Steve Matusek was so astonished by the announcement; he didn’t even have time to flashback to the days when he started his company developing a product line by working out of his bedroom and the garage.
Matusek prides himself as an attention to details kind of guy, but this detail was so far from reality in his mind that he came to the podium unprepared.
Matusek, the driving force behind the Aeromotive high-performance fuel systems product line, believed having his company named as SEMA Manufacturer of the Year was such a far-fetched proposition that although the company was nominated, he didn’t bother to write a speech. “I had a fantasy that one day we could win this,” Matusek admitted. “We’ve thought the what if, but really I thought the deck was stacked against us. You had Edelbrock and Hutter, two iconic companies. Edelbrock was a bridesmaid last year to be Manufacturer of the Year.”
Then it happened. Aeromotive sealed the deal.
“We were just humbled and honored to be part of the discussion. When our name popped up, it was surreal. It was very surprising. I was astonished and you know it was quite an experience.”
It would have been understandable if the experience left Matusek looking out on the vast gathering of his peers much like a deer in the headlights. Naturally, his forward-thinking instinct took over from there.
Matusek winged it and spoke pretty much in the same fashion as a Pro Modified driver would drive a race car to the finish line. He appeared as if he had waited his whole life for this moment. Actually, it was almost a quarter-century that Matusek, whose early ambitions included a successful private label business and enough money to race his Super Comp car.
“The one thing I told people is this is what happens when you give a Pro Mod driver a microphone,” Matusek said. “They’re not afraid to speak their peace and say what’s on their mind.”
“When I got up there, it just flowed. There are a lot of things in this industry that are great, and there’s a lot of outside influences that are creating issues for our industry that need to be talked about. I just felt like, ‘hey I’ve never been one to stab anybody in the back. If I’m going to say something to you, I’m going to stab you right in the forehead. You’re going to see it coming.”
“I felt compelled to bring it up, and hopefully it will start a discussion, an outward discussion on some of the problems within our industry and bring attention to it and hopefully, we can resolve some of these issues.”
The hot-button topic Matusek has never shied away from was the infiltration of counterfeit and foreign knock-offs entering the marketplace.
“I mean we products resembling our product with our logo on it coming from overseas,” Matusek explained. “It’s a real problem in a number of ways. We’re trying to grow the industry. We develop new products, we solve problems, and that grows the industry. When you have companies out there that are just trying to duplicate our product, just for pure reasons of profitability, it hurts our industry, and it takes away from the growth, and it takes our precious capital, and we put it into the form of legal fees, and we take attention away from our business.
“There’s nothing positive about it. It’s a shame that there’s not being more done to counteract this by our government and or by the industry. I felt compelled to say something so that maybe this will enhance the discussion that’s been out there.”
Matusek’s campaign against counterfeiters has even been taken to the FBI.
“We’ve had countless meetings with the FBI, we identified more products coming into our country,” Matusek said. “We even identified where it’s going once it gets into our country, and then that’s where they drop the ball. I got to feel that the problem we’re having is it’s almost like we’re too small. They don’t care about us; they care about the bigger issues. They care about companies that are larger than us. They get the attention, and they get the PR, and we don’t, and it’s a shame.”
Matusek believes the same determination which leads him to demand excellence, will also keep him determined to fight the fight against criminal activity.
In the meantime, Matusek says he’s keeping his foot on the gas in moving Aeromotive ahead to improve on this pinnacle of success recognition. The SEMA Manufacturer of the Year provides validation.
“This gives us that vote of confidence,” Matusek said. “It gives us the confidence to continue to do what we’re doing.”
Matusek confirmed Aeromotive has purchased 3-D printer which will enable the award-winning company to push concepts into the prototype phase quicker.
“We’re not ones to rest on our laurels,” Matusek said. “We’re going to continue to push, continue to keep our head down, to develop new products and reinvent ourselves every day to stay so far in front of [counterfeiters] so that they’re so far in the rear view mirror that we can’t even see them so that when they do knock our product off, or they do bring a counterfeit overseas, we’re already two or three steps ahead of them.
“I want to thank some of those overseas counterfeit artists because they motivate us and they keep us going and they keep us aggressive. That’s been our strategy is to keep doing what we’re doing, keep developing, keep conducting business in a moral way, keep taking care of our co-workers as well as our vendors and our reps and everybody else that’s involved with us in business, and do things the right way. As opposed to taking from the industry, we’re always trying to give back.”
Being a giver for Matusek means giving to the industry a product line he feels delivers for the consumer time and time again.
“All I know is my life and my upbringing. You are a product of your environment,” Matusek said. “They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I don’t know any different. I just know what I went through and what motivates me. And I said this in the past, and I truly believe everybody has a story. I think you’re a product of your environment.”
Matusek’s environment has always been one of determination.