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Thursday 26 October 2023

Nace Panzica


Former Custom Chrome CEO Nace Panzica has died in California aged 80. One of the original partners in Coast Cycles (San Jose, 1970 - with founder Ty Cruze and a group of friends), Nace was "there at the beginning" of what became Custom Chrome, a year later. Multiple moves and expansions saw the business eventually drop anchor at Morgan Hill, Ca., in 1982, with a 110,000 sq ft purpose-built HQ and warehouse opened in 1987 - the year of the first CCI Dealer Show. Panzica took over as CEO in 1989 and the company went public in 1990. Ty Cruze retired at around that time and Nace was eventually ousted as CEO (for the first of two times) in 1997. Despite attempted comebacks and re-acquisitions as part of various consortia, and though sales grew strongly until around 2006 when the V-twin P&A market peaked, the late 1990s and subsequent years saw a sequence of corporate investor and private equity ownerships that were never able to regain the 'glory days'. Debt and barely controlled spending weighed on the Custom Crome brand. Out of market managements cared more for their investor balance sheets than they did for the sheet metal. The 'glory days' at Custom Chrome saw a whole slew of talented industry professionals pass through the doors - but though many were called, the corporate and management culture meant that very few were able make the impact they should have been allowed to. The company was innovative and did much to shape the industry at the time, not least championing the cause of leading custom bike builders and being an early adopter in the development of strong in-house brand strategies. However, those 'glory days' never saw sufficient capital generated and retained. Investments and acquisitions were often ill-conceived and (mostly) poorly executed, in the USA at least. The second 25 years of the CCI story were not the 'bright and shiny thing' of the first. Nonetheless, the business that Panzica contributed to shaped vendor and dealer fortunes and market expectations for a couple of decades. Indeed, many of the strategic initiatives his era Custom Chrome teams pioneered are still a part of the industry's structures even today, and many of CCI's people have gone on to make their own industry contributions subsequently. Rest in peace Nace!