Titans: Toyota Canada VP Cyril Dimitris on Guitars, Creativity, and the Things That Drive Him

We chatted with Cyril Dimitris, VP of sales and marketing at Toyota Canada, on what he’s learned in business and beyond. (And by beyond, we mostly mean rock ‘n’ roll, his self-described “power hobby”).

Who inspires you?

My parents were immigrant Canadians who worked really hard for very little. My father was a lens grinder who worked in a factory that was two blocks from Massey Hall — where I’m now on the board of governors. But he always had a sense of style about him. He loved music. I learned from him that you can have a full, rich life without a lot of money. Even though my career has gone differently than his, my value system still comes back to family, relationships, and a life steeped in culture and creativity.

Speaking of culture, you’re really into music. How did that start?

I had a really cool cousin who had the best record collection you can imagine. My parents would be upstairs and we’d go down to the basement with the vinyl and just play music. His dad owned a little greasy spoon across from the Masonic Temple, which was a rock venue at the time, so any time bands came through they’d give him a couple tickets. We saw the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles twice, Jimi Hendrix. Only later in life, when I was about 30, did I start taking it more seriously. I took some guitar lessons.

Now it’s a power hobby of mine. It balances my life.

What guitars do you play?

I have four, including a 1977 Guild Bluesbird, a semi-hollow, semi-solid electric. It’s as close as I’ve got to something vintage. My favourite is a Fender American Standard Telecaster. And I have two acoustics, a K. Yairi from Japan and one I built from scratch a few years ago.

Why is being on the boards of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall important to you?

Massey Hall is an amazing space in this city that needs to be preserved for future generations. I have so many great memories of people I’ve seen there, from Neil Young to Van Morrison.

But it also plays a huge role in artist development. I think the soul of a city stems from its cultural scene. We have a responsibility to develop Canadian artists because we have so much talent, and Massey Hall is one little piece of that.

How does creativity come into play in the business world?

There are some businesses that pursue the bottom line at all costs, but there are always different ways to get there. My challenge is to appeal not only to people’s minds but also to people’s hearts. And I think that comes down to understanding what motivates people — what are those factors that influence their decisions? There’s a lot of creativity in that stage. You can be just as creative with business strategy as you can in advertising.

How did you first get into cars?

For my generation, that first car purchase was a rite of passage. It gave you a space where you could be independent. There was a feeling of excitement and adrenaline when you first drove a sporty, quick, nimble car. I had my licence within 15 days of turning 16. And when I joined Toyota, I was in the market for my first new car. I ended up buying a bright red ’89 Celica GTS five-speed. I loved that car. I sold it when we had our first child, but if I could find it and get it back today, I would.

What’s your dream road trip, and dream road trip playlist?

Route 66 — Chicago to L.A. I’ve never done it. The vehicle would be a Lexus SC400 convertible — with Mark Levinson sound, of course. And the first three songs on the playlist would be: Steely Dan, “Deacon Blues”; Neil Young, “Cinnamon Girl”; and Jason Isbell, “Travelling Alone.”

What’s some good advice you’ve learned along the way?

Dress well. It makes a difference. My kids are 29 and 23 years old, so hopefully I’ve given them some good advice along the way. What I’ve noticed about youth today is that they are so much more technically skilled than we were at their age — and they’re incredibly sharp thinkers. Anybody of any age can draw on that energy and optimism and use it as an inspiration. But also — and I don’t want to sound like an old guy — wisdom is important. So be open to it and use it as a guide. Stay open to anything and everything, and stay creative.