When Responsibility Meets Passion

“Preserving The Legacy. Investing In The Future”

This is more than just a cliche campaign statement to me, it’s a very real responsibility that I feel to help guide this industry through continued uncertainty ahead. I’m not a politician, I don’t particularly enjoy cocktail receptions or the thought of another cross-country Board meeting that takes me away from my family and business. However, I am a “car guy” that cares deeply for this industry and is willing to devote the necessary time and energy to fight for its future. I am passionate about ensuring that SEMA member companies, small and large, have their voices heard and that the association works to benefit the membership rather than for the benefit of the SEMA brand. Like all trade associations, SEMA exists solely to benefit the membership and overall automotive aftermarket/motorsports industry – nothing more, nothing less.

I believe that we are at a crossroads as an industry and a trade association. The automotive aftermarket as we know it is changing quickly, and we must adapt to tomorrow’s market conditions, technologies and communication methods while not forgetting the lessons of the past.

I have the utmost respect for the rich tradition of SEMA and for the outstanding past leadership that has allowed us to reach heights the original forefathers could not have imagined. However, I believe it is our duty to build upon that history by making SEMA more nimble, focused and proactive to meet today’s challenges head-on. SEMA is a complex and dynamic association with a talented staff, but it’s the responsibility of your elected Board of Directors to “take ownership of the strategic vision”.

As an elected Board member, my primary responsibility is to first advocate for the expressed needs of the membership, especially the manufacturers as that’s the category I have been elected to represent. In the event there is no consensus or strong opinion among the membership, my personal position/experience on key issues becomes the guiding principles of how I conduct Board business.

Below I have outlined a few of the issues that I personally feel strongly about and I hope to address in the term ahead. But first, as a sitting member of the Board of Directors, let me make the obligatory “these opinions are my own and in no way represent the opinions of the SEMA organization or staff”:

1) Increased Responsiveness To Member Needs – The culture of the association must become more service-focused to fit the diverse needs of today’s membership. This is a broad topic that reaches into all areas of the organization – from the overly complex business structure (must eliminate silos) to creating a customer service attitude. Often in the past, it seems the association’s solution to every challenge has been to create a one-size fits all “program”. I think we need to focus less on programs and more on old fashioned, one-on-one problem solving. I often hear feedback from members that they don’t know where to even start to get help at SEMA, or they make contact with someone and they couldn’t get anyone to empathize or take ownership of their problem. If this is the consensus of the membership then we are failing our mission as an association, and it’s time to insist on a new approach. With some practical and intentional effort, we can turn the tide and make SEMA a service-focused culture for other trade associations to follow. I believe one such “building block” is to establish a “Member Help Center” as a centralized starting point for members to access personalized SEMA resources and assistance for solving practically any business challenge they may encounter. SEMA exists to help members use the collective strength (and resources) of the association to solve challenges that they cannot solve on their own – it’s time we put every aspect/program of the organization to the litmus test against that mission statement to ensure we are delivering real value.

2) Legislative Affairs – Candidly, I feel we’ve been too reactive on this front when it should be the association’s top on-going priority, even during the perceived good times. Effectively lobbying on behalf of the industry is tough to measure ROI and even harder to do, but it is critical given the uncertain political landscape ahead. If we don’t do it proactively, competing interests and industries certainly will, and we will be resigned to letting others dictate our future. We must invest in the proper legislative resources and immediately build the SEMA Action Network (SAN) into a large and powerful advocacy group of enthusiasts that applies political pressure around issues that are relevant to our industry. Every option should be on the table when it comes to clearly sending the message that we will fight for the rights of our members.

3) Financial Stewardship – The topic of association finances is always a contentious subject among the SEMA membership. I personally do not believe that we currently operate with the amount of financial transparency that should be expected of a nonprofit trade association. With that being said, I have never witnessed any financial actions within the association that I didn’t feel were made with the best of intentions. This doesn’t mean that I always agree with how we deploy capital, but I do think those involved are always well-meaning. We have been blessed with great financial leadership by previous Boards and SEMA staff, but nobody really wants to talk about our financial position for fear of invoking input and criticism. Not only should we be more open about these matters (when appropriate), but we should ensure that we are deploying our financial resources to serve member needs today rather than continuing to stockpile financial assets. Thankfully, we have accumulated adequate “rainy day” savings that will carry the association through any reasonable economic downturn and normal business cycles. Therefore, I believe it’s time to switch gears and start using financial surplus today to ensure our members are healthy and prosperous for the future. Why should we budget for a surplus each year when we can deliver meaningful member benefits today – can you say lower trade show booth fees?

4) Next Generation & Industry Awareness – While these subjects are often discussed as separate, I feel that they are very much intertwined. We need to better position our industry to fit the interests of young people while becoming much more aggressive in marketing the overall automotive/motorsports lifestyle. We have “great subject matter” but we must work with a greater sense of urgency to appeal to tomorrow’s enthusiasts and leaders of this industry. This can no no longer be about random “projects”; it must become a priority and part of a strategic marketing plan that is ingrained in the very DNA of SEMA. Yes, our membership is broad and it won’t be easy to craft the right plan, but other industries have certainly been successful and we can too, with the right leadership.

5) Greater Transparency – If there is one complaint that I hear repeatedly in my travels, it is that SEMA is a “good old boys club” that is primarily interested in serving the interests of a few powerful members. Having served the last three years on the Board, I can say with certainty that the “club” does not exist or at least they have done a good job of hiding it from me. However, I completely understand why members feel this way as the association is not especially transparent, and it often make decisions (with good intentions) behind closed doors rather than seeking input. It’s time for a new approach that is built on transparency and meaningful member communications.

6) Forming A PRI Sub-Association – SEMA has done a great job of guiding the PRI trade show since its acquisition, but it has become very clear that the motorsports community has very specific trade association needs, and there is a void of consolidated representation. I support creating a new PRI sub-association that will allow motorsports community stakeholders (racers, businesses, media, facility/sanctioning body operators) to join as members and provide a combination of shared/dedicated association resources to help the community address on-going market challenges.

7) Expanded SEMA/PRI Physical Presence – I believe the association needs to diversify its geographic presence to better serve the SEMA membership and potentially a new PRI membership base. I support establishing a small but dedicated PRI headquarters in a centralized Midwest/Southeast location such as Indianapolis, Nashville or Charlotte. In addition, I believe it is important that SEMA also establish a small technology-focused field office in the Greater Detroit area to stay abreast of the latest OE technology. These expansions would be in addition to ensuring that our current Washington, DC office has the proper footprint and resources to accomplish our legislative and regulatory goals.

8) SEMA Show Stewardship – Make no mistake that the SEMA Show is the financial engine that drives the whole association. Therefore, it is critical that we set the proper vision to keep it healthy and productive in the years to come. Just like our marketplace, the trade show business is also in a time of dynamic change with technology impacting it in ways never before thought possible. SEMA is fortunate to have a world-class show production team on staff, but it’s the responsibility of your elected Board to set the direction for evolving the show with the SEMA mission statement in mind. We’re in the trade show business not to have the biggest or most profitable show but rather to help our members and the industry prosper. This is a difficult balancing act as we need the trade show (financially & otherwise) but we must not let it overshadow or outweigh the overall mission of the association. On a more tactical show-related topic, I recently was asked about my position on the contentious issue of consumers at the SEMA Show, and I provided my position which you can read here.

In addition to the topics above, I am also highly supportive of the following on-going SEMA programs:

  • Market Research
  • International Market Development
  • Council & Network System
  • Career Center & Job Board

Successfully guiding the automotive aftermarket into the future won’t be easy, but I believe my on-going Board service has shown that I am a leader among my boardroom peers and a strong advocate working on behalf of all SEMA members. I respectfully ask for your vote in the upcoming SEMA Board election (May 14-28, 2019).

Chris Douglas #ChrisForSEMA



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