By Ashley Reyes
Chris Nelson is the SEMA Future Leaders Network’s (FLN), formerly Young Executives Network (YEN), newest spotlight member. Nelson is the chief marketing officer at Driven Lighting Group, a designer, marketer, influencer and online retailer of aftermarket enthusiast automotive lighting products.
Get to know Nelson in his interview with SEMA below.
SEMA: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Chris Nelson: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from the first day of a business management class in college. My professor asked the room to explain “why you go into business...” and the answers were mostly money-driven. To make a profit, to make money, to accomplish great things, etc. They were all wrong. My professor insisted that the reason to be in business was to help people and to solve a problem. That shift in perception as a young entrepreneur has shaped how I operate as a business owner and leader.
A lot of what I do in business today is geared toward the customer experience, and if we are not actively making people’s lives better, I don’t think we’re doing a good job. We are not here to just make money, or to ‘beat’ our competitors. We are here to make a difference and solve problems. I employ this philosophy with my teams by frequently encouraging them to think about the customer experience, and how what they are doing, what they are building, affects the end-user. Did you solve a problem? Did you make their life easier? Did you make them happier? What I’ve found is when you start from that point of view, it becomes very clear how to win in business because that’s all our customers really want. It’s not all that there is, and it’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but I’ve found that the companies that do this the best find success the easiest.
SEMA: What keeps you in the industry?
CN: I’m obsessed with cars and trucks because I grew up around them. My dad had his own high-performance engine shop, and then he taught the current generation of engine machinists and builders the trade before retiring. I’ve been elbows-deep in many engines over the years, and the idea of building something that most people take for granted gets me jazzed up. Today I’m in automotive lighting, but it’s a similar experience to engines. Everyone has a car, with an engine, wheels and lights—it's just that mine is faster, with cooler wheels, and better lighting than most!
SEMA: Where can you be found on a Saturday?
CN: In my free time, I am either at car shows, racing events, working on the house, at the beach or hanging out with my family at home.
SEMA: How do you prepare for an important meeting?
CN: I spend time drilling down into the parts of the meeting that affect me and try to identify the main things I need to communicate. It’s really easy sometimes to get lost in the weeds of a complex idea, and a skill I’m working on is to communicate more powerfully. I find that it’s important to have a heavy-hitting single idea that is “easy to digest” in a room full of decision makers and let the conversation go from there. The conversation will automatically uncover the need to go into details if you do a good job communicating the important ideas off the bat.
SEMA: If you could go to lunch with one industry leader, living or dead, who would it be?
CN: Not sure he would exactly be called an industry leader, but he definitely made a major impact. I would love to go to lunch with Smokey Yunick and get a sense for his personality and energy in real life. His stories are wild and I love how he lived his life, truly independent and challenging what’s normal.
If you are a current FLN member, fill out an FLN member spotlight form. Selected candidates may be featured on FLN’s social media, SEMA eNews and FLN member updates.