Motor masters: Father-and-son Automotive grads expand family business into Winnipeg

Mario and Matthew Silva, Hi-Tech Automotive

He doesn’t quite have engine oil flowing through his veins, but Hi-Tech Automotive service manager Matthew Silva does have a blood-bond with the business. So much so that he likes to joke that his start date is the same as the one on his birth certificate.

“Everybody asks, ‘How long have you been working in a shop?’ and since I’m 28, I say, ‘Well, 28 years and they kinda look at me funny,” he says.

Matthew’s dad, Mario Silva, has been in the auto repair business since he graduated in 1989 from Red River College’s Apprentice Motor Vehicle Mechanic program (now Automotive Technician) with his Red Seal certification. For the past 24 years, he’s owned and operated Hi-Tech Automotive in Thompson, where Matthew, a 2017 graduate of the same RRC program, spent a lot of quality time as a child playing in the fenced compound out back.

“The compound was almost a little circle and I had a little snowmobile and I would ride for hours and hours. [My dad] never really had to get a babysitter because he’d just bring me to work and I would do my own thing in the back and check on what my Dad and the guys were doing – seeing and learning” Matthew says.

“From such a young age, I saw first-hand my dad’s work ethic and the fact that he is always willing to do what it takes to get it done the right way, no matter what.”

Always a good student, Matthew says his high school teachers encouraged him to go to university rather than take up a trade, but he found that jobs were scarce in his preferred field — designing snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles — and that he would have had to move away from home and family to pursue those interests.

“If I’d have known then what I know now, I would have gone to Red River College immediately,” Matthew says. “The hands-on and the actual applicable knowledge that the instructors had was amazing to me. I found tremendous respect for every single instructor I had there. They’ve definitely been there, done that — you ask them a question, they’ve come across it.” 

After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 2012, Matthew made the move back to Thompson, where he began the process of completing his apprenticeship through RRC. In 2017, he obtained his Red Seal Certification — just like his dad did decades earlier.

“For me, my Dad was probably the best mentor I could have ever had,” says Matthew. “When you work for family, they have very high expectations of you and personally, I believe that when the bar is set high, that’s when you come to your full potential.”

Mario’s path as a mechanic was a bit more direct. After high school, he set out to become a heavy-duty mechanic for Thompson’s Inco (now Vale) nickel mine, but there was a waiting list for that job, so he headed to Winnipeg and enrolled in RRC’s pre-employment program in 1986.

“That one-year pre-employment was probably the best thing I ever took because you took science, you took the basics of how things work and why.”

Matt and Mario Silva, June 2018Before he took over the former Pete’s Auto Repair and renamed it Hi-Tech Automotive, Mario worked at Pete’s and at a GM dealership in Thompson, where he also had previous business experience running a snowmobile shop. He tried city living on for size, working as a foreman for Murray Auto Group for a year, but he missed Thompson’s lakes and all the outdoor recreational opportunities, so he returned there to establish Hi-Tech Automotive.

In 2017, Mario decided to expand the business to Winnipeg, with Matthew making the move to manage the second location at 1761 Pembina Hwy.

Mario and his wife Linda, who handles the accounting for both locations, relocated to Steinbach, leaving Mario to travel between both the two locations the move also gave Mario more opportunity to indulge in his love for classic cars. (His collection includes a 1953 Chevy pickup, a 1962 Chevy Nova and a 1969 El Camino, which won awards at this year’s World of Wheels show.)

While Mario was a bit leery of opening a shop in Winnipeg, he did so knowing how much Matthew loves living in the big city. So far, so good.

“People are appreciating our service and it’s grown every month,” says Mario. “We spend the time to educate the customer. We won’t sell them something they don’t need. I think we make them feel at ease; we make it easy for them to make an educated decision.”

Matthew grew into his role as service manager in Thompson, and has transferred his great communication skills over to the Winnipeg shop. “Matthew has a great knack for explaining repairs to customers and making sure they understand the repair process.”

“Customer relationships are very important to me and I like to think that is what sets us apart from others, is forming that true relationship” he says. “That is something I learned living in Thompson because it is such a small town and just about everywhere you go you’re going to run into customers.”

Mario and Matthew both say the Winnipeg shop provides the same small-town service, and local customers are starting to taking notice.

“It’s kind of like a snowball effect. The best form of advertising is a friend telling a friend — that’s the difference that I’m seeing now as we start to pick up momentum, and that’s what’s helping us the most,” Mario says.

“You do a good job for one person and they’re likely to tell a couple more, and you get that exponential effect that the shop is counting on right now.”

Hi-Tech currently has a total of 13 staff members, seven in Winnipeg and six in Thompson. All but two mechanics are RRC grads or apprentices, proving the excellent training the College offers develops top-notch technicians.

“I have one employee, Charles Yamada, he’s a 10-year technician, and the best drivability person I’ve worked with. He started off not knowing what an impact gun is — but he also went through the Red River program and he’s still working for me.”

Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)