Compiled by SEMA News Editors
35 Under 35
In order to land on our “35 Under 35” list, individuals must first be nominated by one or more industry peers. Pouring through the nominations, SEMA News looks for candidates already displaying leadership qualities within their organization or business. Entrepreneurship, commitment, insight, innovation, integrity, responsibility, and demonstrated skill, involvement and success within the industry weigh heavily in our decision-making. The selection process is never easy—in one way or another, every nominee is a winner—but, ultimately, we reduce the nominations down to 35 finalists to make our special section. When all was said and done for this 2014 edition, we again found ourselves with an impressive roster of highly accomplished individuals making their marks at a young age in a diverse array of industry segments.
In the following pages, we are again pleased to present 35 young trendsetters bringing exciting new ideas and renewed enthusiasm to every corner of the specialty-equipment marketplace. Often embracing and even pioneering new technologies and “Millennial” business practices, they nevertheless share in the same creative dynamism and industry spirit that every “old-schooler” will immediately recognize and appreciate. In short, these are people to watch in the years to come. And if they’re any indication of the new generation on the rise, our industry will not lack for talent, energy and passion in future years.
Sarah Albright, 27
Senior Public Relations Coordinator
Arriving at Mishimoto just three years ago, Sarah Albright hit the ground running, successfully launching and managing the TeamMishi driver program that now encompasses more than 350 international drivers and professional athletes. In addition, she has written and secured placement of more than 200 media features detailing the company’s products and engineering while also doubling Mishimoto’s social media reach.
“Catering to the next generation of social media users is definitely going to be a challenge,” she said.
“You constantly have to be in tune with the newest trends—which can change on a weekly basis—and always keep an eye out for the next revolution. You can release a product to hundreds of thousands of people in seconds, and it’s already out on blogs and other social streams in a matter of hours. You have to become a master of knowing what the end consumer’s interests are at any particular moment.”
Albright fell in love with the industry with her very first car, a Honda del Sol, and practiced her photography skills at numerous drift events and car shows.
In her briefcase: Albright’s satchel overflows with an iPhone, two sugar-free Red Bulls and a pack of Sharpies representing every color of the rainbow.
Jonathan Barber, 25
National Sales Manager
Jonathan Barber’s skill at managing warehouse-distributor and jobber accounts across the country has helped Oracle Lighting to more than double its annual revenue since he became the company’s national sales manager, helping Oracle make four consecutive appearances on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing small businesses. Barber was also able to expand Oracle Lighting’s sales to Dubai and Saudi Arabia after attending the SEMA Middle East Conference, sharply increasing Oracles’s international sales and leading the U.S. Small Business Administration to name Oracle Lighting the “2013 Louisiana Exporter of the Year.”
“The biggest challenge I foresee in the near future is staying on top of the curve and being able to produce new products as soon as a new vehicle is released that we know people will modify. The key is to be able to have something in the works before the demand is there,” Barber said. “Every day working in the automotive aftermarket has been a blessing, because I was able to meet a lot of people who taught me about the industry and how to become an influential person.”
In his briefcase: Barber keeps all of his contacts, calendars, product sheets and sales tools stored on his phone. “It also contains social media apps that help bring awareness to a large client base regarding new products, new projects and customer vehicles that we feature,” he said.
Ryan Balicki, 34
Since taking the reins as the company’s sales manager in 2013, Ryan Balicki has made a significant impact at Motovicity, leading its sales and customer-service efforts and helping to shape many of its newest industry relationships through a combination of personal charisma and business acumen. Balicki credits wrenching with his father on a ’67 Olds 442 with whetting his childhood performance appetite. “I used to pretend it was the General Lee and would only get in through the window,” he recalled.
“In all honesty, I think that the performance aftermarket wholesale segment is in a really good place,” he said. “The economy has improved and people have had the liberty to spend a little more than they would have in past years. The resurgence of the Big Three and what we refer to as Modern Muscle has been a huge lift for our industry. The American musclecar has made a comeback, with Ford, GM and Chrysler all producing respectable vehicles, leading to great opportunities for the aftermarket performance industry.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone, an iPad, a laptop, a calculator and a desktop computer. “It’s a tight squeeze, but it’s in there. The industry is so data-driven that you have to be dialed in at all times.”
Benjamin Bowman, 35
Vice President for Supply Chain Management & Quality
With a degree in mechanical engineering and training as a toolmaker, Ben Bowman is also experienced in various automotive Tier 1 quality systems and is the youngest vice president in the 25-company Dubin Clark family of companies. He manages the global supply chain for two of the leading restoration market companies and three brands, and is responsible for new-product development across all group companies and brands. He is an expert in outsourcing and manufacturing in the United States and is a member of SEMA’s Young Executives Network.
“Each year, we see different cars make the transition into the elite group of vehicles people want to restore,” Bowman said. “American muscle really drives our market sector now, but something completely different may be on the horizon. My team is constantly picking up on trends, and the next generation may find new cars to be passionate about. That is challenging but also exciting.”
In his briefcase: “Any tool that keeps me connected and organized is not far out of reach,” Bowman said. “That includes my iPhone, pen and pad, plenty of business cards, current industry magazines, passport and a good book to keep me focused on my growth in business. If I could put in a model car to build, I would have that, too.”
Mike Brown, 29
Co-Founder and CEO
Mike Brown founded ModBargains while he was still attending Southern California’s Chapman University. Today, the retail installer has evolved into a 25-person operation with customers numbering more than 100,000. When not working to make ModBargains the ideal business for employees and customers alike, Brown can be found mentoring students at his alma mater.
“The methods in which customers are sourcing product information today are becoming more and more diverse, challenging and always changing,” he observed. “The rise of social media platforms has changed the way companies must engage customers and build product demand. When we started 10 years ago, social media wasn’t in the cards. Today, it’s essential.
“Everything is coming down to data management. It’s not easy to do, but the companies that collect, manage and utilize clean data will win. Another challenge is managing marketing that is stretched across many different channels. Having so many social media touch points and methods of customer contact can be exhausting, but if you miss a question, post or comment, you’ve just missed a customer.”
In his briefcase: A laptop and an iPhone synched with Google Calendars, apps and Gmail, not to mention a Los Angeles Kings coffee mug constantly at hand.
Devin Butterbrodt, 26
New Product / Production Improvements Manager
Devin Butterbrodt started at Classic Instruments through a college work-study program but now runs its new-product development team, and the company has won numerous new-product awards with him as manager, including one at the SEMA Show. Butterbrodt represents the company at NSRA, SEMA and Goodguys automotive events and is a member of the SEMA’s Young Executives Network and the Hot Rod Industry Alliance. He also trains high-school students in Classic Instrument’s “School to Work” programs.
“I grew up in a family of tinkerers,” he said. “My dad, a grandpa or an uncle was always fixing, working on or building something, so I had no shortage of projects, tools or advice. They all taught me the value of doing quality work and how to creatively solve a problem. I enjoyed working with them, and I’m glad to be able to apply the values they taught me to create products for people to have fun with.”
In his briefcase: “If I carried a briefcase, it would probably be full of car parts and junk food,” Butterbrodt said. “I do have an iPhone that I occasionally use to snap pictures and take notes, but I still prefer an old-fashioned pen and notepad. It might not be the latest and greatest, but it will get you where you are going just fine.”
Josh Buis, 35
Chief Operating Officer
“Window film reduces energy costs and glare and blocks harmful UV rays that can cause damage to skin and interior furnishings,” he said. “Installers have abundant options when choosing a vender, but I would challenge them to do their research and choose a company that provides exceptional customer service and uses only the highest-quality raw materials in its film.”
In his briefcase: “I could not function without my Samsung Note, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft PowerPoint and Quickbooks,” Buis said.
Michael Chang, 33
Founding Evasive Motorsports about a decade ago, Michael Chang and Tony Kwan have heavily leveraged social media to build their business into an online, retail and wholesale aftermarket sales powerhouse. Along the way, they have also secured a trendsetting reputation in the sport-compact segment. The pair grew up with a love for cars, thanks to the car culture that surrounded them, from auto shows to racing.
“Our blessing was when we decided to make it our daily grind,” said Chang. “The most important trend to us is the revival and increased number of car enthusiasts who are actively going to the racetrack. Our roots are on the road course, and we enjoy assisting customers who share the same passion.”
Kwan added, “One of the biggest trends in the near future will be for performance parts manufacturers to create aftermarket parts for a wider variety of vehicles as OEMs go from gasoline to hybrid and electric-powered cars. For shops, the challenge will be to effectively tune future cars as OEMs hold a tighter grip on their platforms.”
In their briefcases: Kwan packs an iPhone, a laptop and car keys so he’s ready to go anytime. Chang can’t survive without his coffee, iPhone and beef jerky.
Jared Cox, 35
Director, New Product Engineering
Drawn to the world of speed since childhood, Jared Cox is considered the dynamo behind every new product at Aeromotive, typically spearheading the research and development of four to five new creations a year. In fact, his efforts have garnered the company a total of three SEMA Show New Product Awards in recent years.
“Trends come and go, but you have your core products that always do good,” he observed. “Some trends are worth investing in and others not so much. Having skilled coworkers and passion-minded people as well as listening to customers can give you a good feel for where the market is headed.”
For Cox, counterfeit products present a major specialty-
“We’re seeing a large influx into our market,” he said. “They bear our company’s logo, shapes and colors. It’s difficult to explain to customers that you can’t help them because the items aren’t your products. We’re currently working on fixes to help fight against counterfeits.”
In his briefcase: “I couldn’t do without a set of digital calipers, a smartphone, a calculator and a camera to prove that I work. Oh, and a good set of coworkers to tell me to slow down and step away from the edge.”
Baadal Deliwala, 34
Owner and Sales Manager
Titan Motorsports is a performance parts distributor in Orlando, Florida, founded by brothers Nero and Baadal “Bottle” Deliwala in 1999 as an e-commerce venture to fund their Toyota Supra build and drag-racing addiction. Their dedication to the import performance market resulted in them becoming the winningest team in NHRA Sport Compact history.
Deliwala graduated with a degree in management information services from the University of Central Florida, but his true education has come from more than 15 years of building a global performance parts brand. He was previously a select committee member of the Sport Compact Council and is currently a member of the Emerging Trends & Technology Network.
“The old saying ‘Race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ has really held true for our business,” Deliwala said. “We use our racing to develop parts and business relationships with our sponsors and supporting suppliers and to help educate our end consumers with knowledge gained at the track. We rely heavily on data acquisition, not just to make our race cars go faster but also for our business with analytics and database management.”
In his briefcase: Deliwala doesn’t leave home without his smartphone. “Using e-mail and custom enterprise applications, we can communicate and manage customer orders through our phones from anywhere in the world, 24/7,” he said.
Nicholas D’Agostino, 34
Automotive Market Segment Manager
A Primedia freelance writer and photographer at 21, the owner of an engine shop at 25, recruited by Diamond Racing Pistons at 27 and joining Wiseco Performance Products as its automotive market segment manager at 33—Nicholas D’Agostino has crammed a lot of experience into his brief career. D’Agostino also places significant emphasis on supporting grassroots automotive events and believes that youth development is vitally important to the health of the industry.
“The product-development process is easily the most enjoyable part of my job,” he said. “It gets me out of the boardroom and back into the engine room, which is where I started. Many of us spent some portion of our youth working on or driving performance vehicles of some kind. Finding a way to get the youth of America to put down the controller and pick up a wrench is the first step to building the next generation of gearheads.”
In his briefcase: D’Agostino said that his iPhone and Outlook calendar are the two necessities of survival. “My iPhone apps run the gamut from running and fitness programs (just ran my first half marathon last month) to Urbanspoon and my music catalog,” he said. “My laptop is also with me in case I need to break out the heavy artillery.”
Tiffany Dorin, 27
National Accounts Manager
Tiffany Dorin started in the automotive aftermarket with a part-time job at an accessory shop to help cover a friend who couldn’t work full time, but Dorin discovered that she could truly enjoy building a career in the industry when she attended her first SEMA Show in 2005. She moved into sales at Keystone Automotive and then to MagnaFlow, where her accounts now total more than $10 million in annual revenue. She was recently promoted to national accounts manager for MagnaFlow, and she is also a member of the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network and the Young Executives Network.
“I faced challenges and opportunities that pushed me to grow as an individual and as a businesswoman, getting me to where I am today,” she said. “Though I may not have started as an automotive enthusiast, it has become a part of who I am, and I am privileged to be surrounded by like-minded people
In her briefcase: “Anyone who knows me knows that I always have my iPhone with me,” she said. “Responsiveness and quick follow-up have been two key factors to my success. With the amount of travel I do, my phone is my strongest tool. I also carry an iPad, a laptop, business cards, a pen, water, Chapstick and plenty of pictures of my daughter to keep me smiling!”
James Gill, 35
D3 Group is a premier manufacturer of Cadillac tuning equipment for both street and track and is a leader in Cadillac performance and accessories. James Gill, the company’s CEO and president, grew up racing and restoring classic musclecars and has spent 14 years in automotive aftermarket manufacturing and design for the Cadillac luxury marque.
“I’ve always had an appreciation for vehicles and understand the industry’s history,” he said.
“Right now, custom wraps are trendy for this market segment, offering customers a drastic change to their vehicles without them having to spend tens of thousands of dollars. Second- and third-hand owners are now picking up high-end vehicles, and the amount of money they are willing to spend on their vehicles changes with each owner. Knock-off companies continue to erode the value of the products being offered in this market segment and give potential consumers a false sense of cost. We spend a lot of time educating our consumers so they understand that not all products are created equal.”
Gill’s company holds a license for OEM Cadillac accessories, manufacturing parts for the entire line of Cadillac vehicles. The company is also a supporter of and active participant in the Cadillac Challenge racing series.
In his briefcase: Ever the designer, Gill carries an iPad, a French curve, rulers, stencils and a note pad.
Matthew Heller, 32
Matthew Heller entered the automotive specialty aftermarket 12 years ago with a single idea: air horns. Extremely loud ones.As founder and president of Hornblasters, Heller personally introduced multiple new products that completely turned the horn segment upside down. Thanks to his efforts, any vehicle can now sound like a semi truck or train. His company also can now be convincing when it claims to be the number-one horn brand in the world, and has received multiple SEMA Global Media Awards along the way, attesting to Hornblasters’ international appeal.
Over the years, through tedious research and development, Heller has designed, manufactured and launched more than 25 branded products, catering to a niche of mobile electronics that he calls “the coolest segment of the industry.” Like other rising aftermarket entrepreneurs, he sees social media as the most important trend affecting the marketplace, although he confides that iPhone battery life is his biggest day-to-day challenge. (“The struggle is real,” he quipped.)
Hornblasters is based in the small town of Zephyrhills, Florida, and its success has provided Heller with the ability to give back to his community, where he regularly can be found sponsoring charity fundraising activities and participating in local leadership programs and groups.
In his briefcase: “Who under 35 carries a briefcase?” he asked.
Greg Higgs, 34
In 2004, Greg Higgs founded truck and Jeep bumper and accessories manufacturing company Fab Fours in Jakarta, Indonesia, but eventually relocated it to first Colorado and then Lancaster, South Carolina. In the last few years, Fab Fours made the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in America and the Aggie 100 fastest-growing companies owned by Texas A&M graduates. He built the business from a startup to 65 employees, with revenues of more than $11 million.
Higgs supports many local charities, and Fab Fours outsources work to many regional businesses, contributing to the area’s economy. He brought 40 new jobs that didn’t previously exist to the Lancaster region, and his employees are significantly increasing their skill sets with lean manufacturing methods and computer-controlled machines introduced by Higgs.
“Premium truck and Jeep sales are wild right now and show no signs of slowing,” Higgs said. “Our greatest challenge is OEM design complexity. Their focus on safety features and fuel efficiency can provide new and unique challenges to designing aftermarket parts without sacrificing elements that customers paid for on the original vehicle.”
In his briefcase: Higgs carries a mobile hotspot, graph paper for scale sketching of new products and a victory cigar that he says is “mostly crushed but waiting for that perfect moment.”
Dan Kahn, 34
Having sold parts in a speed shop during high school, landing his first magazine job at 18 and going to work for Rod & Custom magazine at 22, Dan Kahn has been involved in the automotive aftermarket all his life. He started his own Kahn Media marketing and PR company more than five years ago.
“I’ve always been passionate about cars and communication,” he said. “I’m blessed that this industry has afforded me the opportunity to make a living combining the two. The aftermarket has to compete with dozens of other ways potential customers can spend their money. To capture their attention (and business), brands must use every tool available, and we provide those tools.”
Kahn’s greatest influence was his father, who gave him the conﬁdence to follow his dreams. In addition to running his business, he also serves on the SEMA Hall of Fame nominations committee, is a member of the SEMA PAC President’s Club, is chairman of the SEMA Young Executives Network and co-founded “Cars for a Living,” a podcast geared to helping people find their way into jobs in the aftermarket.
In his briefcase: Kahn carries everything he needs to set up a mobile office while on the road. That includes a Dell XPS convertible tablet/laptop, a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot, about 200 business cards, his iPhone, chargers, a Dayplanner and an entire box of pens.
Brett Kinsfather, 34
With 12 years in the industry, Brett Kinsfather was not only instrumental in managing Motovicity’s largest and most successful marketing campaign to date but also played a key role in the company’s selection as SEMA’s 2013 Warehouse Distributor of the Year. His ability to enhance awareness of the company has significantly boosted Motovicity’s brand within the aftermarket.
“Growing up, I pretty much had zero athletic ability, so typical sports weren’t a big part of my life,” he said. “But my dad was into hot rods, and I always admired what guys like Mickey Thompson were able to achieve, so I can say that my career really started there.
“The biggest challenge I see for the aftermarket is a sense of satisfaction with the status quo. Any time we accept mediocrity as a substitute for greatness, we have a problem. We need to keep experimenting, failing and breaking records so that we can go on to create exciting, meaningful products and services that improve performance, efficiency and the user experience. Even though my segment is technically B2B distribution, consumer demand and excitement are what drive business.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone loaded with podcasts, an old-school daily planner and oversized sketchbook. “I’m constantly cutting out and pasting ads, e-mails, promotional pieces and designs that not only inspire but move me with their look and messaging.”
Dave Kass, 27
Customer Service Manager
Growing up in an automotive enthusiast family with a passion for the aftermarket propelled Dave Kass into the prominent and highly visible customer service manager position at QA1, where he leads and trains QA1’s customer-service and tech-support team and organizes close to 50 trade and car shows that the company participates in each year.
He works with engineering and product managers to determine which new products to release and plays a large role in their research and development, acting as the link between production and sales. He also emcees the QA1 Autocross at the Car Craft Summer Nationals, keeping the competitors and crowd entertained and updated in unshaded 90-plus-degree heat.
“Enthusiasts these days are putting much more of an emphasis on learning about the parts they put on their vehicles, including where the parts come from and the materials used,” he said.
“I am truly proud to work for a manufacturer that uses the most state-of-the-art equipment and materials to provide people with the highest-quality parts for the money.”
In his briefcase: “I never leave my desk without my phone, a notepad for my daily to-do list and notes and, most importantly, a Mountain Dew,” he said.
Greg Kirber, 28
Before launching PartsTech, Greg Kirber began his career at the shop level, working in both repair and performance. After earning a law degree, he’s now breaking new ground in e-commerce by utilizing cloud-based data, aggregation and analytics to build superior product-identification and ordering systems for the marketplace.
“In the last decade, we’ve seen a drastic increase in the technological complexity of new vehicles and the subsequent adoption of new technologies on the shop floor,” he said. “We are also seeing enormous growth in e-commerce ordering as well as the need for better data to support it. Images, digital branding and catalog data are now critical marketing vehicles for suppliers, retailers and distributors.”
Kirber, who credits his engineer father for his inspiration and problem-solving abilities, sees big challenges ahead for the industry.
“Technology has enabled companies to bring concepts to prototype and prototypes to market with incredible speed,” he said. “Not only must we keep pace with an increasing number of automotive products, but e-commerce sales channels must also keep pace with new technology platforms while constantly striving to improve user experiences.”
In his briefcase: Two laptops, an iPhone, a tablet, a legal pad, a slightly bent screwdriver, a constantly changing to-do list and snacks well beyond their expiration dates.
Ryan D. Kirkwood, 32
President and CEO
Under Ryan Kirkwood’s leadership, UMI Performance has grown from a small cadre of employees to a staff of 30 dedicated professionals building high-quality suspension components for musclecars and other high-performance applications.
“I have always loved cars but fell into the automotive industry by accident,” said Kirkwood. “My father owned Utmost Machine, a shop that he opened in 1989. Throughout my childhood, my dad took me to work with him. Then, in 2002, we started making a few simple automotive products. My dad saw my enthusiasm and told me to create a business name. I came up with UMI Performance Inc. in honor of his original shop name.
“One of the most exciting trends in our segment is the emergence of Pro-Touring-style products and also the customer’s desire for U.S.-built quality. As a U.S. manufacturer, we face a variety of challenges, such as finding skilled tradesman’s-type labor and the rising cost of purchasing U.S.-made raw materials. Unfortunately, we spend countless hours training employees because of lack of schooling. Still, we are 100% dedicated to U.S.A. manufacturing and intend to keep it that way.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone and charger, Oakley sunglasses, a granola bar, Mountain Dew Kick Start, cologne and hair gel as well as business cards when he can remember them.
Steven Landis, 34
Head of Product Management, Independent Aftermarket NAFTA, TPMS and Electronics Innovation
Steven Landis joined Continental in 2005. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated TPMS, he took the bull by the horns for the company, building a complete replacement-parts program from scratch. His expertise has made him a highly respected speaker at industry events, including those sponsored by the Tire Industry Association and SEMA.
“Cars became a way of life at a young age from watching TV and movies and playing with Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys,” he said. “I may have grown up, but not all that much has changed.
“Tires are the only contact a vehicle has to the road and therefore influence many aspects of the driving experience. Future tire information systems could allow enhanced monitoring of pressure, temperature, run-flat mileage, load detection, tread depth and storage of tire data with far-reaching benefits. When this information is processed onboard the vehicle, the suspension, powertrain and braking characteristics could be further optimized as a result. Increased vehicle computerization and complexity and servicing know-how, in addition to accurate and up-to-date product data and cataloging, represent major challenges and opportunities in our industry.”
In his briefcase: “My must-haves are my smartphone and energy bars to help me power through late nights at work and traveling.”
Jonathan Kunzman, 30
Vice President, Business Development
Jonathan Kunzman provides IT expertise across the entire customer base of Kunzman & Associates, a Michigan-based manufacturer’s rep firm, for which he developed an amazingly comprehensive in-house data management system. As if that’s not enough, he started and now oversees ARC, a sister company tasked with marketing services encompassing social media, national rebates, racing contingency facilitation, catalog design and printing services.
“Like many of my peers, I was ‘corrupted’ at a young age,” he quipped. “My father has been in the industry since the mid-’60s, but interestingly, he wanted me to follow a different career path. Through college and grad school, I appeased him by dabbling in another industry, but there’s nothing I love more than the automotive aftermarket.
“As manufacturers’ reps, we’re constantly looking at improving and advancing our customer service to the accounts and dealers throughout our region as well as at the various consumer events where we display annually. In terms of product trends, we see consumers looking to make their hot rods, musclecars and weekend warriors more like their everyday drivers through modern technology and convenience products.”
In his briefcase: Kunzman shuns briefcases but is well armed with an iPhone, an iPad, business cards, Orbit gum and a Tide Stain Pen.
Ian Lehn, 28
Taking inspiration from his stepfather, Mark Herrmann, who sparked a love for the automotive aftermarket, Ian Lehn began to flourish as an innovator in the mechanical engineering classrooms of Georgia Tech and claimed the top prize for the school’s most prestigious competition three years running. The contest required the creation and construction of an indirect drive system for human transportation, and Lehn won each time with a different design.
During his final year in school, Lehn recognized problems associated with fuel octane reliability, race-fuel accessibility and the general effectiveness of octane boosters on the market. He developed an affordable alternative to racing fuel and started BOOSTane, which has since undergone seven years of formulation and testing.
“We have worked very hard at developing an additive that not only gives high-performance engines the octane they need but also serves the demographic that is simply trying to protect its hobby by restoring lost octane points and stabilizing the harmful effects of ethanol to protect engines,” he said.
In his briefcase: Lehn’s briefcase contains everything from a mobile scanning/photo booth to a MacBook and a GoPro camera with a suction-cup mount. “You can never tell when you’re going to need to shoot, edit and post a test run from the track,” he said.
Jonathan J. Lesar, 29
Jonathan Lesar began his career with Detroit Speed at age 18 as a fabricator just out of high school. In fact, he’d been moonlighting at the time in the restoration shop of his high school auto body teacher, who introduced him to two key contacts within the company. Today, he oversees the production of aftermarket items aimed at the hot-rod and musclecar niches.
“Performance is the most important trend currently affecting the segment,” he said. “Today’s consumers want a car that they can take to a show, cruise around town or the country and then drive hard at an autocross or track event. They want a vintage car with the handling and performance of a modern super car.
“The biggest challenge I foresee in the future is predicting and keeping up with product development for the next generation of cars. As the evolution of hot rodding continues, this will be difficult. Hot rodding started out with the cars from the ’30s and now has progressed into the musclecar lines of the ’60s and ’70s. Where will the next generation go, and what cars will be the most popular? It will be interesting to see.”
In his briefcase: Lesar counts a Sharpie, a pen and a notepad among his most important items, along with Microsoft Excel to help manage orders, production schedules and reports. “If I don’t write things down, there’s a good chance I won’t remember them later.”
Corey Mullane, 27
Corey Mullane works with Fortune 100 companies that are trying to break into the automotive marketplace. He guides them to the enthusiast market first before taking them out to the mainstream, and he has been influential in building business for clients such as ExxonMobil, General Motors and select others.
“Branded content is redefining the landscape of automotive media while fundamentally altering the traditional brand-media-customer relationship,” he said. “If you do branded content right, it’s more efficient, more effective and more helpful to your customers.”
Mullane said that Andy Williamson taught him things about the industry—and people—that can’t be learned in school, while industry veteran Greg Gill served as a mentor.
“Keen business acumen and being able to weave an intricate business plan or marketing strategy for Fortune 100 companies is all well and good, but unless you’re using your craft in the service of the people who provide you with that privilege, it’s all for naught,” he said.
In his briefcase: “Whether at the office or the track, I always have my iPhone, a charger and my green pencil, because ink is too permanent to allow your mind to think,” Mullane said. “Of course, I always have my laptop, plenty of business cards and enough protein bars to last all 120 hours of the SEMA Show.”
Jonathan Mill, 28
The winner of the inaugural SEMA Launch Pad competition based on his creation of the E-Stopp pushbutton emergency brake and anti-theft device for custom vehicles, Jonathan Mill was most influenced to enter the industry by his father-in-law, Larry Goodman, who has been involved with SEMA for more than 20 years. Mill passes it forward by consistently helping other young enthusiasts and introducing them to the association.
“New tech was once shunned by the classic-car industry, but people are now realizing the benefits of having updated technology in their classic cars,” he said. “The consensus is that it is valuable and opens doors for young enthusiasts to bring innovative technology to this market. Even so, laws against emissions will soon be huge obstacles for lovers of classic automobiles. There are a ton of collector cars out there that could potentially be illegal to drive soon. After putting so much money into these vehicles, the last thing anyone will want to do is swap out perfectly good motors.”
In his briefcase: Mill always carries his video camera and editing software. “I love to create engaging content, and the opportunities to do so are around every corner,” he said. “I literally wrote this while out on the Hot Rod Power Tour, waiting for some interviews I filmed of young enthusiasts to render.”
Chris Nelson, 30
Since starting Top Line Group in 2009, Chris Nelson has built it into a nationwide wholesale distribution network for high-quality aftermarket automotive lighting products. He is becoming known as a “go-to guy” for lighting when a customer needs to know what works. Top Line Group has grown sales revenue 150% year after year and now employs three people full time and three more part time. Nelson also created GTR Lighting, an automotive lighting company that features HID and LED products.“At the same time that we are seeing a massive influx of cheap and low-quality imported knockoffs and counterfeit lighting products, we are also seeing a huge increase in consumer demand for the higher-quality products that we’ve been selling for years,” he said. “I’ve positioned my companies at the top of the market, so when entry-level consumers are ready for something really special, they can purchase those higher-end items from companies like ours. There will always be a place for both types of products.”
In his briefcase: “I need access to my cell phone to stay connected and take pictures of client projects using our products to post on Facebook,” Nelson said. “I also carry a cool $40 carbon-fiber pen that I bought at my first trade show. And I gotta have a mocha iced coffee over rocks to satisfy my sweet tooth and help keep me moving!”
Stephen Parini, 34
At Renovo Motors, an electric-vehicle (EV) startup in Silicon Valley, Stephen Parini ensures that the buying and ownership experience have the highest levels of personal customer service. His automotive career started with AutoTrader, and he methodically worked his way up. He previously led the DenBeste Motorsports sales team to become the top-selling Shelby CSX Cobra dealer in the world.
“Pegged as the future of the automotive industry, electric-car development has been focused primarily on people-movers,” Parini said. “The improvements in battery and charging technology are making the transition to EVs more feasible. As this transition continues, companies are beginning to realize that there is untapped performance imbedded in EV DNA. Supercar stalwarts such as Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren are now building hybrids. Formula E will debut this fall as an all-electric, open-wheel racing series on the world stage. As the technology becomes more and more mainstream, it will allow innovative companies to build the next generation of high-performance cars, employing all the power that electric drivetrains have to offer. The automotive industry is in a time of rapid change, and I am excited to be a part of it.”
In his briefcase: iPad, iPhone, laptop, sunglasses, Kicker headphones, snacks, notepad and, of course, a flux capacitor. “You know,” he said, “the normal stuff.”
Ryan Snell, 31
Growing up with a passion for cars, Ryan Snell started Next Level Motoring out of a garage at age 20 while finishing his Bachelor of Science degree in marketing. He quickly grew it into a popular Los Angeles retail outlet and, before long, into a multi-channel e-commerce company that today ships more than 30,000 wheels a year to enthusiasts worldwide.
“Mobile communications and smartphones have been a big game changer over the last several years, allowing trends to develop faster than ever,” Snell said. “Enthusiasts share ideas, information and photos instantly and push the envelope with wheel fitments and styles. Aggressive setups that were previously seen at car shows are now becoming more mainstream.
“Our biggest challenge is constantly changing trends and a barrier to entry in both retailing and manufacturing that’s lower than ever. E-commerce levels the playing field and is a way for startups with minimal experience or capital to pop up overnight and disrupt the industry. This keeps us on our toes and motivates us to always evolve to be the best at what we do.”
In his briefcase: “I don’t go anywhere without my iPhone,” he said. “My must-have apps include Dropbox, Scanner Pro and Facebook pages.”
John Perkins, 32
All of the information-technology work for the three main divisions of Scorpion Protective Coatings Inc. (Scorpion Coatings, Al’s Liner and Scorpion Window Film) runs through John Perkins. That includes setting up the company’s websites, running the e-mail systems, digital content and many other tasks—all while helping to raise his twin two-year-olds and a baby boy and acting as an assistant football coach for the local high school.
“I have always been intrigued by the automotive industry,” Perkins said. “My dad is a car guy and loves to tell stories about being a kid in the ’70s and having several musclecars. I worked for a NAPA store for a few years while in college, but Clayton Tomasino, CEO of Scorpion Protective Coatings Inc., asked me to join the Scorpion team almost six years ago. We have grown every year since 2008 by focusing on our applicator customers and how we can help develop their businesses through multiple channels and develop substantial relationships with them.”
In his briefcase: “As a person who wears many hats, I couldn’t function without my Mac,” Perkins said. “I use too many apps to list, and I also almost always have a dry-erase marker in my pocket, as we have whiteboards in nearly every room in our office. And I can’t work at all without coffee.”
Jay Velthoven, 34
Director of Marketing
In nine short years, Jay Velthoven has found himself promoted from entry-level designer to Roush’s director of marketing for performance products and street-legal performance products. Characterized as an idea man, he has cultivated many relationships between Roush’s aftermarket parts business and top drivers and teams in the motorsports world, turning them into Roush ambassadors.
Meanwhile, on the social media front, Velthoven has dramatically grown the company’s engagement over a multitude of channels. A few years ago, Roush had no Facebook presence. The company now boasts more than 65,000 organic followers on its Facebook page. In addition, Velthoven has been responsible for growing Roush’s YouTube channel to 5,700 followers and nearly three million views among trending videos.
“My dad was a big influence,” said Velthoven, who is passionate about the automotive aftermarket. “He always worked in the industry, and we always had a sports car in the garage growing up. I was hooked as a car guy at a young age.”
Velthoven sees high technology and mobile integration as important trends affecting the specialty-equipment marketplace. Along with that, he sees evolving OEM vehicle systems and related calibrations bringing new challenges to the industry.
In his briefcase: An iPhone, a MacBook Air, 4G and Wi-Fi.
Scott Weiss, 32
As marketing director for one of the nation’s largest wheel manufacturers for more than eight years, Scott Weiss has managed project-car builds with OEMs such as Honda, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Toyota in everything from off-road to musclecars.
Throughout that time, he has been an influencer in the sport compact and tuner scene. He was himself most influenced in his vocation by his dad, who always had a cool toy in the garage, and his mom, who always encouraged him—even when he used her kitchen table as a place to disassemble his transmissions.
“Konig American produces wheel brands across the automotive spectrum, but my automotive life originated in sport compact,” he said. “There is currently a focus in the wheel and tire segment on developing and utilizing different manufacturing processes to deliver lighter, stronger and more efficient products. Such development has now enabled us to provide affordable Flow Formed wheels to consumers.”
In his briefcase: “You will find an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook Pro, Adobe Creative Suite, other coding programs, a pen, a paperclip and a stick of chewing gum—which always seemed to work for MacGyver,” Weiss said. “You’ll also find pictures of my wife, daughter and son (arriving September 14), whom I miss every second I’m away from them.”
Cody Ziegler, 30
National Sales Manager
Thanks to a decade of sales experience prior to earning his title of national sales manager at Meyer Distributing, Cody Ziegler is extremely knowledgeable about everything related to the truck accessory market, exhibiting keen attention to detail.
“Product knowledge is the most important trend affecting the warehouse-distributor today,” he said. “From a customer perspective, it’s tough to stay up to date with year, make and model changes, cab configurations and bed size changes. Thankfully, our staff is well-versed and ready to accept any challenge.
Online retailers are a big challenge for the segment, Ziegler said. While not opposed to online retailing, he recognizes that mom-and-pop shops have helped make his company what it
“We encourage manufacturers to have minimum advertised pricing policies,” he said. “Let’s keep everyone on a level playing field. Plus, we encourage customers to create their own websites, because the web is where everyone gets their information. Even if a customer doesn’t sell from their website, they can at least gain the exposure of their business.”
In his briefcase: “Briefcases? People still use those? Of course, my iPhone is on me everywhere I go. Utilizing the calendar is a must to keep my brain from scrambling day to day.”
35 Under 35
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