By Mike Imlay
Rich Barsamian SEMA Person of the Year
Over the course of his career, Rich Barsamian has forged an impressive list of accomplishments while working for some of the industry’s most recognized companies, including Grant, Edelbrock, GT Performance Products and Advanced Clutch Technology. Along the way, he has also served on SEMA select committees for the Young Executive Network (YEN), the Motorsports Parts Manufacturer Council (MPMC), the Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA) and the SEMA Scholarship Committee.
His dedication to these and other initiatives has earned him numerous accolades, including the YEN Executive of the Year award, the YEN Vanguard award, and the 2011 Performance Warehouse Association Person of the Year award. Now he can add the 2014 SEMA Person of the Year award to his many achievements, having received the honor at the recent 2014 SEMA Show Industry Awards Banquet in Las Vegas.
“I am so grateful and humbled by this award,” said Barsamian, who recently returned to Advanced Clutch Technology as its vice president of sales and marketing. “It is very surreal. Anyone who knows me knows that I could talk to a wall even if it wouldn’t listen to me. But when they called my name at the ceremony, I was speechless.”
Ranking among SEMA’s most prestigious honors, the Person of the Year award recognizes outstanding contributions to the automotive specialty-equipment market over a year-long period by an industry individual employed by a SEMA-member company.
“SEMA is extremely pleased to honor Rich Barsamian as our 2014 Person of the Year,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting. “Rich is well known within both the association and industry at large for his professional achievements, enthusiasm, energy, approachability and spirit of volunteerism. He has been a driving force in so many SEMA initiatives and continues to give back to the specialty-equipment industry in countless ways, most especially through the mentoring of young people seeking to make their careers in our industry.”
While thanking his wife Sandra for her continued support of his endeavors, Barsamian also credited his father with first introducing him to the specialty-equipment industry some three decades ago.
“He was an automotive buyer for a Southern California membership department store called Fedco,” Barsamian explained. “He got me some side work with some local rep agencies doing demos at grand openings of new stores.”
Soon, a rep principal named Charlie Sumrall took note of Barsamian’s ability to work well with people and sell products for the now-defunct store chain, and Sumrall offered Barsamian a job at the Berkhoff, Hyatt and Sumrall rep agency, which later split and reorganized to become Sumrall, Odell and Anderson.
“I worked my first several years as a field merchandiser and later as a sales rep,” Barsamian recalled. “I can hardly believe that was 30 years ago. I attended my first SEMA Show 28 years ago.”
That participation in the SEMA Show eventually led to deeper and deeper involvement in the trade association.
“I began volunteering in 1994 as part of YEN,” he said. “It allowed me to springboard eventually to the HRIA, the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Committee and later to the MPMC. I had many mentors who helped me when I first started. Now I use what they taught me and what helped me starting out as the basis for helping others. In fact, the most rewarding part of my career has been the opportunity to mentor young people in the industry and help them navigate their career paths to find their place volunteering within SEMA. The main thing is for them to find their passion. Once they identify their passion, everything else will happen naturally as they grow in their jobs and volunteerism.”
Reflecting on lessons learned over the years, Barsamian noted how difficult it can be at times to stay on top of a marketplace in constant flux.
“It has been especially challenging pushing myself to grow and adapt to this industry as it continues to evolve and change,” he said. “The temptation is to drag your feet in the sand, but we just can’t. We need to remain motivated. I like the saying that we never stop learning until they slam the coffin lid. I know that I will never know it all, and I love the opportunities that change eventually brings.”
Ultimately, however, Barsamian believes that true professional growth derives from service to others.
“Become the go-to person at your job and when volunteering,” he advised. “Be the person that people can count on to get things done. Good things will happen. When they do, pay it forward and get others involved. Help them the way you would’ve liked to have been helped. You will be successful, and there’s no better feeling than knowing you left things better than how you found them.”