In our lives we each have the opportunity to do things that make the world a better place. I think the opportunity to lead SEMA into the future is an area where I can offer a unique contribution to our community that loves the automobile and automotive performance. I am committed and serious about the prospect of the chairman-elect position, including dedicating the time and energy needed to be successful in the role.
There are a number of excellent candidates who will have a résumé that checks the boxes to be the chairman-elect for SEMA’s Board of Directors.
Taking nothing away from these very well-qualified people, I think the next chairman-elect must have more than a strong resume.
I believe our next chairman-elect must have a strong vision for the (new) challenging reality that we face in the performance aftermarket, a strong hand to facilitate action and movement in the SEMA association and in unifying our community, and the passion and energy to recruit, harness, and motivate new and existing SEMA Board members, SEMA staff, SEMA volunteers and SEMA members to accomplish these goals.
I believe we are in a great time of change, and the strong leadership of SEMA is uniquely qualified to alter the future of the automotive performance industry. I believe my history of business experience, relationships and connections in this industry, my life experience, and my passion for the love of the automobile demonstrates that I can and will succeed at preserving, innovating and growing this beautiful automotive community that we all care so much about.
I believe that my passion for the car and for motorsports will shine through in the difficult situations that we will need to face during the stewardship of SEMA. I believe that what connects us is a deep love and passion for the car, and we have to get serious now about protecting that right. There are a lot of factions that would and could, if allowed, take the steering wheel out of our hands.
The difficulty isn’t identifying what issues are challenging to the performance automotive industry: the decline in youth automotive interest, the graying of motorsports fans, the EPA and emissions issues, electrification and autonomous. The difficulty is developing effective solutions to proactively address them.
Over the next years, we must be willing to put our foot in the ground and push toward new solutions to these challenges. Identifying a priority list, developing a plan, and then getting everyone on our team—the SEMA Board, leadership and staff, plus the thousands of SEMA members, race fans, teams and builders—to put our shoulder into addressing these issues. It is my belief that while we should take the time to craft a good plan, the urgency of this situation will require substantial, creative and definitive action.
1) Youth Engagement
We must prioritize, invest, and grow our youth engagement initiatives substantially. We must tap not just SEMA’s resources, but that of the entire industry, and our SEMA members and PRI community must be called to action.
As the owner of the Performance Racing Industry trade show, SEMA has a tremendous opportunity in motorsports to organize, harness and grow this community and provide value to it. With the risks facing the street performance market, the growth of the global motorsports market is more important than ever.
I agree we must continue to pursue a three-tier plan, but we need to consider a more active approach in the future: (1) Working with government affairs and agencies to help them understand how to intelligently and fairly regulate and enforce existing laws; (2) more aggressively informing and assisting SEMA member companies with emissions and street performance-compliance; (3) continuing to smooth the path for getting parts approved — quickly and in a cost-effective manner, for EPA/CARB-legality.
4) Harnessing the Power of the SEMA/PRI Membership/Community
We have a community with hundreds of thousands of members, builders, racers, and fans, that love the car and enjoy modifying and enjoying its better performance and appearance. We must leverage and harness this community to make a difference by voting, communicating to our political representatives, growing motorsports and increasing young engagement activity. It takes a village, and we have one. We must unify our community and get them on the field.
5) Trade Shows
At our core, SEMA operates two very well-run trade shows: the SEMA Show and PRI Trade Show. I’d like us to continue to invest in our number-one asset and consider growing and expanding the operation of automotive-related trade and consumers shows. cing Industry trade show, SEMA has a tremendous opportunity in motorsports to organize, harness and grow this community and provide value to it. With the risks facing the street performance market, the growth of the global motorsports market is more important than ever.
What I’m Concerned About
The automotive aftermarket has several major long-term threats, and identifying these has become relatively simple. The big three (in order of long-term importance) are the lack of youth engagement/youth driving, EPA/regulatory issues and the adoption of autonomous vehicles/ride sharing (Uber, Lyft, etc.) as an alternative to owning and driving a vehicle. There is near-universal agreement that these are our common threats, so I won’t go into significant depth on each topic. Regardless of who is the chairman of SEMA, these threats will change the automotive aftermarket in dramatic ways (and in ways that we don’t yet fully understand.). Since we generally agree on the problems, I believe that our industry’s response to these existential issues poses the biggest threat.
#1 – Not acting decisively or powerfully enough to address youth engagement, EPA and regulatory issues. Action is needed, and we must respond proactively and strongly to make traction on these issues before they become impossible to counteract. A decade ago, the motorcycle industry was riding a high. Now, a snapshot of this same industry is telling: in the midst of steep decline brought on by the aging of the powersports customer, lack of youth interest, uninspired marketing, and Uber/ride sharing. SEMA and our industry must act decisively and powerfully while we have the resources and strength at our disposal.
#2 – Not harnessing the power of the current automotive enthusiast base. As of 2019, we have millions of automotive enthusiasts, racing fans, and tens of millions of drivers who absolutely love the feeling of a steering wheel in their hands.
Hot rodding and customizing today has a huge and impactful following, yet SEMA (and our industry) has no reliable way of reaching or activating this entire collective consumer base. Being able to get the individual and passionate automotive enthusiast to work on behalf of the automotive industry on these threats to achieve a common goal is critically important.
Without being able to harness the power of enthusiasts, we are faced with the frustrating status quo of knowing we have a fanatical group who loves the car, but no way to actually leverage or utilize this group. We must find a way to cohesively motivate this large group to protect our industry and influence politicians, regulations and encourage youth interest. As this (currently) large group ages out and becomes thinner in number, our collective power decreases, and with it, our ability to enact change in the future becomes muted.
#3 – Assuming we fully understand the youth markets, specifically Generation Z. SEMA member companies (and SEMA’s network and councils) now include a significant number of Millennials. However, Gen Z is the next tier of customers, and they are just turning 23 years old. This generation remains a mystery to a significant percentage of companies in our industry. Gen Z’s collective interest (or lack of interest) in cars is by far the most significant threat facing our industry.
It is important that we increase engagement with Gen Z as part of our youth engagement efforts—in focus groups, education sessions, and in hiring environments. We must develop a greater understanding of what makes them tick, what products and upgrades they want to add to their vehicles, and how we can motivate them to fall in love with owning and modifying their cars. Unlike Millennials (most which were at least raised by car-loving baby boomer parents), Gen Z’s love affair tends to be closer aligned with their phone, Siri, and social media. It is quite literally not just our future customer, but our next customer as Gen Z is now coming into significant buying power as it enters the workplace.
As a member of the SEMA Board of Directors, I believe that strides have been made to focus on initiatives that are important to our collective business. I do believe SEMA leadership and SEMA staff are focusing on the right issues and that we understand their impact thoroughly. We are in a far better place today in terms of having the clarity of knowing what the automotive aftermarket is facing.
At the SEMA Board level, I think there would be significant value in placing more emphasis on being more decisive and acting with more scale and significance to ultimately counteract the forces that put our industry at risk.
There is a popular saying “paralysis by analysis.” Even great organizations like SEMA can struggle with the balance between strategic analysis and action. At times, this great responsibility we have to get things right can cause too many cycles of research, study, and discussion. If I were to be elected SEMA Chair, I would like to place more emphasis on generating action and activity, even if we have to refine or optimize programs as we go.
Currently, I am working on the PRI Task Force project which is guiding the expansion of PRI and proposing enhanced member benefits that are motorsport- and racing-related. I believe we need as an association to place a greater emphasis on motorsports and related opportunities. As the street-performance marketplace is expected to face greater headwinds, there are growth opportunities in motorsports for a wide array of SEMA-member companies, as well as to expand the membership base to new member companies, racetracks, sanctioning bodies and even to individual racers, engine builders, and service providers. There are opportunities in other related-trade events and shows such as UTVs, karting, off-road and e-gaming. We must keep an eye out for how SEMA can grow and expand opportunities in motorsports for our member companies
Hiring additional staff with automotive and motorsports experience: I believe adding additional SEMA and PRI staff that have a background and experience in automotive customization, selling aftermarket parts and racing would provide a benefit for SEMA and for SEMA members. Both automotive enthusiasts and association professionals are vitally important to a successful SEMA. I’d like to see the hiring process optimized around automotive intangibles where they could be an indicator for success. Speaking plainly, the tribal knowledge that comes along with hands-on automotive and motorsports experience could improve association communication and projects.
I would like to discontinue the practice of automatically continuing SEMA member programs year-over-year based on inertia. SEMA has a lot of programs. Some highly effective. Some good, and some that are not producing results. It’s hard for staff or a council/network to get a program killed or even suggest it. It’s politically risky. I believe that SEMA should focus on adding resources to programs that provide the most benefit and the maximum value for membership. By its very nature, that means discontinuing programs that aren’t working. To do that, SEMA would need to institute a culture and practice of reviewing and evaluating programs with the willingness to stop doing what’s not working.
Why James is Right for SEMA Chairman?
The most effective SEMA Chairman possesses critical intangibles: a careful balance of strategic vision and innovation, the ability to cohesively pull together different groups with often varied goals, and a drive to push through what could be significant headwinds.
I believe that I meet the criteria, and have the business experience, industry knowledge, and intangibles to be a successful SEMA chairman. I am uniquely qualified because:
- I am a lifelong automotive enthusiast who believes in the magic of the automobile. I have won two NMCA championships and have competed in more than 100 motorsport and automotive events including drag racing, oval track, dirt track and autocross.
- I’ve built many performance vehicles in my career, including a wide array of builds. I have a high level of technical knowledge, from engine building, transmission, chassis, suspension, electronics and more. For the last five years, I have managed EFI tuning on our 2,500+ hp racing engines.
- I’ve founded and operated three diverse and successful businesses, including ProMedia (NMRA and NMCA event series), Ford Performance Solutions (mail order, engine building, retail) and Power Automedia (digital media, publishing, video production).
- I am a proven leader who understands how to develop strategy, how to motivate and transform organizations. I have the ability to work with the SEMA Board of Directors and SEMA leadership to develop a strategic vision and innovation roadmap for SEMA and PRI, working with networks, councils and staff to unify goals and create bridges between groups.
- I have a high level of expertise in helping businesses grow and sell products more effectively. As an expert in automotive marketing and technology, I understand the latest trends in digital marketing, digitization trends, and platform development.
- I am not afraid of hard work and will ask others to elevate their contribution levels and work quality.
- I have nine years of event management and promotional experience, and I have been involved in a wide range of programs across all SEMA segments.
- I have experience in leading large-scale, collaborative projects (working with a wide variety of clients, from smaller businesses to nine-figure OEMs). It’s vital that our SEMA chair-elect have the ability, charisma and capabilities of persuasion to weave together the efforts of our passionate groups into a cohesive unified force.
- I have the heart and passion to fight through difficult situations and make tough decisions.
If you believe in my vision for a new SEMA, please support me and vote in the upcoming SEMA election.
With love and passion for the automobile,