“Balancing Work and Life While Building a Career in a Fast-Paced Industry”
We’ve all heard the saying, “Do what you love and never work another day in your life.” Not only has Eric Schumacher heard that timeless piece of advice, but he's also acted upon it and today has built a successful career in the automotive aftermarket. For the past six years, Schumacher has lived his dream as executive producer and founding member of Power AutoMedia—a young, but successful, digital media and video production company. In this “dream” position, Schumacher has been able to successfully combine his love for all things automotive and creative design.
The Temecula, California, resident has a unique perspective that has been shaped by the tenuous start-up years of Power AutoMedia, which was a true pioneer of digital media within the automotive aftermarket, while trying to successfully balance being a devoted father and husband. At 36, Schumacher has done what many never achieve in a lifetime—he has built a solid career in an industry that he is truly passionate about.
We recently spent some time with Schumacher, discussing a variety of topics that we thought fellow SEMA Young Executives Network (YEN) members would be interested in, especially his take on achieving a work/life balance—a subject that traditionally challenges young professionals.
In your experience, what’s the most challenging part of working in the automotive aftermarket industry? What’s been the most rewarding part of working in this industry?
Not being able to own all the cool vehicles I come into contact with is definitely the most challenging part [laughs]. In all seriousness, I think the most challenging part of working in this industry is keeping balance in your life so your work doesn’t overwhelm your automotive hobby/passion. Almost everyone in this industry got involved because they loved cars. Unfortunately, some people lose that passion along the way, and their work turns into just a job.
I really enjoy knowing the product that our team produces is impacting hundreds of thousands of people in a positive way. I’m very passionate about automobiles, and I love sharing that passion with others. My chosen form of expressing that passion just happens to be video and creative digital media channels.
Do you think the demands of working in this industry are tougher than other more traditional jobs?
It’s really hard for me to say because I’ve never worked a career-level job outside this industry. What I do know is that this industry can be very fast paced, even during times of the year when most people with normal jobs are on cruise control (November and December). In my line of work, deadlines are an ever-present part of the job, and it takes a certain type of personality to manage those demands. To me, one of the real upsides to this industry is that it seems a young person with talent and a strong work ethic can still rise to the top pretty easily.
How do you personally balance business travel, tight deadlines and family time?
Most importantly, I have a good support system at home, which is the foundation that makes it possible. I’m very fortunate to have an awesome wife who is very understanding about the passion I have for automobiles and consequently my work. She’s my backbone and supports me 100%, no matter how many late nights it takes to get the job done. She’s very focused and passionate about raising our son, which gives me the peace of mind to focus on my work during the day. Being a creative-type personality, it’s extremely important to have the right mindset in order to do my best work and be innovative. Thankfully, I have a wonderful family life that motivates me to do great work and push myself to get better each day.
What’s your strategy for staying energized and focused in an industry that has been known to burn people out?
My internal desire to do creative work and, of course, a love for cars. If you really love what you do, I find that it’s easy to get up and go to work every day. In addition, I really enjoy and thrive on the variety that I have in my position. Each day seems to bring something new. That’s been a great part of working for a small, growing company; we’re always doing things for the first time and breaking new ground. That variety keeps each day exciting.
Are you ever able to completely unplug from work and the industry? How has technology changed your answer to this question over the past 10 years?
Not really, but it doesn’t create a problem for me. Technology has definitely changed things since you pretty much have access to work communication channels at all times now. But I believe people can either make technology work “for” or “against” them. Ultimately, it’s up to us to make sure we control it rather than the other way around. Spending time with my wife and four-year-old son gives me that separation from work that I need to stay energized. You’ve just got to make a conscious decision to separate the two and be 100% there and engaged with your family when you’re not at work. Balance is the key, and you have to continuously work to achieve it.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in the automotive aftermarket?
It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, but the reward is high if you’re doing what you love. Find a stable company that you believe in, and do whatever it takes to learn. Seek out the leaders of the company, and ask lots of questions. Don’t be “that young guy” who comes onboard and on his second day on the job is telling everyone that will listen a better way to do everything. Focus on building relationships; you’ll be surprised at how valuable those relationships will turn out to be down the road.
If you’re not a car person, I think your odds of building a career in this industry are 50/50 at best. I suggest you would be better served to go work in an industry that you are passionate about.
Do you have any personal automotive projects? What’s your all-time dream car, if money was no object?
I’m on my third Fox Body Mustang Coupe. I’m converting it to an open-track/weekend vehicle. I look forward to the days ahead when it becomes a real father/son project. My son is really getting into cars as he gets older; the kid can already name a lot of classic cars from memory. I remember being a grade-school kid sketching cars on the back of my notebooks, and I suspect my son will probably be the same way.
No doubt about my dream car: it’s a C6 Z06 Corvette. I love that car and someday hope to own one (or more)!
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing our industry?
I think one of the greatest challenges for our industry is staying on the cutting edge of technology. I think our industry has always lagged a small step behind the technology curve. But I think that’s changing rapidly as we look for ways to be smarter and more efficient. The more technology we as an industry incorporate into our businesses, marketing and products, the better off our industry will be in the long run. Living in California, I can’t help but to also keep an eye on some of the government regulations that affect the industry. However, I have no doubt that the industry will adapt and innovate regardless of what happens on the legislative front. One thing I know about this industry is that we are a resilient group.
From a business perspective, is there someone that you look up to or seek out for guidance?
Definitely it’s James Lawrence, CEO of Power AutoMedia. I’ve been alongside James since our days at Promedia Publishing, and he’s always been a mentor and role model to me. James is an innovator and someone who answers the call everyday with unwavering enthusiasm. Without a doubt, he’s the reason I’m where I am today in my career—doing what I love to do!