley Canty announces retirement

April 20, 2011

Manitoba Motor Dealers Association (MMDA) executive director, Shirley Canty has announced plans for her retirement in July 2011. Among her many accomplishments during her career, she blazed a solid trail for women in the automotive field, while also setting a benchmark for other association executives.

When Shirley Canty moved into the position of executive director for the MMMDA in 1992, there were few – if any – women in Canada that had ever held an executive position in an automotive association.

“I can’t recall any at the time,”
says Canty. “Of course, there are others today.”

She started with the MMDA in 1982 as assistant to the executive director after arriving in Winnipeg with her late husband who was transferred there in the military. With children in school, she decided to return to work and it was on a trip to the unemployment office that she first saw the listing for the MMDA seeking an assistant to
the executive director.

She got the job and for 10 years worked under two bosses, executive directors Cal McKague and Herman Unger, who encouraged her to step into his role. As he left the position, he had been handing over more and more of the duties to Canty. “But, I was still not sure that I wanted the responsibility,” she says. After some consideration, she decided to enter the competition. “I thought that if I did not throw my hat into the ring that I might some day regret it.” Over 100 applicants applied – including several lawyers – but the association chose Canty.

She believes it was bold move by the association executive as she was
a woman and much younger than previous executive directors, although she came with l0 years of association experience. “They were still taking a chance,” she says. However, since then
neither she nor the association has never looked back and she has served nearly two dozen presidents – 12 while
in the executive director’s chair and another 10 while
assistant executive director. She is hoping that many of them will be at the upcoming MMDA annual banquet
this summer to see her off.

What has she enjoyed most and what will she miss when she leaves the helm? The answer comes quickly – the people. “Not just the dealers but also the suppliers. That’s one of the hardest things about this job, you build relationships and then people leave their jobs and that’s always tough,” she says,
adding “I’m going to miss a lot of people when I leave.” She has especially enjoyed travelling to conferences with executive members and getting to know their families.

Looking back, she says, the industry has grown and changed. It has become more professional and the MMDA has played a pivotal role in achieving that degree of professionalism through accreditation courses, such as that provided for sales staff. “We are very proud that it is our 17th year of bringing professionalism to our sales staff,” she says.

She is also proud to have worked with the executive in shaping a professional image in the eyes of the public.

“How the association is perceived is how the industry has been perceived and you always try to be as professional as possible,” she says. During her career, which has spanned nearly three decades, Canty has also represented MMDA as a member of a committee that revamped the driver education program in the province, as well as on the tire stewardship board that looks at collecting and recycling used tires, scholarship and bursary organizations and the Manitoba Special Olympics charity golf tournament.

Canty will stay on the
job until July 21 – exactly 29 years from the day she first walked into the office. Then, she will get on to “the next phase of my life – although I’m not sure of what exactly that will involve,” she says. But, a big part of it will be “some good times and spending time with the grand-
children and family.”


About Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips is the editorial director of Universus Media Group Inc. and the editor of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Todd can be reached at

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