Born in Danville, Pennsylvania, and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Chuck Schwartz studied at Ohio State before entering the U.S. Army, where he served in military intelligence. A move to California landed him a job at a seat cover and muffler shop in San Diego—The Big Wheel—where he began by installing dual exhausts and mufflers and was then promoted to salesman and played a key role in the company’s expansion. When an opportunity to buy a leased automotive department in a discount house presented itself, it was done under the name Western Big Wheel, and Schwartz played an instrumental role in the corporation, which owned as many as 165 leased departments at the organization’s peak and became the first mass merchandiser in the United States to offer speed equipment.
Schwartz also sponsored race cars at the local tracks where the corporation had stores, and the fleet even included a championship car. That led to California Racing Specialists, which built engines and chassis for super stock cars. Then came another venture—K-Bar S—which coincided with the growing appeal of off-road racing. K-Bar S focused on building pre-runners, but the company started selling parts before long as well. Schwartz and his crew even built and raced a Ford Bronco in the very first Baja 1000.
The next move was to start two companies—Pioneer 4-Wheel Drive Center and Pioneer Van Conversions—and Schwartz also was involved with the formation of the Off Road Equipment Association (OREA) with the likes of Pete Condos, Bill Stroppe and Thurston Warn as a response to concerns about the closure of land to off-road use. Schwartz participated with the team that produced the OREA Shows and produced the final OREA Show just prior to the acquisition of OREA by SEMA. And then he began to ponder a permanent career change: show business.
Prior to venturing down that new path, Schwartz sold his retail business and became a manufacturer’s rep for about three years. And then it happened: He launched the Auto Internacional trade show in 1980, which focused on parts and accessories for imports. In 1982, SEMA acquired that show. Schwartz became producer of the SEMA Show, and, “It’s been a great ride ever since!” he said. Ron Funfar of Hedman Hedders/Trans-Dapt, who has known Schwartz for nearly 30 years, described him as “…a force in attempting to make SEMA a better-known association from one side of the country to the other.”
Schwartz now produces the SEMA Show and other events through his company, ConvExx. “But Chuck’s impact on SEMA is far greater than his role at ConvExx and as a vendor,” explained Chris Thomson, national sales manager of AIRAID Filter Company. “He’s been an active participant in the actual growth of SEMA, participating in it long before the major successes of the SEMA Show.”
Schwartz is a charter member of the SEMA Political Action Committee (PAC) and was elected chairman of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) management in 1999. He served on that organization’s board of directors for seven years, received the IAEE Pinnacle Award and is an Auto International Association Hall of Fame winner, among the many honors he has accrued since becoming a trade show producer in 1976. He has also been an active volunteer in his community and continues to offer mentoring programs.
As of this year (2010), it's Schwartz’s 29th anniversary as SEMA Show producer, a job that involves drawing the floorplan, selling floor space, getting exhibitors prepared for the Show and “…having the knowledge of where manufacturers are going, what they’re doing, what’s changing in the marketplace. I watch all that and talk to as many exhibitors as possible and learn so that we know what’s going on in the marketplace,” he said.
And it’s clear that there’s no business like show business. “Chuck gets enormous satisfaction out of seeing others succeed,” said B.J. Leanse, Big Country Truck Accessories/Go Rhino! Products North America sales manager. “He sees change and creates solutions and meets every challenge with excellence as the only acceptable goal.