Our Migration to the Future

SEMA News—September 2012

CHRIS KERSTING

Our Migration to the Future

  Chris Kersting-SEMA President and CEO, Automotive Aftermarket Research, Automotive Accessories Research 
   
SEMA will soon be celebrating its 50th year and, like many 50-year-olds, we are taking stock. We’re asking, “How will the association stay relevant and help SEMA members in the coming decades?”

Within the automotive specialty-equipment arena, we see the rising generations moving into a range of market segments, seeing new opportunities, using different tools and communicating in different ways. SEMA is taking action to help younger individuals and companies find clear pathways to tap into the association and its seasoned members and to build productive business relationships, just as it did for prior generations.

One channel for this activity is the highly successful outreach program of the Young Executives Network (YEN). Just this month, YEN membership topped 1,000, making it the largest group of its kind and our largest council by far.

YEN undertakes a range of programs to introduce industry members to the benefits of involvement with the association. An example is YEN’s recently launched “Scholarship-to-SEMA-Show,” a program allowing 10 qualifying YEN members a “scholarship” to attend and participate in a range of Show opportunities. Recipients are those who would otherwise not have the opportunity to attend and gain exposure to the products, learning and networking that are the tremendous opportunities at the Show.

Backing up the YEN efforts are other initiatives to identify and integrate younger leaders. Starting on p. 24 of this issue, SEMA News premieres an annual piece to spotlight contributions being made by industry participants age 35 or under. While interacting with this group of up-and-comers, we learned how they see the industry’s future, the opportunities they perceive and their reactions to the challenges we all face. For example, this group is already comfortable with the ongoing marketing shift to mobile devices. Many use smartphones, tablets and their associated apps as primary business tools. Almost all mentioned the need to stay abreast of digital media and social media as those technologies evolve.

Some of our efforts are not new but evolving. The SEMA forefathers long ago established a scholarship fund to help train young people interested in careers in the automotive field. Today a committee of dedicated volunteers is working to tweak and tune the scholarship program to be in sync with the current environment. Thanks to efforts from industry sponsors and volunteers, the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund awarded $130,000 to 69 scholarship recipients plus $15,000 in loan forgiveness this past year alone. In all, $1.5 million has gone to 1,000 deserving students since the fund was started in 1984.

SEMA also gladly supports mentoring programs such as Hot Rodders of Tomorrow to help foster a culture that inspires future industry superstars. Meanwhile, the SEMA Show Student Program introduces those with automotive inclinations to the annual SEMA Show—and the leaders who have made careers from their passion for cars and trucks. The students gain a sense of the size and diversity of the specialty parts industry and come away with a network of business contacts and potential future employers.

We hope you find this month’s profiles of under-35 industry standouts enjoyable. And have no doubt that SEMA will continue to make it a priority to connect with the younger generation, because our industry needs their enthusiasm, their fearless determination and their unique insights as we move through this decade…and the next.

—Chris Kersting, SEMA President and CEO