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A Tribute to Mark Smail: A Great Automotive Leader and Friend

Kt Mark2

This is a very personal blog for me, but I think it is important to write from the heart.  I am a huge believer that each experience we have shapes our lives and our thoughts.  A few years back while I was at Global Team Blue, I had the privilege of working with the Ford Dealer Association Funds (FDAF) and that gave me the opportunity to work with Ford clients as well as many of their dealer bodies all over the country.

The FDAF is a group of dealers that are focused on regional marketing.  They operate as a Board and represent the Ford dealers in their regions. My role was to help them with their digital marketing, provide an industry perspective, and lead all their war rooms.  I had the honor of meeting dealers all over the country, and in some areas, I became a regular fixture in Dallas, Pittsburgh, Carolina, New England, St. Louis, Tri-State, and Southern Virginia. I learned so much about automotive from these great connections, spanning perspectives from the manufacturers to the dealerships.

One of the groups that I became close friends with was the Pittsburgh FDAF.  I think in some ways, being in the Pittsburgh District was a lot like being home for me. Those dealers were very successful, but they had to work their way up. They were strong, humble with absolutely no pretense – a handshake was a contract to them. They brought me back to how I was raised and aigned to my blue-collar roots. Through the years, I got to know all the dealers on the FDAF very well, and I even visited their dealerships to talk to their staff about digital marketing, customer experience, and how they can generate a sustainable competitive advantage for their dealers.

I regularly keep in touch with these dealers and their spouses — they have become extended family.  It was during one of these routine check-ins that I learned of the passing of Mark Smail.  Mark was the leader of the Smail Automotive Group, and he was loved by his fellow dealers. I had the opportunity to spend time with Mark at one of his dealerships holding a digital marketing workshop with his team. Mark was tremendously successful yet so modest, he taught me a lot about what dealers needed and how they could leverage technology better.  I always looked forward to spending time with Mark and his wife Kelly at the Pittsburgh Auto Show, sports events, and the outstanding holiday parties we had each year.

Mark had an infectious smile and an understated approach in our Board meetings.  He debated ideas, but never people. We did great things together in our War Rooms and were able to go to market smarter.  I remember having intense life conversations with Mark at some of our happy hours and alone time.  I am going to make a point to drop by one of Pittsburgh District’s FDAF meetings and talk about the automotive industry.  Mark’s passing was sudden, and I did not get a chance to tell him how much I appreciated knowing him and having him in my life. Mark’s father, Bud Smail, was a close friend of my father-in-law Jim O’Connor, and it was a great conversation over lunch one day when we both realized that connection.

Mark lived his life well and built a beautiful family, he also treated his team at the dealership, fellow dealers, and his partners with grace and friendship. Mark was both a great and good man and he will be missed by the entire automotive community.  I am a better person and automotive strategist because of Mark and the rest of the Pittsburgh District FDAF.

Humbled and honored to know so many outstanding dealers who play such an integral part of the customer experience in the automotive industry.

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Keith Tomatore

A long-time senior executive in the auto industry who has held the position of SVP, Retail Marketing at Global Team Blue (GTB, a WPP Company) on the Ford Retail Business. In this role, Keith worked with the Ford Dealer Associations across the country to help them with their Precision Marketing and digital efforts. Also, he served as CEO of iFrog Marketing Solutions, which focused on Automotive advertising solutions for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

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