Since the age of seven, when he was just a little tyke in his dad’s shop, Chip Foose has had his hand in enhancing automobile form and function. Through his design work at top notch hot rod shops like Boyd Coddington’s and his high-profile TV show projects (e.g. on TLC’s Overhaul’n), Foose has become an icon and a household name amongst automobile enthusiasts.
His mass appeal comes as no surprise. Along with his skillful mastery with all ‘motored’ things, Foose has an attitude that draws people to him like a magnet. Approachable, down to earth and honest, he speaks from the heart and from experience.
During a candid speech, held for a select audience of automotive professionals, Foose shared the story of his success – and held the room in captive silence.
The following points are a series of excerpts from his speech – covering some of the inspirational lessons that he has learned from over 40 years in the automotive industry.
1. Gratitude is Key
I feel lucky and blessed that I’ve been able to make a living doing something that I am passionate about and also something that is 100 per cent unnecessary – we don’t need another hot rod in this world.
The greatest thing about what I do is that it’s 100 per cent passion driven and I’m lucky that we’ve got customers who are willing to dig into their pocket and pay us to build their dreams.
When I see the name Foose, I don’t think of it as my last name. I see it as a group of guys who are coming together to make someone’s dreams come true. And I feel lucky and blessed that I get to make a living doing my hobby.
2. Take Calculated Risks
“When I went back to art school, we were never supposed to look backwards at what had been done in past with cars, only forwards.
So when I had to do a project that involved creating a niche market, I did the project as directed – but I did something extra too. I created a second project where I did modern versions of some of the old cars.
The project was a Chrysler sponsored challenge, so I was doing Kudas and Challengers and even 33 Plymouths – I did a whole series of sketches based on these older cars that were modernized.
I gave my presentation to the President of Chrysler, with the first bunch of sketches, which were similar to everything else in the class.
He [the President of Chrysler] looks at me, at my second project and says “Tell me what you’re doing over here.”
I said, ‘Well here is another proposal. You asked us to create a niche market, which in my mind, is trying to create a customer. Over here, what I’m doing is catering to a niche market that already exists. Those customers are out there. There are thousands of hot rodders out there right now, who are taking their older cars and putting modern technology into them. Why don’t we do that as a car company and offer them a brand new car or a hot rod?”
He loved the idea enough that he let me do that as my proposal.
I carried that project through my senior year and when I graduated –I had 14 job offers.
3. What May Seem Like the End, is Really a Chance for a New Beginning
I remember the last day of working at Boyd’s [which was closing due to bankruptcy]. Everyone’s toolboxes were all packed up and I hadn’t been paid for the last seven weeks of work.
I only had $700 left in the bank and a house payment of $1,600 due in two weeks. I didn’t know how I was going to make that payment.
That night we had [an event] to go to, and before we left, I was pretty emotional.
Then my wife hands me a little brown paper bag to open before we leave. I open it and inside is this little tiny t-shirt that says “I love daddy.”
At first I’m pretty excited but then I also realize I don’t have a job, I can’t make a house payment, there’s no money in the bank and my wife is pregnant… and that’s how we started Foose Design.
That was May of 1998. It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
4. Learn How to Say “No”
I’d been running Foose Design for about two years when I got a call from someone I used to work with at Boyd’s – and I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, Jesse James.
He told me that Discovery Channel wanted to produce this show that was going to be called Monster Garage and he wanted me to be the designer and co-host, to help him build these cars.
I went to a meeting with him and they told me that the first car is going to be a Ford Mustang that’s going to be turned into a lawn mower, and I thought, I’m trying to build the most beautiful pieces of rolling art that I can build – this is a complete conflict, and when you put me on television as you’re doing it, I’m going to become better known for building those than what I truly love doing.
So I said “no.” And it’s the best “no” I’ve ever given in business, because a couple of weeks later another producer from Discovery came in and said “Discovery wants to do a show based on you. What do you want to do?”
5. No Matter What You Do – At the Heart of Your Work, it Should be About the People
I keep telling people all the time that Overhaul’n wasn’t about the cars. To me it was a people show and the cars were just a catalyst for telling their story.
One of my favourite episodes was a ‘69 Plymouth Roadrunner that we did for a guy named John. John was a giant of a man, about 6’4 and 280 lbs. He bought this car when he was 15 years old. He’d owned it all his life. He had two daughters that were in college. So the car was in pieces in his garage and it’s “One day, I’m going to build that car.”
“We read the proposal and the car had a 440. He always wanted a 426 Hemi in it. So we got a Hemi from Chrysler. We put the hemi in the car and I put a hemi badge on the front fender. And when we did the reveal, John pulls his blindfold off, he saw the hemi badge right away and he started getting choked up. With a crack in his voice he says “Does it really have a hemi in it?”
Normally, we would introduce whoever had worked on the car, and they would walk them through each of the things that they did, but the producer said “Go ahead and open the lid.”
So John walked over and he popped the hood open on this car. In television there’s editing, so you would have seen him open the hood, get emotional for a minute and then thank all of us.
What really happened was, he opened the hood, he dropped to his knees and he started to cry and it took him about 25 minutes just to compose himself enough to say thank you for all of us because we had just made his lifelong dream a reality and that’s what Overhaul’n was really about for me.
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