On the Rise: Steve Hamilton
CEO | SD Wheel Corp. | Age: 35
What was your first job in the industry?
Starting SD Wheel in 2003 at age 19.
What attracted you to the industry?
I love working with cars and customizing them. It's fun to tell someone that I work with the number-one customization item for vehicles! I love working with other enthusiasts, and getting my hands dirty, too.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
Rapid growth and operational challenges in equipping and motivating our staff. We're mounting, balancing, and shipping around 2,000 wheels and tires per day, and it's been tough to scale up to this volume while maintaining the highest possible quality.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
My wife's grandfather, Jerry Benedyk. He was an entrepreneur and showed me that a good work ethic and dedication lead to success.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
We were voted the 14th largest online automotive parts distributor in 2017 on the Internet 500 list!
Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your workday?
Lots of meetings and lunches. I also work on many projects, including pricing optimization, leading development-related opportunities and assisting with high-level operational guidance. I help launch new businesses under our company umbrella. I help our customer service team be the best in the industry. I am also not afraid to get my hands dirty. I'll spend about a month a year in the warehouse performing various laborious tasks. This is what helps me improve our culture and make our business an awesome place to work.
What did you do before you entered the tire industry?
I started this business at age 19. Prior I worked at Jewel Food Stores in the deli.
If a friend expressed an interest in joining the industry, what advice would you give them?
It doesn't get any better than working in the automotive industry. Wheels/tires are the coolest customization you can do on a vehicle. If anybody in this industry loves cars, then they're blessed to be in the wheel and tire segment.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
Mentoring people who do what I do today, across many different companies that my partners and I have started up.
Aside from the basics like health insurance, what’s the most important perk/benefit an employer should offer?
A good culture. As an example, we're building a diner in our primary operations area. It will have a full culinary kitchen with a chef to cook a meal, made from scratch, at no cost, for the entire crew a few times a week. We'll also have a fountain drink dispenser, ice cream machine, and popcorn- all free! This is a small price to pay to thank our hardworking crew for all they do.
What’s the biggest issue facing the tire industry?
We've grown tremendously over the last several years, so we see it less as an impact, but tire manufacturers selling directly to retail shops is creating wholesale chaos, and wheel manufacturers selling directly to the public pits them against retailers.
Tell us about your family.
I met my wife when I was 16 and she was 15. We've been together for about 20 years and married for 14. We have three kids: Logan, Jackson and Ava. We love to travel, and especially love Disney World. We love delicious food and eat out as often as possible. We love giving to those in need. (I grew up on welfare, so I have a special place in my heart for those who struggle to get by). Like me, my kids love cars. They also love their go-karts, power wheels that we've modified to be super-fast, and anything else that moves fast.
What’s the worst cliché or generalization made about your generation?
There are generalizations made about millennials that absolutely don't align with my work ethic and drive.
Name a talent you wish you had.
I wish I was a phenomenal basketball player. Despite playing as often as I can, I lack the talent needed to be super good.
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Despite living in poverty, I wouldn't trade my childhood for any other. I had tremendous freedom as a child. I loved riding my bike with my brother and cousin, Jacob, in downtown Wheaton and going to movies and the little candy store.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Do you live by a mantra or motto? If so, what is it?
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” - Thomas Edison
Tell us something about yourself others might not know.
I've never had a drink of alcohol. It has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with seeing what alcohol abuse has done to my family, and extended family. I do understand people can enjoy alcohol and be responsible, though.
What’s your go-to song for a road trip playlist?
It's now more cliché’ than ever, but “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
If tomorrow you could move into any other position in your company, what would you choose, and why?
Vice president of operations. I love researching and implementing new processes that make all of our lives easier, and help products ship faster and safer.
What’s your favorite weekend activity?
I love hanging out with the family and going out to a weekend dinner with the family.
Who’s your role model?
My wife's grandfather, Jerry Benedyk, was a businessman with high morals and standards. He took me under his wing and showed me what it was like to work hard and reap the benefits. He also helped provide me some insight and contacts along the way that I still use today.
If we gave you $1,000 and one hour, how would you spend the money?
I'd take my family out to a nice dinner.
What advice would you give your high school self?
Understand that the business world will allow you to thrive if you take your own selfish needs and perspectives out of the equation. Ask not what the company you work for can do for you, but what you can do for that company. Regardless of the position you work in, be the absolute best at it. Show up on time, don't call in sick, and most importantly, make it known that you are eager to rise up through the ranks!