In The Driver’s Seat

Francesco Policaro, the intrepid leader of the Policaro Group, spoke to lifestyle editor Jeanne Beker about his upbringing, his life in the family business, what motivates him and all things luxury vehicles

It’s passion that drives Francesco Policaro: Far beyond the luxury vehicles he so adores, it’s his deep love of family and the sensational business empire they built that truly keeps him in the game. The dashing 45-year-old CEO of Policaro Group, who grew up in Woodbridge, Ont., proudly carries the torch that his Italian immigrant father and two uncles lit back in 1979, when they first started their own company. “My dad comes from a big family. They lived in Toronto’s Little Italy. When my dad came to Canada in 1966, he’d been working in Turin for a company that was manufacturing parts for Fiat. So when he came here, he got into the same thing and later had an opportunity to sell cars at a little dealership downtown. He started doing that and he was good at it,” Francesco reflects. Eventually, his father’s two younger brothers got into the car selling act, too, and the trio decided to go into business for themselves.

Their father mortgaged his house on College Street and gave his boys the money to start things up. “My gandfather would threaten them by saying, ‘If you guys aren’t successful, we’re going back to Italy!’” laughs Francesco. It was at their initial Honda dealership in Brampton, Ont., in 1984 that the young Francesco first fell in love with the business. The eight year-old started making a habit of visiting the family’s dealership on Saturdays. “I’d cruise around and hang out in the parts department, and drive the parts manager crazy,” he remembers. “I’ve been around it my entire life. A light switch never went off to say, ‘Hey I’m going to get into the automotive industry!’ It was just who I was.” The heady ’80s had ignited glamourous aspirations for many, and people were ready to start spending their hard-earned cash on more up scale vehicles.

By 1987, Francesco’s father and uncles launched into the luxury category, opening Canada’s first Acura dealership. “Those early years of our family’s foray into luxury cars was a really interesting time. The dealership was very modern and luxurious.” As for Francesco, he began putt ing his nose to the grindstone early on, paying his dues and learning all he could about his favourite subject. “I was working out of the trailer, washing cars and doing stuff like that,” he says. “And that’s when I really first was introduced to that world of luxury cars.” For anyone who’s ever been behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle, the seductive appeal of these beautifully designed, high-performance cars is undeniable. “For some people, it’s status. For some, it’s just passion, exclusivity, self-esteem. There are so many reasons why people choose luxury,” says Francesco, who insists that the kind of car we choose to drive says a lot about who we are. “It’s an extension of yourself. It says a lot about your personality — and that’s why so many manufacturers, like Porsche, off er so many bespoke options, so that customers can have that individualization of that vehicle.” With so many outstanding options on the luxury automotive market — Policaro Group now deals in Acura, BMW, Lexus and Porsche, and has an exotic division that sells super sports cars of all premium brands, most of which are priced above $200,000 — the type of car someone chooses is a curious consideration. He says a big part of a car’s attraction has to do with aesthetics and design, especially for female customers.

Branding and marketing also play a major role when it comes to attracting certain customers. “It’s the way that manufacturers market their products and the brand positioning that determines what type of client they’re going to attract,” says Francesco, who believes the cars people are attracted to has to do with three factors: culture, design and what the brand represents. “By the time customers come to us, they really know what they want. And we’re just here to facilitate it and provide the premium experience,” says Francesco. He also says that while leasing made it easy for people to try a variety of brands over the years, these days, there’s a lot of brand loyalty. “And technology is one of the big reasons why customers stay with one brand, because you just don’t hop into a car and drive off anymore. Th ere’s so much technology within the vehicles that you want to be comfortable when you get in,” he opines.

On a personal note, Francesco is still car crazy, even aft er all these years. And that powerful work ethic that his dad instilled in him certainly helps him every day. “I just want to be here and I want to succeed. And I want to leave a legacy for my kids. Th e other thing that motivates me is the fact that I’m responsible for a lot of people in my company. We’re a very close family, and I have cousins and one sibling who’s involved in the business. And now I have nephews who are getting into it. I kind of look at it like I’m responsible for the ship — I’m captain right now. Th is is my time.” The Policaro Group’s intrepid leader is also an avid race car driver, and the company actually owns a race team. But at the end of the day, it’s his love of people that keeps Francesco going. “You’re making dreams come true for people every day. So whether it’s an Acura or Lexus, BMW or Porsche, whether it’s a new car or a used car, it’s a very special moment for people. I’m so fortunate I found what I love, and it happens to be in the family business. That doesn’t happen all the time. I’m lucky to be in a business that I’m passionate about,” says Francesco.