On the Road Again
Young Executives Network Makes Connections on Hot Rod Power Tour
By Amanda Gubbins
In June, 10 members of SEMA’s Young Executives Network (YEN) set out on the Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour. The network, which has a stated goal of cultivating talents and facilitating connections for SEMA-member company employees under age 40, has offered this program for the past three years in order to raise industry awareness and create connection points for up-and-coming industry leaders.
The 10 YEN members were paired in teams of two—one passenger and one driver, who brought his or her own vehicle on the tour. The participants were selected based on the strength of their application materials and with consideration of their chosen profession in order to demonstrate the breadth of the automotive specialty-equipment market.
“This program is about more than just ogling cool vehicles,” said SEMA Director of Networks Bryan Harrison. “We select YEN members who characterize YEN’s focus on young talent and career paths. The goal is to help each participant make great business connections while also advancing the network’s reach to consumers, students and young professionals already in the automotive industry. Ultimately, we’re looking to promote the career options available in the specialty-equipment industry and how SEMA can help individuals reach their goals.”
The seven-day, seven-stop tour began in Gonzales, Louisiana, and hit Texas and Oklahoma before ending in Kansas City, Kansas. At each stop, the participants completed assignments designed to promote personal interactions with automotive students, industry members and enthusiasts.
What sounds good in theory must be demonstrated in practice. According to the participants themselves, the school visits, discussions with enthusiasts and networking opportunities were highlights of the week. In total, the YEN members spoke with more than 110 young consumers and more than 40 young automotive professionals. The conversations proved beneficial both personally and professionally.
“Speaking directly with industry-leading vendors, finding projects to work on together and networking are just a sample of the benefits from this experience,” reflected Nick Caloroso of Diode Dynamics. “Learning from members of our group and their experiences in various segments of the market are also very useful in my growth as a young professional. Additionally, completing interviews with attending media outlets has aided me in improving my ability to represent myself and my company professionally.”
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram gave the participants the opportunity to chronicle their travels publicly and share stories, photos and videos of what they were experiencing using the hashtag #yenpowertour. The 10 netted 650 social-media posts during the week, garnering millions of impressions. Many of the posts focused on the connections the YEN members were making with other professionals and automotive students.
The team also visited four technical schools along the way: Sowela Technical Community College in Lake Charles, Louisiana; Johnson Community College in Smithfield, North Carolina; Wichita Area Technical College in Wichita, Kansas; and Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas. Those visits were some of the highest-rated aspects of the entire program.
“I think one of the good ways to help the younger generation get engaged in this industry is to show them what they can do,” said Eric Ables of Flat 12 Gallery.
“We all arrived in our cars, so they got to see a wide variety of vehicles roll in,” added Todd Earsley of My Shop Assist. “The kids were really excited about getting into the automotive industry, and they wanted to speak to people who are actually already doing it. So it was a lot of fun to give them some tips or what we’re looking for when we’re hiring people—just some sense of what they can aspire to when they finish school.”
Earsley’s best advice for students was to work on their own projects outside of school.
“If you really want to get involved, I suggest having something of your own so you can show your potential employer what you’ve done to the car over time,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be anything wild and crazy, but it’s really impressive if someone comes in and they’ve done some fabrication work, some paint and body, or they’ve done some stereo installation.”
After speaking to classes as a whole, the YEN members stuck around to talk about their vehicles and their careers one-on-one. Many of the students had questions about how to make the transition from student to fully employed professional.
“One student was fortunate enough to have a shop with his father, and he was going to the VoTech school for mechanics,” recalled Jason Geathers of Auto Images. “He really didn’t know how to get out of the school and incorporate his dad’s business. It was great to have the YEN group talk to him about the different facets of owning and running a shop, whether it be from the financial aspect or the mechanical aspect or the marketing side of things. He also had a classmate dealing with the same questions. So putting those two together from the same class, in the same town, with the same passion—I’m sure that’s going to drive their business and what they want to do in the future.”
When Zach Denney of Wholesale Horsepower joined the tour, he was hoping to demonstrate the breadth of the specialty-equipment market.
“I think young people often have a narrow scope of what you can do in the automotive world, and they don’t have any idea of all the opportunities that are present within the SEMA-member network,” he said.
His takeaway was that there is a bright future ahead for the industry.
“I think there’s a very passionate group of young people who are seeking to get into the industry, working on their own cars and doing their own thing,” he said. “It may not be what we grew up with, but there are people coming in every day who have interest in this industry.”
Caloroso concurred. “This experience has shown me that our industry is driven by individuals with passion and enthusiasm for automotive culture,” he said. “The Power Tour reinforced my belief that automotive culture is alive and well. Future generations will continue the traditions passed down to them by family and friends.”