Compiled by SEMA News Editors
35 Under 35
In what has become a highly anticipated September tradition, SEMA News is once again pleased to present the annual “35 Under 35” listing of rising industry talent. This marks the fifth anniversary of this special feature, and we think readers will agree that the young trendsetters profiled in the following pages once again prove that the future of the automotive specialty-equipment industry is in extremely capable hands.
In order to land on the “35 Under 35” roster, honorees must first be nominated by industry peers. Next, SEMA News editors review the nominations in search of candidates already making a significant industry impact through their leadership within their organizations or businesses. Entrepreneurship, commitment, insight, innovation, integrity, responsibility and demonstrated skill as well as involvement and success within the marketplace weigh heavily in choosing the finalists.
As this feature has grown in popularity each year, so have the number of nominations. Consequently, the task of choosing 35 representative young people is never easy, and it is no exaggeration to say that each nominee is a winner in his or her own way. In the end, however, only 35 can make our special feature, and we believe that our 2016 roster reflects the best of the fresh talent currently invigorating every segment of our industry with imaginative new approaches and solutions.
One final note: In selecting our honorees, we often like to ask the underlying question, “Will we be seeing these names again as industry leaders and innovators in five or even 10 years into the future?” Once again, we believe that the answer will be a resounding “yes” for the young people you’re about to meet in the following pages.
Aaron Allison, 31
Executive Vice President of Engineering, Holley Performance Products/MSD
Aaron Allison was born into drag racing. By age 10, he was racing in the Jr. Dragster category at the local level. Since 2001, he has competed on a national level in IHRA and NHRA Stock and Super Stock classes, winning several championships. He began his career with Accel Performance Group as a business-unit manager for Mallory, Quick Time, Hays, Lakewood and private-label brands. When MSD acquired Accel Performance Group, he was appointed executive vice president of engineering for MSDP, successfully launching the MSD Atomic AirForce intake line in the summer of 2015.
Previously, Allison was a design-release engineer at General Motors, where he received a U.S. patent for developing a GM engine anti-theft system. He also helped develop GM’s Performance Parts crate engine and transmission calibrations.
“As an engineering executive, I would say the biggest challenge is finding a balance with environmental regulations from the government and the California Air Resources Board, while continuing to provide increased car-performance solutions to our customers,” he said.
In his briefcase: Allison uses his iPhone to keep track of his team in four different time zones, but he is also a proponent of pen and paper.
Tony Arme, 31
Lead Builder/Designer, Browns Classic Autos
Tony Arme has 15 years of automotive work experience under his belt, but he’s been building cars longer than that. His first projects were at home with his father. As the current lead builder and designer at Browns Classic Autos, his builds have garnered a host of awards from Goodguys and the Grand National Roadster Show. This year, Arme is looking to have three vehicles in SEMA’s Battle of the Builders competition: a ’34 Ford pickup (with Sherwin Williams), a ’65 Mustang Fastback (also with Sherwin Williams) and a ’63 Corvette (with Edelbrock).
“As the new-car market evolves, we have to as well,” mused Arme. “Customers more and more expect similar conveniences and power that they are used to in their daily drivers. Everything from the simple items of keyless entry and power windows to the newer direct-injected engines, Bluetooth and power adders are common for us to install in pre-’72-era cars. Keeping up with the new technology is a must for us to help keep the cars we build on the cutting edge.”
In his briefcase: “I would need a fairly large briefcase to fit my toolbox. What’s inside the toolbox helps me create these cars every day and get them to be above and beyond what the customer expected—and, most times, what I expected.”
Jav Azadi, 33
President, Vossen Wheels
With 16 years of automotive aftermarket experience, Jav Azadi launched his first company—WheelMax—at the age of 16 before starting Vossen Wheels at age 25. Azadi has taken a lead in mainstreaming the industry through innovations in digital marketing, distribution, video marketing, cross promotion, collaboration and design.
“One positive trend affecting the wheel segment is bringing manufacturing back to America, as we have done with our Vossen Forged Wheels brand, as well as collaborating with other revered brands with similar qualities to produce amazing products, such as our Vossen x Work wheels,” Azadi said. “Keeping customers and fans truly engaged with your company is also a big trend, as people want to know more about the people and processes behind the products they support.
“The biggest challenge I see is fighting counterfeits, copies and fakes of not just wheels but also a company’s marketing efforts. It creates havoc in the industry and confuses consumers who are duped into buying poorer-quality parts by companies that have not invested in research and development nor innovated anything. It will be important for legitimate businesses to stand together to fight that and be backed by organizations such as SEMA.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone, a notepad, a pen, Instagram and Padrón cigars.
Matthew Banach, 31
Director of Sales and Marketing Support, Gold Eagle Co.
Matthew Banach grew up restoring cars with his father, so when a job opportunity with Gold Eagle came about in 2011, he leapt at the chance to enter the automotive industry. Working up the ladder in sales and marketing, he has been instrumental in Gold Eagle’s efforts to educate customers about its protectants and fuel additives. He often serves as the company’s technical expert at events and contributes to new-product development.
From Banach’s perspective, the market’s biggest challenge is a changing consumer. “Cars have become so complicated to the average consumer that they do not want to embark on a repair and would prefer to take it in to get it done,” he said. “As cars’ complexity increases, the manufacturer and dealer are trying to retain them longer by offering longer warranty periods and increased care packages. This model seems to be making general consumers less likely to pop their own hoods and figure out what is wrong. The loss of DIY knowledge and enthusiasm will not only change business for the performance chemical and appearance manufacturer but also for the market as a whole.”
In his briefcase: “The iPhone is probably my favorite tool, as it not only facilitates business but I can also FaceTime with my wife and daughters when I’m out on the road.”
Dan Becker, 32
Owner/Lead Design Engineer, Velossa Tech Design
Dan Becker established a successful career as an aerothermal and fluid-dynamics engineer, but he found his true calling in the automotive aftermarket—a segment that fascinated him since childhood. In 2015, Becker started Velossa Tech Design and began manufacturing custom wheel center caps using 3D printing technology. As demand rose, Becker found himself limited by the production capabilities of current 3D printers, so he designed his own.
Today his company has expanded its product lines to include performance parts alongside aesthetic lines and exports to Australia, with expansion plans for the United Kingdom and Canada.
“The marketing capability available through social media has the biggest impact on this segment,” Becker said. “Being able to show the marketplace all the different customizations available in a very short time is by far the most profound trend for Velossa Tech. Using the social-media tool not just to generate sales but also to educate people on what is available through our customization process is paramount to efficient exposure to the market.”
In his briefcase: Becker never goes far without his phone. “The modern smartphone is the only way Velossa Tech could have grown so rapidly in such a short time. I also like to walk around my facility with a set of digital calipers.”
Edward Brumfield, 33
Owner/President, Hi Class Customs
Edward Brumfield started out like many automotive enthusiasts—with Hot Wheels cars. He watched his dad work in his repair shop and followed suit with his miniatures. As Brumfield grew older, he began to pay more attention to interiors and came to recognize a great opportunity in that market segment.
Today, he owns and runs Hi Class Customs, which puts out meticulous interior work and specializes in leather embossing and debossing. He is also featured on the TV show “Unique Rides,” where he helps make celebrity clients’ ideas come alive. His most important work, however, is not with automobiles but with people. He often reaches out to and even employs at-risk teens and former inmates, helping them to stay aboveboard and establish the foundations of solid careers.
There are a host of challenges facing the interior design segment, according to Brumfield. “The biggest challenge I see are vehicles with more electronic features, the driverless feature, A/C and heated seating, and computerized and automated components. These vehicles are completely expanding the industry. We will need state-of-the-art equipment just to work on or repair them.”
In his briefcase: “My iPad for the calendar and music to jam to while I’m working. My Lum-Tec watch to stay on schedule. My Go Pro to capture progress; and finally, my Epilog Laser Engraver.”
Cory Burns, 27
Account Supervisor, Kahn Media
Cory Burns has had a passion for things that go fast since he was young. His first taste of the industry was at 15, stocking shelves for a warehouse distributor. He joined Kahn Media six years ago as an intern and has worked his way up to account supervisor. A public-relations powerhouse, he manages the accounts of MagnaFlow, HRE Wheels and more.
Burns sees the changes occurring in PR with clarity. “Our social-media feeds are overrun with ‘clickbait’ and videos from all over the net,” he said. “As a marketer, I think that it’s really important for companies in the automotive aftermarket to pay close attention to that and make their content easy to digest and to the point. Potential customers want to get as much information as possible in as little time as possible.”
There is no doubt that Burns has a passion for the aftermarket companies he works with. “There are so many companies innovating and increasing performance while still playing within government guidelines,” he said. “I think that’s huge for our customers and also for the way the outside world views the aftermarket.”
In his briefcase: “Definitely my tablet, a backup charger and floss sticks, because you never want to be the guy in a meeting with stuff in his teeth. My Dayminder is also really important to help keep my weekly tasks in order.”
Chris Candido, 34
CTO, Turn 14 Distribution
Chris Candido credits his Turn 14 Distribution co-founder with influencing him to pursue an automotive career. The company started retailing in 2002 and within five years expanded to distribution, where it eventually shifted all of its attention by 2011. From Candido’s perspective, “We felt it was both impossible and illogical to service our customers and compete against them. What might begin as an innocent idea leads to market degradation on both the distributor and jobber levels because it drives street pricing down.”
Today, the company continues to adjust to market changes and has grown into a well-known warehouse distributor.
“We’re continuously working to keep up with the exponential growth and resulting change of the e-commerce side of our business while ensuring that traditional brick-and-mortar shops have the tools they need to compete and survive,” said Candido. “Today’s customers want their products immediately. They want to click and get that tracking number in minutes. This isn’t where the market is going; it’s where it is. As a technology-focused company, expanding our efficiency to support our customers is critical. Inventory is critical as well, and this is where wholesale distributors are a huge necessity for the market to succeed.”
In his briefcase: Candido recommends Evernote and Todoist. “However, I recently realized that a notebook and pencil are the best tools for capturing ideas and designing new systems.”
Eric Casperson, 27
Wholesale & Product Manager, Max Performance
While Eric Casperson credits his father with influencing him to become involved in the industry, he also credits Max Performance for giving him the resources he needed to get rolling. At the age of 14, he started the eBay account for Pypes Exhaust and has since maintained a high customer satisfaction rating. As the digital media manager for Max Performance Inc., he designed and managed five websites for the company. He also started GTOG8TA.com to serve the late-model Pontiac performance-parts market and achieved high sales growth over the next two years.
“Brand recognition will be a major factor over the short term for our companies,” he said. “They have been in business for more than 30 years, but our new brands are only a few years old. Cold Case, being the newest company, is jumping into a very competitive market. However, with our differentiation strategy, we believe that Cold Case will become a household name within a few years.”
In his briefcase: “My iPhone and a charger. I can’t go more than a few hours without checking in on Facebook, Instagram and other social-media apps, especially for our GTOG8TA.com brand. My computer goes with me everywhere as well. I can’t go a day—even on vacation—without checking my e-mails and making sure everything is running smoothly.”
Jared Chavez, 31
Account Manager, MagnaFlow
Like many kids, Jared Chavez grew up helping his father repair the family vehicles. At the time, it was more necessity than hobby, but it ignited a passion. “I really sort of fell into my first automotive job, having previously worked in the tech industry, but I quickly realized it was where I wanted to be,” Chavez said.
Chavez has worked for Whiteline Suspension Parts, overseeing product management and creating the dealer network structure. He is now an account manager at MagnaFlow, where he oversees the majority of the company’s performance business.
“I believe that performance exhaust and emissions control is a pretty straightforward market segment,” said Chavez. “While there have been some design trends over the past few years, where I really see important trends is in manufacturing and logistics. It’s not enough to design a quality product; you have to build and deliver that product while staying ahead of demand. Ensuring that your brand has a product and service that exceeds expectations is paramount to being successful in today’s competitive industry.”
In his briefcase: “I have my Oakley Mechanism backpack, which is basically designed to survive the apocalypse.” The pack includes his laptop, iPads and various cables and accessories.
Zaheer Cheema, 30
CEO, Boost Theory Automotive and Performance Inc.
As a child, Zaheer Cheema loved taking apart and piecing together his toy cars. Now, as the founder and CEO of a cutting-edge Toronto custom/fabrication and vehicle modification business, he gets to indulge his creative side with the real thing.
“Enthusiasts are far more educated on what they want in their custom builds,” he said. “With the constant need to push the envelope to go faster, have the best parts, and be different, we see clients invest in more advanced setups than in previous years.”
He noted that today’s consumers often take to social media to find and share up-and-coming fabricators and innovative builds. Still, he said that automakers now present customizers with their biggest challenge by producing out-of-box, high-horsepower vehicles with a host of readily available upgrades.
“Consumers have already invested so much with the manufacturer, and vehicles have become more and more complex, making it difficult to upsell or recommend further custom modifications,” he explained. “We have to think outside the box on how to complement OEM-approved performance upgrades. Custom fabrication gives us the freedom to do so.”
In his briefcase: “My team is the most important tool in my toolbox. My phone is a close second, [and] social-media platforms are extremely important in growing our business.”
Joseph “Jojo” Granatelli, 23
Vice President of Operations, Granatelli Motor Sports Inc.
Growing up a Granatelli, it just made sense that Joseph (Jojo) caught the car bug at an early age. “Far and away, my father has been the biggest influence in my automotive life,” he said, adding how proud he is of his father’s reputation for innovation and leadership.
In fact, Jojo was working the Granatelli Motor Sports booth at the SEMA Show even before he was technically old enough to attend. His racing knowledge not only benefits the family company, but he shares it with other SEMA members as well. Over the last three years, he’s worked closely with the California Air Resources Board to update and maintain the company’s extensive list of executive order numbers.
“Specific to our segment of the market, I am eager to see standalone ECU and PCM interface systems developing,” he said. “This opens the door wide to manufacturers such as Granatelli and others that focus on engine parts and components to enhance power and performance for EFI American musclecars.”
In his briefcase: His Android phone keeps him connected with his calendar, business records and contacts, but he also carries a real briefcase. “I always seem to have two or three important files that require paper, and I feel lost if they are not with me at all times. My father always told me, ‘Be a man, carry a pen.’ I always have a pen with me.”
James Griffin, 34
Owner, FinishLine Auto Salon
In James Griffin’s words, “Beginning with my childhood, a number of things caught the attention of my eye and my heart. Beginning with Transformers, I developed an obsession with how vehicles could be satisfying eye candy. That trend continued to grow with my following obsession for collecting Hot Wheels. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the innovation of Chip Foose. However, through all of my life, there was one constant force influencing and driving me to succeed, and that was my late grandfather.”
Griffin now employs 12 team members at FinishLine Auto Salon in Maple Shade, New Jersey, which offers accessories from many leading manufacturers. Moreover, Griffin’s own innovative work has been featured in several automotive magazines, and he’s completed high-profile builds for Subaru and Toyota.
“Television shows about the industry play a huge role in getting potential customers interested and informed on what’s available on the market,” he said. “They also provide major insight into how shops like ours operate. Dealerships offering accessories is another trend leading to more exposure to people who were not necessarily informed on the industry.”
In his briefcase: Multiple smartphones with hotspots and a few key apps, including Team-Up scheduler, Todoist organizer, Instagram, Dropbox, Draft Kings and Pandora.
Robert Hane, 34
Owner, No Limit Motorsport
Robert Hane is all about the rides. Growing up with two older brothers who frequently modified their cars, customizing vehicles was a common theme at the Hane household. In high school, Hane bought his first tuner car and immediately began modifying it. After two years of working in local garages and on his own vehicles, he opened No Limit Motorsport, specializing in sport-compact performance. Today, he approaches vehicle builds with complete performance in mind, going beyond custom wheels, lowering kits and decorative wraps.
“Customers are not building cars with details in mind anymore,” Hane explained. “I would really like to see a shift back to engine performance and under-the-hood upgrades, versus taking what I consider shortcuts and only concentrating on what’s popular in the market instead of building a truly well-rounded setup.”
He feels that the biggest challenges over the past two years have been a decline in local tuner markets and true enthusiasts.
“We are not seeing the excitement of modifying your car to be the best or fastest it can be,” Hane said.
In his briefcase: An iPhone, an internet connection, a calculator and a pen. “I’m ready to go anytime. I just need a screen, and I’m in the office.”
Ron Hay, 35
President and Co-Founder, ModBargains and ModAuto
Like many who’ve made careers in the aftermarket, Ron Hay started as an enthusiast mesmerized with vehicle style and performance. Attempting to answer simple questions such as, “How did they get the car to look like that?” or, “Will that part fit in my car?” led to answers that further fueled Hay’s love for automotive restyling.
Hay was always eager to share what he learned with friends and fellow enthusiasts. It was about collecting information on the latest installation techniques, discovering the difference between components, and using quality, affordable parts—knowledge that serves him well today in his SoCal performance installation shop.
“I have been in the industry for 12 years, and getting the relevant information to our customers and educating a growing industry has remained my focus,” said Hay. “Quite simply, creating accessibility for enthusiasts and customers is the reason that I have been in the automotive industry for so long.”
The biggest challenge for Hay’s business is incorporating technology and data-management systems into daily operations. He continues to embrace changing technology to complete service jobs in less time, deliver parts quicker and reach customers across multiple communication platforms.
In his briefcase: “A smartphone with Google calendar and social-media apps (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.), an app for ESPN and a laptop for some serious work time.”
Cynthia Johnson, 32
General Manager, Achtuning & Hartmann Wheels; Operations Manager, Happenstance Events
Cynthia Johnson’s love for the automotive world flourished early.
“The amount of time I found myself being out at car shows gave me a reason to turn a dream into a reality and a hobby into a career,” she said.
Johnson began volunteering at Happenstance Events six years ago and the company soon hired her as operations manager. She’s worked on the Stancewars event since its beginning, turning it into the Pacific Northwest’s largest car show.
Last year at the SEMA Show, Johnson coordinated a networking event for 50 of her own contacts. She walked away with another job offer: general manager for Achtuning & Hartmann Wheels, where she’s the first female employee in the company’s history, working to reduce workloads, increase social media and grow sales. She sees many shifts and trends in the market, with vehicle wrapping among the biggest.
“With so many options for colors and printed designs, the possibilities are endless,” she said. “I think what will become even more of a trend is a two-step process—laying down a design and wrapping over it to give the car or truck a textured look.”
In her briefcase: An iPhone synced with Google Drive, Evernote and Spotify, along with Trident original gum and car keys.
Ben Knaus, 28
Director of Engineering, Hellwig Products
Ben Knaus considered cars a hobby until joining a student off-road club at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo.
“After wrenching with the guys in their garages, I was talked into buying an ’85 Toyota pickup project vehicle of my own, and it was set from then,” Knaus reflected. “I switched majors to mechanical engineering, started taking suspension and ground vehicle dynamics classes, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do once I graduated.”
Knaus is now the director of engineering at Hellwig Products, where he is a leader in product-development efforts. He is often sought out as a suspension expert by industry publications and is also highly involved in SEMA’s councils.
As far as segment trends and challenges, Knaus observed: “While I enjoy the new technology getting applied to older vehicles, the increased sophistication of sensors, computers and so on also makes it harder for companies to make new products and for customers to install them. It’s no longer just bending steel but also making sure components don’t interfere with all the onboard computer systems, ESC and more.”
In his briefcase: “A camera, a measuring tape and calipers, business cards, pens and a notepad, a Leatherman, a flashlight and some random tools. The final thing is granola bars. I’m always out and about, and when that hunger hits, I have to be prepared!”
Nathan Kunzman, 34
Manufacturer Representative, Michael Kunzman & Associates
As the son of Michael Kunzman, who founded the award-winning Michael Kunzman & Associates manufacturers’ rep agency 45 years ago, Nathan Kunzman could be said to have been “born into the industry.” Attending races and car shows from childhood, he grew into a full-fledged member of his father’s business 12 years ago and has been an integral leader in the agency’s expansion.
In fact, like the Kunzman agency itself, the younger Kunzman has garnered numerous industry accolades, including nearly 100 sales awards from the manufacturers he serves. As the chair-elect of the SEMA Manufacturers Representative Network, he is a firm advocate for the distribution model that has served distributors and jobbers over the years and believes that his segement’s biggest challenge comes from increased company acquisitions and investment firms entering the marketplace.
“The landscape changes quickly, and we reps often take the brunt of those changes after years of hard work helping to grow the brands,” he noted. “In order for our segment to survive and succeed, reps need fair chances to work with the newly formed companies, which in itself can become a challenge.”
In his briefcase: “When I travel, besides my bag, iPad and notepad, I always fly with Sour Patch Kids and a Butterfinger candy bar.”
Alex Littlewood, 35
Founder and CEO, Motoroso.com
When he founded Motoroso.com, Alex Littlewood set out to leverage his Silicon Valley startup experience to create something new and different for the aftermarket. “I’ve been a consumer in the industry for most of my life and knew that I could bring my professional experience in technology to help build new tech for an industry I love,” he explained.
The result is a unique website that brings together enthusiasts and more than 300 brands, shops and publishers into a platform offering inspiration, build documentations, and an interactive layer of products, videos, articles, text and how-to’s. He is also a strong advocate for the many independent professionals and small businesses that serve aftermarket consumers.
“We need better technologies that help connect brands to consumers and serve all segments with a ubiquitous platform for planning and building the vehicles we love,” contended Littlewood. “We’ve worked hard to build a platform that solves real problems in the industry. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve been fortunate to work with brands ranging from Ford to Forgeline that really understand the vision and have been tremendously supportive.”
In his briefcase: A MacBook Pro, an iPhone, wired headphones and sunglasses. “I use a lot of web-based tools such as Evernote, Google Apps, LinkedIn and Facebook.”
Jessica MacKichan, 34
Creative Manager, Speedway Motors Inc.
At six, Jessica MacKichan began racing with her parents at Bonneville and has remained involved with various racecars and hot rods over the years. In middle school, she began cleaning pedal cars and engines at Speedway Motors. Since then, she has filled several different roles at the company and today is the creative manager. She provides leadership for the company’s creative needs and considers herself fortunate to be surrounded by passionate and driven people. In 2014, she was recognized as an Industry Leading Lady by RodAuthority.com, a feature that honors women who are leaders in the automotive realm.
“For Speedway, one key trend is the continued growth of the musclecar market,” MacKichan said. “We’ve greatly expanded our product selection to better serve customers who are restoring, rebuilding and modifying cars from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. In racing, the shift to crate engines in many classes has really changed things, leading us to launch our own dyno and engine-building facility—Speedway Racing Engines.”
In her briefcase: MacKichan believes that her most valuable tools are character-driven. “I appreciate the work ethic my parents instilled in me at an early age. Resiliency is another tool that is far underrated. Learning to pick yourself up, figure out a solution and face the next challenge is vital.”
Kelli Mallicote, 33
Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Bodyguard Bumpers
A former pre-med student with a degree in biology, Kelli Mallicote never expected to work in the aftermarket. Rather, she found herself there after agreeing to help her husband part-time in his office. That was 10 years ago, and Mallicote has since become the vice president of sales and marketing for the company. In that role, she has grown the Bodyguard Bumpers brand by implementing smart marketing and sales strategies, coordinating builds for trade shows and TV programs, and growing a broader social-media audience.
“For the truck and off-road markets, modular component pieces and color are becoming a huge trend,” she said. “From bolt-on light brackets on bumpers to decorative plates on lift kits and bolt-on face plates for the wheel industry, there seems to be a real move to modular pieces just within the last year. This also allows customers to custom paint or powdercoat those modular pieces to get fully custom and unique looks on their builds.”
In her briefcase: “iPhone (Instagram, Facebook, Dropbox, Snapseed, Pinbox and eDrawingsPro are my go-to apps); business cards (some with writing on the back); Glock Gen4 (loaded); lipstick (partially melted); and Wal-Mart receipts (because you know everyone has those).”
Brandon Masidonski, 32
President, Smokey’s Dino & Performance
Combine a 14-year-old kid, his stepfather, a 1969 Camaro SS and some damaged sparkplugs, and you get a formula that could turn anyone into a gearhead. It was 1998, and changing those plugs started Brandon Masidonski on a path that would ultimately lead him to obtain a degree in automotive engineering and found Smokey’s Dyno & Performance. Based in Akron, Ohio, Smokey’s performs tuning services on hundreds of vehicles every year in its 17,000-square-foot building. The shop also builds engines and chassis and sells performance accessories.
Masidonski is always watching automotive performance trends.
“A trend that we are starting to see a lot is that manufacturers are adding forced induction to their cars from the factory,” he observed. “This is great for us and the customer, because it allows us to easily and cost-effectively add horsepower to the vehicle without it becoming a substantial build. The upgrade process is simplified immensely; downtime is minimized; and the best value per horsepower becomes an ECU performance upgrade combined with a smaller supercharger pulley when applicable.”
In his briefcase: “I always have Red Bull, my laptop, a mobile hotspot and various tuning tools/software in my car. I am on the road a lot tuning many different kinds of cars, and I never know what tuning job may come up while I’m traveling.”
Chris Pacey, 32
Vice President of Sales and General Manager, National Performance Warehouse
Chris Pacey has risen through the ranks at National Performance Warehouse, following in the footsteps of his father, the company’s founder and president. He is propelled by the fuel and air of the aftermarket industry: a passion for motor vehicles and for the people around him.
This rich mixture began to flow when he was stocking the shelves of the family business at the age of 13. He showed outstanding commitment and drive as he started from the bottom of his father’s company to become the vice president of sales and general manager. He now oversees roughly 300 employees at 12 locations across the nation and yet still finds time to visit each location as well as its customers, building strong relationships.
From his vantage point, Pacey gets to see firsthand how new trends affect the way companies do business. “One important trend that has really come to the forefront recently is the overwhelming movement into internet-based business,” he commented. “It has proven to hurt the walk-in business that many businesses have become accustomed to.”
In his briefcase: “I hate to say, but I definitely have my cellphone in hand most of the day. It’s my way of staying directly connected to each of my customers.”
Brian Patrias, 33
General Manager, Mport Group
Brian Patrias was born and raised in metro Detroit, where several family members worked for domestic automakers.
“My great-grandfather worked for Henry Ford in Dearborn and can actually be seen in many of the photos in the Henry Ford Museum,” he said. “Growing up, I observed the strong sense of pride my family members had for their automotive jobs and the automakers that employed them.”
After a time in the medical field, Patrias entered the automotive world, using his already-developed management and contract-negotiation skills in his job at Motovicity Distribution. Patrias was instrumental in the transition of Motovicity’s exclusive brands to a standalone business—Mport Group. As the general manager, he formed much of the purchasing, returns, sales and assembly infrastructure. Patrias also manages the relationships between Mport and its overseas manufacturers and promotes brand sales for the company.
“I see the aftermarket trending toward better data and data management,” he said. “Companies are equipping themselves with the tools and resources that allow them to view performance in real time. Access to this information not only affects how companies operate but also all aspects of the supply chain.”
In his briefcase: “Without my phone, I’d feel very disconnected and disorganized.”
Kellie Pitre, 32
Owner, University Auto Parts
As a young auto-parts entrepreneur in Colorado, Kellie Pitre resurrected a closed NAPA store 12 years ago and then went on with her brother to acquire a total of three stores that generated more than $10 million in sales last year alone. An active crewmember on a Nostalgia Super Stock drag-racing team, she also serves on her local Boulder Valley High School vocational advisory board to promote student interest in automotive careers.
Pitre sees increased internet competition, technological advances and price-sensitive consumers—both wholesale and resale—as trends to contend with. Her biggest challenge comes in utilizing high-tech tools to level the playing field against big online retailers such as Amazon and Rock Auto.
Of course, traditional retail basics remain her chief strategy. “My father, Brad Shaffer—who recently retired after 38 years with Genuine Parts Company—took me to work on the weekends and taught me the parts business from ground level,” she explained. “So while computers, cellphones and tablets are all essential, we always fall back on what makes us special: human interaction. Every customer is greeted with a smile and a bone-marrow attempt to come up with a solution for their problem.”
In her briefcase: “Not much, really. I try to bring a high level of positive energy with me each and every day.”
Summer Rogers, 29
Account Executive, Kahn Media
Summer Rogers got her start in the automotive industry at the Orange County Register newspaper. The automotive editor was a woman, and she inspired Rogers to begin contributing to the section herself. “My first full article was about a man who owned 18 Hudsons in his lifetime and had a small business selling Hudson parts,” she recalled. Also influential was her father, a mechanic turned law-enforcement officer who owned many different cars throughout his childhood.
Rogers has now been with Kahn Media for two years, taking on big-name clients such as Ringbrothers, Coker Tire and Classic Recreations to grow sales and boost brand recognition.
“The biggest challenge [in the PR field] is keeping pace with the increasing push for monetization and the constantly changing content algorithms used by social-media networks,” Rogers said. “Established social-media platforms that we use on a daily basis to help promote the brands we work with are constantly changing algorithms that are used to decide who gets to see what content, so it can be demanding to find ways to work around that.”
In her briefcase: “The smartphone is the be-all, end-all tool of a PR person. We can do anything and everything with our phones: snap pictures, post to social media, compose e-mails, schedule a meeting or a call on the calendar, access files, text a client.”
Zack Skolnick, 26
CEO and Founder, Driven
Zack Skolnick has been a gearhead practically since birth. He grew up watching his father compete in Sports Car Club of America races and was forging his own path at the track by age eight.
“Having raced everything from karts to professional sportscars, I always knew that the automotive industry was where I would make my living,” he said. “Starting at a young age, I would go out to acquire sponsors and do all of my own marketing. My father was a big influence in the start of my career and made sure that I knew what it really took to make it in this world. Going after things on my own has really helped me grow my business to what it is today.”
Three years ago, Skolnick founded Driven, a manufacturer of racing steering wheels and performance parts. The company has expanded and now offers apparel and safety equipment, with a total of 135 dealers worldwide.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be focusing on strategic growth and planning for a future that will set our company ahead of our competitors,” noted Skolnick. “Our focus is on innovation and meeting our customers’ needs. That’s how we will continue to be one of the big players in the racing performance parts market.”
In his briefcase: A Driven steering wheel and sunglasses, business cards, an iPhone, a MacBook, a passport and a notepad.
Tristan Sothern-Haigh, 32
Owner/CEO, Circuit Motorsports
In high school, Tristan Sothern-Haigh and his friends spent a lot of time talking about modifications to make to their cars. This interest eventually led Sothern-Haigh to start selling cars at a dealership, but he did not enjoy that work, so he went to work for a handheld tuner manufacturer, then a suspension manufacturer. He learned a great deal in those positions before starting his own business in 2009. Circuit Motorsports is now an online retailer specializing in Subaru and import performance, and the company has grown into a multi-million-dollar-a-year performance shop with eight team members and a racing program. Sothern-Haigh did it all without taking on any debt.
“One of the big trends we are seeing now is that turbocharging is being offered in a lot of new vehicles,” he said. “For example, Ford is pushing hard with its turbocharged Ecoboost engines in everything from its econo-hatch Fiesta and its hallowed Mustang sports coupe all the way up to its pickup trucks. We are seeing that trend throughout the new-car market, and that’s a big deal for people who are looking to tune their cars. It’s a lot easier to extract power from a factory turbocharged engine.”
In his briefcase: He’s always carrying an iPhone but stills values a good desktop or laptop computer. “If I don’t get to sit down at my desk at least once a day, I get anxious.”
Kirstin Stone, 27
Marketing Coordinator, Comp Performance Group
Raised around big trucks and Baja off-road rigs, Kirstin Stone never questioned whether she’d end up in the automotive industry. “It’s in my blood!” she said.
In 2015, Stone started Reaction Time Marketing, which focused on promoting aftermarket businesses. Having grown her customer base to work with several SEMA-member companies, she eventually accepted a role as marketing coordinator for the Comp Performance Group and is also very involved with SEMA’s professional networks. Last year, she received the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network Rising Star award.
“I think the most important trend that is affecting the street-performance segment is globalization of some of the most popular cars on the market,” Stone said. “Whether it is through the manufacturer, as Ford has done with the newest-generation Mustang, or through the rapid increase of consumers in the Middle East for American cars, the street-performance segment is growing in new and different ways. Adapting and globalizing the aftermarket to this global market is certainly a challenge, but it’s an exciting one.”
In her briefcase: She carries her iPhone and keeps it loaded with economic and business podcasts, and she has an Erin Condren planner, Pilot Frixion pens, a sugar-free Red Bull and aviator sunglasses.
Ashley Strubel, 27
National Sales Manager, Gold Eagle Co.
Growing up, Ashley Strubel spent weekends strapped in to the rollcage of her dad’s ’70½ Camaro. Today, as national sales manager for Gold Eagle, a popular maker of aftermarket fluids and additives, Strubel thrills to the challenges of marketing to the rapidly changing environment of today’s automotive consumers.
“The entire world is talking about millennials,” she observed. “The way millennials shop, research and connect with brands is much different from previous generations. They are going against the norms and shaking up every industry.”
Still, Strubel sees both online and traditional brick-and-mortar outlets as equally vital to success. The key to every customer experience—regardless of generation or venue—is education.
“On our appearance side, consumers look for information through demos and videos,” she explained. “At shows, customers want to touch, feel and experience products. At home, they want to be educated in a minute or less on how to do something to their vehicles. They are extremely tech savvy and are able to find the best deals on products in seconds—sometimes right in front of a store associate.”
In her briefcase: “I have an addiction to my Outlook calendar. I color-code, prioritize and put absolutely everything there. My second addiction is Wunderlist for to-do items.”
Daniel Tafe, 29
Product Engineer, Mishimoto Automotive
Daniel Tafe has been with Mishimoto Automotive for seven years, designing many of the company’s products and serving as lead engineer for exhaust lines. He also implemented the company’s first Romer CMM arm and 3D printer, which have improved accuracy and time to market for the R&D team.
“The most important trends affecting our market segment are product performance, fitment and aesthetics,” he said. “Finding a balance between these three can be difficult at times due to the design and underhood packaging of most modern-day vehicles. Attention to detail can really drive success in the market.
“Over the past few years, open spaces in the engine bays of most vehicles have become increasingly smaller,” he said. “This lack of space makes it a fun challenge to alter the design of radiators, intercoolers and other vital cooling components to increase their performance—an objective that is commonly achieved by increasing a part’s capacity or size. This lack of space can also have a big impact on the aesthetics of a product. I believe that when it comes to performance car parts, the saying ‘function over form’ should always apply, but I feel that a product should still look good in the end.”
In his briefcase: “Digital calipers, an iPhone, pen and paper and, most importantly, coffee. Those are the basics that I need to properly lay out any design project I work on.”
Aaron Vaccar, 29
President, The Aaron Vaccar Co.
In 2007, Aaron Vaccar started his first auto-customization promotions business and subsequently had vehicles featured in various shows and publications. The next year, he started an e-tailing business geared toward young enthusiasts. He now travels for work between his warehouse in Youngstown, Ohio, and retail shop/studio in Orlando, Florida. All of his projects have been featured at the SEMA Show, and his work will be seen in both the Ford Motor Company and Toyo Tire Treadpass display areas this year. Vaccar leaps at any chance to connect with students and young entrepreneurs who are looking to find a place in the industry.
A large part of Vaccar’s work ranges from experiential marketing to digital design and branding, but he is aware that this also presents some challenges.
“It’s a fast-paced world, and those who are quick to adapt and pay attention will win,” he said. “However, what I also think is unique about our industry is that car guys are still a touch-and-feel, see-and-smell type of breed. We want to hold parts and see them installed, and we want to get out and drive and also watch racing firsthand.”
In his briefcase: “I’m definitely a backpack type of guy—no briefcase here—but that thing must go with me anytime I leave my office.” Inside, he keeps a laptop, a sketch pad and protein bars.
Jay Verduzco, 32
Operations Manager, Speedmaster
Jay Verduzco got his start in the automotive world changing oil and replacing brakes. He views his “big break” as a job offer from Speedmaster, a manufacturer of high-performance racing parts. Starting 10 years ago in an entry-level sales position, he received the company’s Sales Rep of the Year award in his second year. With mentoring along the way, he has risen to become the company’s operations manager. In this role, he has contributed to new-product development and to launching Speedmaster’s online presence.
Verduzco recognizes a few different industry trends that affect his work at Speedmaster.
“E-commerce has had an effect on the speed-shop business model, making it necessary to adapt to an electronic marketplace to ensure that a company stays successful and thriving,” he said. “Social media can create an impact for a company and its brand soul, ensuring that a company stays relevant. I also see the American musclecar market resurging, thanks to enhanced exposure on popular television shows and social media, which has in part led to the change in demographic and customer base to include a younger and more diverse crowd.”
In his briefcase: “The Race Monitor app on my cellphone. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. A Speedmaster catalog and a copy of Days of Thunder.”
Evan Yates, 34
Sales Manager, American Radio
“Instead of ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’ my first word was ‘car’—literally,” said Evan Yates. He was customizing cars before age 16 and installing stereos by 18. Previously, Yates was editor-in-chief of Rides magazine for 10 years. Today, he is sales manager for Atlanta-based restyler American Radio.
Yates was first hired at American Radio as a driver, tasked with picking up dealership vehicles and sweeping floors. He worked his way up through the ranks and, in 2015, moved into his current role. Since then, he has learned a great deal about what’s hot and what’s not.
“On the electronics side, new vehicles are coming equipped with many of the products we’ve offered for years,” he said. “For example, the fact that most vehicles have backup cameras standard from the factory makes that particular product virtually obsolete to a business that caters to new-car dealers. In regard to the restyler segment, the pace is much more constant, as it seems that there will always be new vehicles that come with cloth seats, without sunroofs, etc. The challenge in that section of our business is simply staying competitive in regard to pricing while delivering a high-quality product and experience.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone and Macbook Pro running Evernote, Google Mail, Google Drive and Photoshop.
Zachary Zeller, 32
President and CEO, Your Location Lubrication
By nature, entrepreneurs are risk takers, and if anyone embodies that spirit, it’s Zachary Zeller, who put all his personal assets on the line seven years ago to found Your Location Lubrication, a mobile oil-change business.
Starting in the area around Fort Meyers, Florida, Zeller quickly branched out and is on track to break $5 million in revenue this year, placing his business among Florida’s top 100 fastest-growing companies two years in a row. The company now boasts 70 employees, a new West Coast location in San Francisco, and a client list that includes numerous big-name national rental-car companies and corporate fleets.
“Heck, anyone can perform an oil change,” he conceded. “Understanding where value can be added throughout the process, though, is the key to success.”
Like many young entrepreneurs, Zeller worries about regulatory uncertainty. “As with most markets, the automotive maintenance sector is moving toward increased specialization and logistics management, and onsite preventative maintenance is still an innovative offering,” he said. “Regulators of all shapes and sizes, unfamiliar with the concept, are more comfortable with traditional than cutting-edge business models.”
In his briefcase: “I really need only my little 13-in. laptop, an Android phone and the ability to hot-spot internet. ”
The Nominations Continue…
Do you know a rising star within the specialty-equipment industry, age 35 or younger? To nominate them for future 35 Under 35 recognition, visit www.sema.org/35-under-35.