In a past life I had the opportunity to interview Sabina Heilman, Director of Finance & Communication at KYMCO Canada. Ms. Heilman was on the road, visiting KYMCO dealers across la belle province. She’s in a position that’s all too uncommon in the power sports industry: a woman with an upper management level position.
I asked her questions about her thoughts on riding and on her experience as a female Director in the motorcycle industry. As we cruised down the road listening to the tunes of 97.3 FM, Quebec’s Worst Radio Station, the conversation went a little like this:
YM: Who do you ride with these days?
Sabina: I like to ride alone. I prefer the quiet. No email, no cell phone, none of that. Just me and the road. It’s good!
YM: Do you take part in any motorcycle events?
Sabina: International Female Ride Day and the Mad Bastard Rally are the two big ones. I don’t always get to participate. KYMCO sponsors them both and huge events mean lots of planning. I don’t have enough time for the fun ones, and I don’t believe in the not fun ones.
YM: Is the power sports industry changing? Are we beginning to see more women in all levels of the motorcycle world? Are women in Director and Upper Management positions still rare?
Sabina: Still rare. Definitely. Times are changing in terms of ridership. Staff and employee base is changing. On top Executive-level it’s still rare to see women. Maybe not at the dealership level, but manufacturer level and import/export level is still very male dominated.
YM: What do you think of other women working up the ranks in the power sports / motorcycle industry?
Sabina: I would love to see other women at the same level as me. They’re very capable and the industry would benefit, but I don’t think they’re given the opportunities to do what I do.
YM: How’s Motoress (Vicki Gray) doing?
Sabina: Motoress is in a league of her own. Vicki’s forging her own path and creating her own industry. She’s a trendsetter for men and women motorcyclists alike.
YM: Who else comes to mind in Canada?
YM: Are people surprised when you tell them what you do and the decisions you make? What do they say about the “She-Boss” in the motorcycle world?
Sabina: Not if they know me. I’m not really interested in anyone’s opinion based on my gender. I’m good at what I do. They can either respect that or not.
YM: So, being a woman in the motorcycle business, gift or curse?
Sabina: I would never say it was a curse. Is it a gift? I don’t know. Is it an advantage? Yes. I don’t have to follow the conformity, the trends, the old boys club. Being a woman lets me think and work outside of the box and outside of the spectrum of what male executives would think to do. KYMCO typically doesn’t do trade shows. We circumvent convention.
YM: What have been some of the biggest challenges or learning experiences for you?
Sabina: Every day is a different challenge. Every day I learn something new. Thank God for my academic background which taught me about constant learning, and building brick by brick. Each brick in building a company is important. If you aren’t constantly thinking ahead, with both short and long term objectives, you lose sight of where to place everyday tasks and opportunities.
Every year has its pivotal issues. It could be regulatory, economic, or staffing. There’s always something, and those are the things that affect your short term decision making but can have long term strategic consequences. The more you can coach your own team to make their everyday decisions so that you’re all moving in the same direction, the better off you’ll all be. They all need to share the same vision.
YM: Any favorites in the KYMCO line up?
Sabina: The KYMCO Frost 200i is a really solid scooter. There’s something awesome about it. It suits my personality. It’s a little out of the ordinary and not for everybody. It’s different. Like me.
YM: What’s new for KYMCO for 2013? What arrivals are you personally most excited about?
Sabina: I’m really excited about the Movie 150. I’ve been waiting a long time for that bike.
YM: Any KYMCO vehicles of years passed worth mentioning?
Sabina: The Venox was my first bike so it has a sweet spot in my heart.
YM: Rumor has it you’ve been dubbed “The Tornado” at KYMCO Canada headquarters, any comment?
Sabina: I like it, because it’s true! I have a lot of energy and passion. Some people might interpret it as a storm rolling through, but I don’t stop for anyone!
Keep it up, Sabina! Thank you for your time and for your friendship over the past few years. I wish you and rest of the KYMCO Canada gang all the best!