Writing about Bill Perry after he lost his battle with leukemia earlier this year, SEMA Chairman Jim Cozzie and SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting paid him one of the greatest compliments you can about another individual: “Simply put, Bill was one of the good guys.”
Everyone who knew and worked with Perry agreed. Joel Rosenthal, vice president of Gantt-Thomas & Associates, considered him a mentor and called it a “true blessing” to have worked with him. John Towle, PWA’s executive director, called Perry an “honest, forthright, compassionate and competitive individual” who was “dedicated to the industry and his family.” Bill Wagner, vice president of sales and marketing for Winfield Consumer Products, said Perry’s wife, Cathy, and his sons, Chris and Michael, “were the typical Southern family, and Bill was the southern gentleman. They couldn’t do enough for you.” And Ron DiVincenzo, general manager of Cap World, summed up what many felt when he called Perry “a great leader and a role model for us all.”
Like many in the automotive aftermarket industry, Perry had an early love for fast cars. He built radio-controlled cars as a kid and raced them at tracks in his hometown of Atlanta. He started working on real cars at age 14, and by the time Cathy met him when they were attending the University of West Georgia, “he had already done all the local dragstrips,” she said.
Perry’s experience as a racer led him to a job at a local speed shop while he attended college. In 1980, he became a manufacturer’s rep with Quality Parts Sales Inc., and he took a major step in his career when he bought the company just five years later and renamed it Bill Perry & Associates (BP&A). In the years to follow, Perry expanded his agency to the point where BP&A now has seven reps covering eight southeastern states.
Perry’s relationship with SEMA pre-dates the forming of BP&A. He joined SEMA in 1977 and became very active within the association. He served on the Board of Directors and was in his third consecutive term when he passed away. He was a member of the Board’s executive committee, and he served on the Manufacturers Rep Council (MRC) select committee for a number of years. Both he and BP&A have earned numerous awards and honors from SEMA, including the MRC Hall of Fame Award in 2008 and SEMA’s Manufacturers’ Representative of the Year award.
Perry’s enthusiasm for high performance never flagged. According to Cathy, he “…always loved cars, and always had a car he was working on, even when he started his business and raised his family.”
In fact, it was that enthusiasm that took Perry’s interactions with his customers to a higher level, said Rosenthal. “He was at his best at interpersonal relationships. When he was standing in a parking lot of a retail store, talking to a product’s end user, he was that enthusiast again. His face would light up when he was talking about that part, and the racer he was talking to just sensed it. That focus on enthusiasm had a great deal of influence on how he ran his business.”
Perry was also very generous with his time, Rosenthal said, no matter how big (or small) the customer was. “A lot of people would push back from having to talk to the ‘little guy’ who might not create a big sale. But even if he was talking to a guy who would just buy one piece, you still sensed Bill’s enthusiasm.”
Perry was a spiritual man, Rosenthal said, so when you were around him, “life lessons and business lessons often intermingled. Even in tough situations you’d see his spirituality play out in how he handled things. He was never ‘in your face.’ He was a gentleman’s gentleman.”