The Experiential Jay Howard
Mar 01, 2017 08:30AM
● By Jason Huddle
The Experiential Jay Howard
Cabarrus Magazine has spotlighted Jay Howard and his company – JHE Production Group – in the past, covering the company’s cutting-edge NASCAR-related live shows. But how did Jay Howard, the man, get here?
“When I was young, I wanted to work for my dad who owned an electrical construction business, or own my own business like my dad,” Howard explains. “My dad took over the business from his dad, so it was reasonable to believe it could become a third-generation, family-run business.”
A Concord native, Howard got a taste of his father’s business early on, working for him during his summer vacations starting when he was 13. “Then, when I turned 15, it was expected that I work with him after school,” Howard adds.
However, professional family pursuits took a detour when Howard was a freshman studying business administration at Appalachian State University. His father had arranged for him to run errands – be a gopher – for Humpy Wheeler, then president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, during that one Race Week. He knew little to nothing about racing.
That internship, however, ended up lasting the duration of Howard’s college career. Upon graduation, he was hired full-time by Wheeler. “He put me in charge of opening ceremonies, live
entertainment and running PRN (Performance Racing Network),” Howard says. “It was challenging, and they gave me room to try new things, and I enjoyed it. That’s where I fell in love with the idea of live events.”
PRN had just been formed in 1981, and still airs NASCAR races and race-related shows today. PRN’s studios are located at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The people at Charlotte Motor Speedway were great to work with and for, but I saw the opportunity to do more,” Howard says. “The speedway was where I experienced my first professional goose bumps, assisting at the World 600 in 1981. It was my first experience of a big event that was the epicenter of a big event. I had the chance to start out in the center of the activity, seeing everything up close and personal.”
Maybe Howard had inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit because, by 1987, he’d caught the bug. “With only Charlotte Motor Speedway as a client, I took a leap of faith and started what was then called Jay Howard Events,” he shares. “I took the main skill that the speedway taught me – producing live events – and turned it into a marketable offering.”
With a consulting contract, and working out of his basement for JH Events’ first eight years, Howard produced live entertainment for Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was a one-man show until 1996 when he hired his first employee, but during that time he never gave up.
In 2002, JH Events became JHE Production Group, widening its focus to anything race show-related. This included the mobile stages and sets; pre-race introductions of the drivers; pre-race concerts; the National Anthem; and flyovers.
Over time, JHE has delved into corporate projects, with a growing client list that includes Sprint, Wells Fargo, Lowe’s, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Ford and Chevrolet, as well as IndyCar, the NBA and NFL, in addition to NASCAR.
“JHE has evolved in countless ways, but from a business perspective, we started out with live shows as a service offering, added special events, added experiential (events or marketing displays directly engaging audiences, creating hands-on experiences) and, most recently, added corporate production,” Howard says. “Our four core service offerings were added in that order over a 29-year span.”
In Howard’s case, a career – unplanned as it might have been early on – presented itself and evolved into something he still enjoys today. And on February 6, JHE became CSM Production. A year ago, the company was purchased by CSM Sport and Entertainment, which is based in London and was looking to expand its North American market reach. The name change goes along with new branding.
“JHE has accomplished a lot in 29 years, and I’m proud of what this exceptional team has done,” Howard shares. “The people I work with make me happy and fulfilled, but it is my family that gives me the greatest joy. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive wife and two children who are figuring out what their impact will be on the world.”
Article by: Kim Cassell
Photos Courtesy: Jay Howard