Business Schools

A Career in the Fast Lane


Want to drive your post-MBA career into the fast lane? Consider the motor-sports industry, which includes everything from the aftermarket, the car parts, and accessories that are sold after a vehicle leaves the showroom, to professional racing. The aftermarket alone garners an annual $32 billion in gross revenue, and that number is on the rise, says Dick Dixon, director of the International Motorsports Alliance (IMA) at the College of Business & Public Administration at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB).

The motor-sports industry is no longer just for engineers working on the tech side. Many of the players started out as enthusiasts' hobbies and turned into businesses. Now those outfits are in need of managers to devise plans and strategies.

POWER COMBO. Enter the CSUSB's College of Business & Public Administration, which in 2004 opened IMA to meet the needs of this growing niche. In addition to providing relevant research to motor-sports insiders, the alliance also helps place students in internships and jobs.

The school will also boast an emphasis in motor-sports management for undergraduates in the fall, and eventually will have a similar offering for MBAs. The specialized classes include transportation logistics management, and product management and industrial marketing. The alliance has placed about 200 students in internships so far.

Recently, Dixon, who has 30 years experience in the motor-sports industry and was a professional race driver for 13 years, talked with BusinessWeek Online reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: What motivated the school to create the IMA?

A: Patrick McInturff, management chair at CSUSB, masterminded the development of the center. A motor-sports enthusiast for decades, McInturff found that many businesses grew into well-developed organizations, but had no business management perspective or route to follow.

Q: What services does the IMA provide?

A: Beyond the educational scope of things, we offer a well-developed intern and mentor program that places students in well-established companies. This is typical of many programs, but has not been an instrument in automotive circles. It's a win/win situation, because the company finds new blood and the student gains real-life experience.

We also have been represented at the trade show of the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. (SEMA), a trade organization for companies in the aftermarket, each year in November in Las Vegas. Over 100,000 attendees go to the show, and CSUSB had the largest contingent of interns at that show.

Q: Does the school attract many recruiters?

A: The phone rings off the hook. We're starting to put the word out now. The common comment is, "Why hasn't anyone done this before?" We found some very qualified universities like Purdue and Clemson that are on the technology side of the motor-sports equation but ignore the management or entrepreneurial sides.

Q: What kinds of things are you doing to get in touch with recruiters?

A: Publicity is how we'll be getting our name out there. We're active in the Motor Press Guild, a nucleus of motor-sports journalists around the country. We also are involved with media outlets like Primedia, which will be highlighting our opportunities through its publications shortly.

Q: Have your students been successful at getting jobs in the automotive industry?

A: We've been able to successfully place students at SEMA in the Resource & Development and Research & Development departments. The group also helps us place interns in other companies. K&N Engineering, a company in Riverside, Calif., which has about 1,000 employees and is the largest manufacturer of automobile filters in the U.S., has hired a number of our students as well.

Q: Are you doing any research in the field?

A: We do continual research on the original equipment side of the industry, which refers to auto makers like Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) and in the aftermarket.

Right now, we're doing a thorough study on the hot-rod industry, the culture related to the buying habits of people who have muscle cars of the '70s, '50s, or pre-1948. Over 2 million people belong to clubs throughout the U.S. And it's not just men -- we're finding that entire families are involved in collecting.

Q: Why is it important to take note of the motor-sports industry?

A: The industry is growing leaps and bounds, both domestically and internationally. The scope of the one- or two-car family has grown to the point where cars are now as expensive as homes used to be. It's not uncommon for a vehicle to cost in excess of $40,000. Subsequently, the technology and management skills to direct companies are necessary like never before.

We need thorough, well-educated people who will take on a challenge and continually build the industry, to pursue all the available opportunities.


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