Steve Lewis is pulling the photos off his office walls today, and members of the PRI team have been visiting my office to share the emotions of watching him do this. I’m not sure any of us know how to say “Thank you” in a way that truly covers it all.
The PRI adventure is not over by any means. We’re hard on the gas, as we always are at this time of year, laying out plans for new events and new ways to promote the next PRI Trade Show. The art director of 20 years is working on layouts. The expo manager, who’s logged 16 years at PRI, is negotiating with vendors for better prices and improved service for our customers. The top salesperson, who’s been here 14 years, is pounding the phone, providing various marketing solutions for her customers.
This is an A team. Steve developed this team. He picked people carefully over the years, and made sure the ones who perform--no matter what the challenge--stayed. I think it’s the same way he picked people for his race team. There’s only one way to do it if you want to win. And PRI has had a lot of winning seasons. Not coincidentally, Steve’s Nine Racing USAC Midget team won in similar fashion—10 national championships.
I tried to express it today to a friend of PRI’s, who was writing his own tribute to Steve. The word ‘leader’ is used a lot, but it’s a tough concept to nail down. The more you talk about it, the more it seems to get watered down. Words fail. But, you can point to Steve, and you know what it means in the fullness of the word.
Another word to use is ‘fun.’ Let me see. There’s the ‘spin of death.’ It’s a misuse of rental cars that just seems to be a nice tonic before ending the evening. There’s also urban off-roading, another misuse of rental cars. We’ve had PRI folks in multiple rental cars, off-roading together in a vacant lot, until the dust kicks up so much, the scene just basically disappears in a brown cloud. Can you get a limo driver or a taxi driver to spin their cars in an empty parking lot? Steve can. And there’s the PRI salute. It’s often done in fine dining establishments, to which the PRI team can no longer return. It involves loud cheering and swirling of linen napkins over heads.
Any of you who have attended a PRI Trade Show Grand Opening Breakfast know that fun is a big part of the PRI brand. Magicians, jugglers, thrill shows and more have kicked off the Breakfast with the surprising, the amazing, the humorous.
One of Steve’s leadership secrets is that fun wakes people up, after which they are alert and paying attention to your message. Also, put fun into the equation, and business events become incredibly well attended.
Steve never said it exactly, but I think he views a business as one of the greatest social organizations we have in this world, if they’re run right. People came to PRI young and looking for an opportunity, and they were given responsibilities and told to solve problems on their own, right where they were, and they eventually bought a new car, maybe got married, maybe bought a condo or a house, had babies, raised kids, put them through college…PRI did a lot of good for a lot of people, and it’s not by accident. It’s something Steve wants to happen. Good things should happen to good people, and that seemed to happen a lot at PRI the past two decades.
To all the men and women in racing, Steve loves you all. He admires you for going for it the way you do, week in and week out. He appreciates you for being the outlaws that you are. Believe me. I’ve heard the joy in his stories. I’ve seen it in his eyes.
Steve wouldn’t approve of me writing this piece. He’d tell me to get on with the next chapter of PRI, and how the racing industry’s trade show is now protected in the deal he worked out with SEMA. The same dedicated people who put out PRI magazine, and put on the PRI Trade Show, will again be at full throttle throughout 2012. We’ll have greater capital backing, and more resources. SEMA wants PRI to remain PRI. And the PRI team relishes working with the amazing folks in this industry. We’re not changing. We’re not going anywhere. We will work to get ever stronger in promoting buyer attendance, and creating the greatest array of hardcore racing technology—all in one place, all at one time--anybody’s ever seen.
I’ll be calling on Steve in the future for some breakfasts at the Penguin café, to keep him up to date and get his advice.
But, it’s tough to watch his office emptied out. There’s not many like him. We had a lot of fun along the way. Good things happened to a lot of good people because of him. Speaking for a lot of people, across this country far and wide, “Thank you, Steve.”