TJ Kremlick ’00 has lived all over the world immersed in motorbike racing culture. Right now, he’s managing all of China’s service departments for Ducati, one of the world’s top motorcycle brands. Despite the glamour of teaching riders at the racetrack or flying to Italy to visit factories, he says he really misses a good plate of nachos.
Q: What is your title and how would you describe your job?
A: I am the after-sales manager for Ducati China. I would like to say that it’s all fast motorcycles and supermodels, but it isn’t quite. In a sentence, I am responsible for the general management of all Ducati service departments across China. This can mean many things: one week I am in Shanghai leading a dealer-network technical training session, the next I’m in Macau rebuilding a superbike engine. One week I am at the racetrack working as a riding instructor, the next I am in Italy or Thailand visiting our factories or meeting with subsidiary leaders.
Q: How were you able to turn your passion into a career?
A: I wasn’t able to study abroad while in school, so after I graduated I decided to wander around Europe for a few months, which turned into a few years. I was obsessed with bikes in college, but in Europe I fell in love with motorcycle racing. I couldn’t get enough of it, still can’t, and knew I had to steer my life and career towards racing and motorbikes in some way.
Someone very wise once told me that you have to specialize in something. So l listened, I sold what little I had and took off on a month-long ride from the Carolinas across the U.S., ending my ride in Phoenix to attend a school for automotive and motorcycle technology.
I after I finished my certifications, I was willing to do almost any job just to get a start in the industry. I felt if I could just wiggle my way in, I could make other opportunities. With persistence, I landed a job at a dealership in Phoenix, and happily started at the bottom.
Q: How did you get into Ducati?
A: I stayed involved in the local racing scene and continued sending my resume out, targeting headquarter positions with a specific focus on Ducati. To work for that Italian company, steeped in racing tradition, was a long-time dream. And eventually, miraculously, I received a phone call inviting me to interview at their North American headquarters in Cupertino, California, for a position in the technical department, which I somehow managed to get.
I spent four superb years with Ducati North America, and three seasons racing for a North California club. Eventually though, I got that wanderlust again. I was interested in exploring (amongst other things) the motorbike industry in Asia – specifically China – and was asked to write a few articles on local motorbike culture for the excellent Italian website Motociclisti.it. While in Shanghai, a meeting was arranged with the (then) CEO of Ducati Asia Pacific. We ended up discussing a few job options in Asia including the position in New Delhi, which I settled on.
A: No amount of research or previous traveling experience could have possibly prepared me for those first few months in India. There were times during those first days where absolutely nothing made sense and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Looking back however, those early professional and personal challenges gave me an edge and a perspective that has proven invaluable in my life and career since.
Life in China naturally has its own challenges. I am far from my family and the familiar. My staff is Chinese, so I must work extremely hard on my language skills. There are nights I would commit crimes for a decent plate of nachos, after being served something “exotic” like duck intestines or pig’s brain. And of course I could complain about the terrible air quality. But when I am able to string together a few sentences in Chinese to my taxi driver, or I can teach a team of mechanics how to time an engine, perhaps doing so in a city I had never heard of until a week before going, I must say it is extremely satisfying.
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: Because our brand is still relatively new to China and Asia, we spend a lot of time creating processes and best practices for our service departments. In these developing markets, we have the opportunity to build from the grassroots level, breathing life into a project and nurturing it into something that can sustain itself. To be fortunate enough to do this for a company with such a strong brand image, I think would be satisfying for almost any professional.
Q: What role does your psychology major play in your career?
A: I studied psychology because I have always been interested in understanding the way people think and interact with each other, what motivates us, how our culture shapes our behavior and vice-versa. Developing the mindset to think critically about these things has most definitely helped me in everyday life. Further, my bachelor’s degree is in science, which lends itself well to the often technical nature of my work.
Q: What advice would you offer current students?
A: Enjoy where you are! Charleston remains one of my favorite cities in the world. I would probably do just about anything to be sipping on a La Hacienda margarita after a day at the beach, so please, as a favor to the rest of us, enjoy the present.
For those about to finish school, take some time to explore your world and understand what you want from it. I felt a lot of pressure to immediately start producing as soon as I graduated, but I think it takes time and introspection to understand what you are passionate about doing, and further, how to make a career out it. If you do something that has meaning for you, you will get the strongest performance from yourself.