Compiled by SEMA News Staff
A Few Words With Paul “Scooter” Brothers
An Interview With the Outgoing Chairman of SEMA’s Board of Directors
On Friday, July 26, SEMA will host its annual Installation Banquet & Gala Fundraiser, and Brothers will pass the leadership torch to SEMA’s new Chairman, Nate Shelton. SEMA News recently interviewed Brothers about his experience as chairman, and the conversation provided an ideal vantage point for understanding the State of the Association.
SEMA News: From 2009–2011 you served on the SEMA Board of Directors as Chairman-Elect alongside Chairman Rick Rollins. What were some of the strategic initiatives and projects that were in motion when you became chairman?
Scooter Brothers: Rick had done a fantastic job and left things in an ideal position. The great thing about the SEMA process is that I was able to spend two years as incoming chairman. This allowed me to hit the ground running knowing exactly what initiatives Rick had in the works, and with him serving as outgoing chair, there was some really great continuity. Toward the end of Rick’s term the SEMA Board had quite a list of things on their strategic initiative list. So many projects, in fact, that it was easy for the Board and staff to lose their way. Rick did a great job of realigning the priorities of the Board and made it much easier to focus on the ones that really counted. This helped me begin with a much better idea of what we were up against for the next two years.
SN: During your tenure as chairman, SEMA was able to achieve a number of significant milestones on high-priority projects, one of which was the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC). How did this project come together, and where do we stand now?
SB: The (SDC) was well underway, but we knew that it would require a tremendous amount of work and a lot of Board help. The Board had approved the concept and allocated a good budget to make it happen, but the project was going to take a lot of work to get it going. Chris Kersting and Bob Moore conducted a series of ‘listening tours’ with many SEMA members to find out what they needed and really wanted the SDC to do. The task force that had been working on SDC prepared a vision for what ultimately turned into the SDC. Many man-hours went into the project, and eventually the concept was completed and the SDC was born. Jon Wyly was hired to run SDC, and it was ready for the next step. The beta-testing phase far surpassed all expectations, and the program is now off and running. The entire project has been handed from the Board to staff, and the SDC initiative is in the midst of a successful rollout at this time.
SN: Another big event was the purchase of Performance Racing Industry (PRI), and subsequent consolidation with the International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS), bringing the two shows together in Indianapolis. What was going on with this project when you came to be chairman, and now that it is accomplished, where will it take us?
SB: With regard to PRI and IMIS, the purchase of PRI by SEMA was already underway, and we knew that this was an opportunity for SEMA and its members to do something really good for the industry. We could clearly see that this was one that would need high priority. Since I had been so involved with PRI since its inception, I really wanted to bring it into the SEMA family and ensure a good future for PRI. I am particularly proud that this merger was accomplished during my term. Not only as the SEMA Chair, but also as a business owner I felt that bringing the PRI and the IMIS shows together and moving back to Indy would be a tremendous boost for the industry. I have personally attended every single PRI and IMIS show and really look forward to the consolidation of these two shows. This will support the racing segment of our industry and ensure its future growth and stability.
SN: Improving the overall efficiency of SEMA’s Board of Directors was another high-priority initiative during your administration. As we understand it, the goal was to not just reduce the overall number of Board members, but to improve communication between the Board of Directors and SEMA’s council leadership. What was the motivation behind making these changes, and how will it benefit the Association?
SB: The one thing I said when I was elected chairman was that I wanted to leave the association and the Board in as good or better position than when I took over. This included a vision of a smaller, much more nimble Board. We knew the Board would need to be smaller and act quicker in order to take advantage of some great opportunities. We didn’t have a clear picture at the time of how to get it done or exactly what it would look like, but I knew I really wanted to find a way to do this.
The week before I became the incoming chair, I attended a Council Summit. There I made a pledge to the council leadership that I would work more closely with the councils and involve them in SEMA’s bigger picture. I asked the council leaders for their help and pledged the cooperation and support of the Board. We weren’t exactly sure how we would get this done, but we knew communication was the key issue.
A plan was developed to decrease the size of the Board through normal attrition of the Board seats, with representation of each segment of the association’s membership. The SEMA bylaws require a two-thirds approval of the entire membership to make a change of this sort. The vote was taken, and the membership overwhelmingly supported this new Board structure. These changes have been completed, and as of this Board cycle, the Board is at its new smaller and more nimble size. This should allow the Board to be more visionary and proactive.
SN: After about a year of working to integrate the councils and the Board, what can you tell us about the current status of
SB: With the Board restructured, collaboration with the councils became even more necessary. Not only for information going from the Board to the councils, but more importantly from the councils up to the Board. There had to be a way the Board could hear the membership, and that was clearly through the councils. As opposed to each council operating autonomously, the Board created a council leadership group consisting of two council leaders who attend the Board meetings and participate with the Board concerning council issues. This has proven to be a very effective way to bring the councils and the Board together and utilize the power of the councils to help the Board work on the future of the association.
SN: During a previous interview, you mentioned how rewarding it’s been to connect with students, especially because they will be responsible for helping move our industry into the next generation. The association has a strategic partnership with Clemson University, specifically to encourage students to consider applying their engineering talent to the automotive industry. Why did SEMA form this partnership with Clemson, and how does the relationship benefit our industry?
Five or six years ago there was a video shown at the SEMA Show banquet about this cool satellite campus of Clemson University in South Carolina. It was still developing at this time, but it was going to be specifically built around college graduate studies for the automotive industry. Jim Cozzie was SEMA chairman at the time and recognized that this was an opportunity for SEMA and its members. The result of all this vision was the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). We realized that the technology and complexity of vehicles was growing rapidly and that the association needed to take a leadership role in understanding this technology so SEMA-member products can be integrated into future vehicles. With that in mind, I fostered a relationship between the leadership of the SEMA Board and CU-ICAR that has resulted in a grant to CU-ICAR that will ensure that SEMA stays abreast of the latest technology advances in the automotive industry.
SN: In the May 2013 issue of SEMA News, Chris Kersting announced SEMA’s plans to open a SEMA Product Development Center. How did this new project come about and what types of services will the new facility offer?
SB: Toward the end of my term, a building that SEMA had built and leased to the AAA became available. Rather than leasing it for office space, the Board supported a plan to use the space to help SEMA member companies with product development. This would allow SEMA to consolidate and expand existing SEMA benefits, such as Technology Transfer, rapid prototyping and the very successful vehicle Measuring Sessions into a much more far-reaching resource.
Mike Spagnola was hired to head up the facility and has already begun adding meat to the bones. This facility is already equipped with a fully certified California Air Resources Board (CARB) emissions dyno lab, and will also include lifts and tools for member companies to install parts for testing. Domestic vehicles and overseas models, such as the Toyota HiLux pickup, can be brought in for more extensive measuring sessions. Help members obtain CARB executive orders (EOs) and a complete photo studio are only a few of the things planned to make this a world-class product development center for the members.