Live And Learn: Wayne Sales

Here, I found it was much more of a team environment, versus in the U.S., where it's 'What's in it for me?'

I was born in a small city called Lynchburg, Va. I was the second oldest of five siblings.

When I had had enough of my sisters, I would get off the school bus at my grandparents' farm instead of going home.

My grandfather was an individual who never allowed you to say you can't do something. If you believed you could do something, he would allow you to do it–like driving a tractor at eight years old. I think I was probably driving his car at 10 or 11.

I was footloose and fancy free, and enjoyed my life on the farm. I could have been a great student, but if you looked at my report cards, I was a C student. My father was perplexed, because he always thought I could do better.

My grandmother was very religious, so it was a good balance between this very independent, entrepreneurial grandfather, my career military father, and Mom, who was a homemaker.

When I was in high school, I got a part-time job at Kmart loading trucks, working in the sporting-goods department and stocking shelves.

In college, an assistant manager of Kmart was involved in an auto accident, and a district manager came to me and said, “How would you like to take this position?”

Being young and foolish, I quit school, and said I can always go back in the future.

I was 19 when I got married. My wife was 18. We met through a friend of hers. She lived on the wrong side of the tracks. We dated for about three years, and we ended up getting married.

When I turned 21, I got my first store in Charlotte, N.C. When you first start to work for Kmart, you give your life and your soul to that place. It was total commitment.

I began to become very concerned about the direction of Kmart. There was a loss of a strategic positioning. I began to sense it was not as focused as it should have been on its customers.

Moving to Canada? It wasn't a big adjustment. I've always looked at life as a journey.

What was difficult was trying to explain to my father that I was giving up a promising career at a large company that everyone knew to move to a foreign country and join a company called Canadian Tire.

The secret of staying alive in retail is playing your game and making sure it's different and clearly understood in terms of the value proposition that you bring to the consumers.

We don't have to define ourselves to Canadians. When you wake up on Saturday morning, if you want anything for your car–service, tires, parts and accessories–it's Canadian Tire. If you want to maintain or repair your home, it's Canadian Tire. If you want your first bike, it's Canadian Tire.

I think if you were really a fly on the wall in Canadian Tire you would see a lot more we's than I's.

My favourite Canadian Tire product? It's Teflon washer fluid. We took the basic washer fluid that's blue and added a capful of Teflon that turned it purple. This is creating ordinary products and doing something different to them that creates a demand in the marketplace.

In my free time I go fly-fishing. We have a couple of lakes around the house.

I have seven grandchildren, so I really get a charge out of them. It's a stark reminder that they're a heck of a lot smarter than I was when I was their age–and in some ways, smarter than I am today.

Wayne Sales


Born Dec. 28, 1949, in

Lynchburg, VA

CEO, Canadian Tire;

avid angler

1969: Quits community college in Virginia to become an assistant manager at a Kmart store in his hometown of Lynchburg.

1991: Leaves his job at Kmart and moves to Canada to become senior vice-president of marketing at Canadian Tire.

2000: Completes the Harvard Advanced Management Program in May 2000 and becomes CEO of Canadian Tire in August.

2001: Takes Canadian Tire shopping: acquires nationwide clothing retail chain Mark's Work Wearhouse for $116 million.

2005: Voted Top CEO in Canadian Business magazine's annual All-Star Execs survey, for revitalizing Canadian Tire.