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2017 Boating Industry Movers & Shakers

By Brianna Liestman

The 7th annual Movers & Shakers Awards recognizes the top leaders in the boating industry and innovators that are willing to challenge the status quo. They are the people who make the moves that shake up and better their companies and the entire industry.

From product entrepreneurs to advocacy champions to leaders in addressing the workforce crisis, these 10 individuals are moving the boating industry forward into its future.

On the following pages, we recognize our Mover & Shaker of the Year – Jack Springer, CEO of Malibu Boats, LLC – and 10 other innovators shaking up the industry. 

Mover & Shaker of the Year  |  Jack Springer

Chief Executive Officer, Malibu Boats, LLC
Loudon, Tenn. 

In the past eight years, Malibu Boats has seen significant growth, including introducing new products, investing in vertical integration, making strategic acquisitions and moving the company to a public IPO. All of this has been achieved under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Jack Springer.

Since his tenure began at Malibu in 2009, the company has grown its market share and introduced wakesurfing innovations that have led the segment and the industry. 

It is for this and many other reasons that we have selected Jack Springer as the 2017 Mover & Shaker of the Year.

Growth and integration

Springer’s first priority when he became president of Malibu was to stabilize the company during the Great Recession. Once the company had done so, Springer shifted his focus to growing his team and the company as a whole, particularly through distribution. The company entered several new markets by adding dealers in areas where Malibu didn’t have a presence, and then began strengthening its network through dealer training. Now, Malibu is the No. 1 inboard boat in terms of market share, according to Info-Link Technologies.

“We’ve improved market share for Malibu in the inboard segment from about 22 percent in 2009 to 33 percent. And in that process, we’ve created over 1,000 basis points of separation between our nearest competitors. That’s in the domestic market. From an international standpoint, we now sell almost one out of every two boats. We are the clear leaders around the world in that regard,” said Springer. “We grew this market share [organically] through programs, the processes [and] the aggressiveness in getting the right dealer in place.”

During this time, Malibu also birthed its Axis brand. While other companies might hesitate to launch a new brand during a recession, Malibu has grown Axis to be the fourth largest inboard boat brand, according to Info-Link. 

Malibu has been a driver of innovation in the inboard category, especially with the proliferation of wakesurfing in the past five years and the introduction of Surf Gate. 

“I think a testimony to the power of Surf Gate is almost all of our major competitors and even sterndrive companies are now paying Malibu for their versions of our surfing device,” said Springer. “Malibu is an innovator. It’s hard to dispute that and I think others have followed, and that’s good for the end retail customer.”

When Springer first came on board, the company was releasing three to five new features a year, some of those “features” being new color options. By 2014, Malibu was bringing 30 to 50 new features to market a year. Some of the more significant innovations, many of which are protected by intellectual property, include audio and visual signaling for the rider, remote surfing, Power Wedge II for wakesurfing and wakeboarding, adding a lifting mode, sports dash to control the wave, and more. 

Under Springer’s leadership, Malibu has also made a concerted effort toward vertical integration. Malibu now builds its own towers, trailers and many other components of the boat.

“Many of the stainless and billet parts that we used to bring out of Asia we now build out internally, and in the future we’re going to build our own engines. We estimate today that we build about 15 percent more of the boat in-house than our competitors do,” said Springer. “What that does is it gives us both a cost and a quality advantage, because we are able to eliminate that smaller middle man and control all aspects of [the building process].”

An addition to this vertical integration strategy was Malibu’s announcement that it had entered an agreement with GM to manufacture Malibu marinized engines. Springer said the partnership has been significant for the company, as GM has helped the company with getting the right design and engineering relationships established. 

“If you think about the engine almost in any segment, that – in terms of procured product – is the highest priced single-unit item of a boat. And so as we began looking at that and making plans for that, [with] vertical integration, [the engine] can have the biggest impact of any of the vertical integration activities that we’ve done thus far,” said Springer. “This is not a case of boatbuilders trying to build engines. What we’ve really done is we’ve gone out and we’ve hired engine engineers that have been experts for many years that are now working for Malibu, and I think that’s the way we’ll be successful.”

A new partnership

One of the biggest news stories in the boating industry this year was the announcement that Malibu acquired Cobalt Boats. Springer saw Cobalt as a great addition to the company, as both brands are leaders in their respective categories with strong dealer networks. 

Photo credit: Charles White

“It’s really been remarkable how similar the cultures are. They are both built on integrity, they’re both built on delivering the best customer experience that we possibly can, and then ultimately I think that our people are extremely similar. In spending time … in Kansas with the Cobalt people, they’re very much like our associates in Tennessee,” said Springer.

The hope for the partnership is that it will help both companies introduce new products and features quickly.

“Over the last eight years, Malibu has been the best in the world at bringing new product, new features that are on time, on budget and successful at retail. We have not had one miss on the Malibu side with product. And so I think that expertise, from a product point of view, can assist Cobalt with the number of new products we bring out, the velocity with which we bring them out and the retail success,” said Springer.

The main goals for achieving this are keeping the sterndrive segment fresh and compelling, expansion in the outboard segment, leveraging Malibu’s wakesurfing expertise with Cobalt and burgeoning new segments. 

“This is longer term, but I think that over time the marine community and the customers can expect us to potentially look at other segments that make sense for both Malibu and Cobalt,” said Springer. 

Malibu plans to manufacture its products, the Axis brand and the majority of the vertical integration products in Loudon, Tenn., while keeping Cobalt and some vertical integration products in Neodesha, Kansas. 

“As we look at new product segments, we will look at it from the standpoint of where is the most appropriate place to build it? Where is the skillset, where is the labor that is most capable of building it, and so I think that over time, we will see that new product opportunities are going to be a shared arrangement and are going to go to both Neodesha as well as Tennessee,” said Springer.

Going public

When the previous owners of Malibu were looking to exit, Springer worked with his team to find several options for the company, but what quickly became most attractive was taking the company through an IPO and becoming public. 

The process was fast, taking from about Labor Day 2013 to Jan. 30, 2014; was executed in order to have little impact on the Malibu employee base; and allowed leadership to shift its focus immediately back to the company rather than go through the process of getting to know new ownership.

“I think that we would stress that getting back to running the business quickly and building the brand, continuing to focus on product distribution, etc., was what that IPO allowed us to do. I think it allowed us to be better. We did not have to shift our strategies in any format,” said Springer. “A normal sell process would have probably been seven to 10 months. Everybody would have found out and known about it, we would have people coming into the plant, creating confusion and fear with our associates and with our dealers.”

In addition, Springer said that the biggest benefit of taking the company through an IPO was the ability to share with employees.

“We decided early on to participate with them by adding new incentive programs, increasing the number of holidays, enriching the 401(k) program and several other different actions,” he said. “The result of that is we’ve been able to pass several millions of dollars through those actions into the hands of the employees. That’s something that I think would have been very unlikely with a private sell.”

Though Springer has heard criticism in the industry that Malibu is now “a big company that only cares about investors,” he said the IPO option allowed the company to focus on its growth.

“I can intellectually, honestly say that whether we’re public or private, we haven’t made one decision because we’re public. What we have stressed and driven probably every week within Malibu is that every decision is based upon what is best for Malibu, for its dealers and employees,” he said. “I’m not going to tolerate anything less than that, because our belief is that if we do the right thing for Malibu, the investor side of it will be taken care of.”    

 

Finalists  |  Thom Dammrich and Matt Gruhn

President, National Marine Manufacturers Association and President, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas
Chicago and Minneapolis

The National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas have served their members with resources, education and government relations for decades, but the associations have not always worked well together in the past. Thanks to the leadership and partnership of their current presidents, that is no longer the case. 

Both Thom Dammrich and Matt Gruhn took their respective helms – in 1999 and 2011 – with the goal of growing their associations and positioning them as better partners in the industry. The two regularly communicate and find new ways to work out issues that affect manufacturers and dealers. 

“As we went through a lot of the meetings to talk about how we grow the industry, it occurred to me one day that our industry is like an ecosystem, and it’s important for all parts of that ecosystem to be healthy for the total ecosystem to be healthy,” said Dammrich. “And so that means every segment of our industry needs to be working together in harmony on the things that help the industry in total.”

Nurturing the ecosystem

One of the turning points for the two associations was when the U.S. Coast Guard took the position that Aug. 1 should be the beginning of the model year, and manufacturers and dealers agreed this was unworkable. 

There was a difference in opinion on both sides, but the associations convened a joint meeting and spent a full day discussing the pros and cons of each option. Eventually, they landed on the current system where the model year begins on June 1 and ends July 31, with a few exceptions. 

“In looking back, I feel like that meeting in particular was a solid turning point in our organizations’ relationship, because there was a lot of reasons for different sides to come in with these different perspectives and desires and needs and so forth, and had we gone in with a line in the sand, that whole thing would have imploded and we never would have gotten to where we needed to be,” said Gruhn.

At this year’s American Boating Congress, the two associations held a joint board meeting to discuss workforce development, the ways this issue is affecting manufacturers and dealers, and coming up with ideas to work together to solve it.

“These issues, especially these larger issues, are so far reaching in their impact on the success of the industry that they need to be joint conversations,” said Gruhn. “We wanted to have that conversation together so that we could generate ideas and concepts and plans and opportunities together as we look forward. And I think it’s so critically important for us to do that and to be aware of how all of these decisions impact other organizations and their members. Working together [is] always going to lead us to better results.”

“There are certainly going to be more topics [and] strategic issues for the industry where the dealers and the manufacturers working together on those issues is going to be more productive and more helpful and more cost effective than trying to do things separately,” added Dammrich. 

The two associations also merged their political action committees a few years ago, forming the larger BoatPAC to represent the entire industry. This PAC is sponsored by NMMA, MRAA and the Association of Marina Industries.

“We’re more effective at government relations, growing boating, everything it is we need to do when we’re working together and collaborating,” said Gruhn.

Individual accomplishments

Dammrich moved the Miami International Boat Show from Miami Beach to Virginia Key, giving the show more opportunities for growth. He has also taken a leadership role for the industry through government relations.

“He’s done an incredible job of leading our industry in many ways, but specifically [on July 18] through the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable bringing boating to the table in front of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and members of Congress to talk about the importance of outdoor recreational activities and specifically boating, and keeping us at the forefront of that conversation as an industry,” said Gruhn. “While there’s certainly more things to do there, I think Thom has done an incredible job of keeping us in that leadership position among the other representatives from the outdoor industry and in front of the government.”

Gruhn has built MRAA to offer more resources and educational opportunities for dealers, after working for many years at Boating Industry and a personal watercraft magazine. He has also worked on the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo to grow it into the event it is today. (Disclaimer: MRAA co-produces MDCE with Boating Industry)

“[Matt] took an essentially moribund annual meeting and turned it into one of the most dynamic conferences in the industry that, as he said, is providing real education for dealers and making a real impact on the success of their businesses,” said Dammrich. “He took on the dealer certification program and revitalized and revamped it and turned it into something that is creating change among dealers who are choosing the certification route.”

 

Finalist  |  Scott Deal

President, Maverick Boat Group
Fort Pierce, Fla.

There is a good chance that if you work in the industry, you’ve heard Scott Deal’s name – or at least his last name. The Morris-Deal Commission released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” in February 2014, which outlined six key policies that would achieve the commission’s vision, primarily focusing on the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 

“Everybody was saying something different and they were neutralizing our effort because we were so decentralized in how we went about things. You had many different organizations coming to Washington, D.C. with mixed messages,” said Deal. The commission got everyone together to outline a clear message, identify key points that are actionable and move forward, which is now done through the Center for Sportfishing Policy. 

“Everybody speaks through the center with one voice on federal fisheries policy,” Deal said. “You’re going to see a lot of changes I think in the next few years in how we’re treated as an industry, recreational fishing, and it’s a result of a long-term focused, organized effort.”

As of publication, the center has worked with the House and Senate to advocate for changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which drives fishing policy, and has taken form in the Modern Fish Act.

“It will change some of the problems that we have with Magnuson as it’s currently written, and hopefully allow us to garner the respect, from a management standpoint, that we as an industry deserve. Because we really, up to now, have been through just a series of marginalizations when it comes to our access to public fisheries,” said Deal. 

What makes the Modern Fish Act unique is its spectrum of support – ultra conservative Republicans to very liberal Democrats are on board with the bill, which is in the House as H.R. 2023 and in the Senate as Senate 1520.

“You can go and reauthorize and rewrite all of Magnuson, which is a Herculean task and is met with a lot of resistance,” said Deal, “or you can say this is what we need fixed, and get a bill out there that will just make those changes to the actual document that’s not part of a reauthorization process. And so that’s what we’ve done.”

Deal expressed the importance of companies getting involved in advocacy on the issues that mean the most to them, as it is the only way to ensure decisions are being made on your behalf.  

“There’s two types of people: there are the people that complain about the way things are and then leave, or there are the people that complain about how things are and get involved and try to make changes,” he said. “Once you start getting involved in these things, you recognize how much more complicated things are than you perceive from the outside and how hard people are working to try and make changes, and once you’re in, you’re in. You commit to the process.”

Growing the Maverick brand

Deal’s love of recreational fishing is ultimately what led him to the industry for his career in the first place. As a young salesman working at Xerox, he spent his free time fishing on a used 18-foot Maverick with the man he bought it from, and eventually bought the molds and took over operation at its manufacturer.

“I’d fished so much in it and dove and done all the things I had done in that 18-foot Maverick hull. And so I sold a bunch of boats,” said Deal.

From there, Deal grew the business in Maverick Boat Group, adding Hewes Boats and Cobia Boats to the product line.

“What I express to people is that entrepreneurism is more by happenstance than by design, and sometimes when the bus comes by you either get on or you don’t,” said Deal. “I never expected that I would end up where I am now, but had I never gotten on the bus it never would have happened.”

Maverick also launched the Pathfinder line organically in 1997. Prior to the that brand’s introduction to the market, Deal said bay boats were limited to Texas and Louisiana, and were very low-end, price-competitive boats, particularly compared to the boats Maverick was building at the time.

“We had a reputation as a high-end builder, so we didn’t want to lose the quality aspects,” said Deal. “We came out with a pretty simple boat to help keep it within the range of price competitiveness, but certainly not as cheap as the boats that were the preponderance of the volume.”

Deal also led the design of Maverick’s purpose-built hull design for polling in shallow water. He calls it a “technical pulling skiff.” 

“Every other flats boat design had been an existing hull where they put a deck on it that was suitable for flat fishing, but the hulls themselves were preexisting hulls,” said Deal. “So we designed a boat that was able to push through the water without any reflective surfaces and didn’t make any noise.”

Deal takes pride in having grown the business from scratch and keeping control of it without operating with a private equity or other support, all while having the time and energy to be with his family and involved in his children’s lives. That, he said, is what marks his success.

“Product is cool and innovation is necessary, but balance is key,” he said.

 

Finalist  |  Joe Maniscalco

Service Division Manager, Yamaha Marine Group
Kennesaw, Ga.

The workforce shortage in the marine industry is a crisis. Companies need to take active steps toward finding and retaining the technicians and skilled laborers of the future.

At Yamaha Marine Group, the company’s efforts are led by Joe Maniscalco, who began his career in the marine industry through a work release program from his technical high school that allowed him to work at an automotive and marine repair shop and start there full time after high school graduation. Later in his career he moved to Florida and implemented an apprenticeship program at a dealership where he was made shop foreman, beginning a long career of building young technical careers.

“I had a huge passion for replicating what was given to me,” said Maniscalco. “At an early opportunity in my life, I had many people that took interest in me because I showed the spark. I showed the passion for it.”

In his time at Yamaha, Maniscalco has expanded the company’s training opportunities, reopening the Pleasant Prairie, Wis., training facility with courses led by regional field representative during slow seasons for dealerships.

“I knew very well that my resources and my people were my biggest commodities that the company had given me responsibility for,” Maniscalco said. “Training, to me, is the key. It’s the knowledge. It’s giving the knowledge back to the people who want the knowledge so that they can go be successful and represent our product to the customers so the customers have better experiences.”

He spearheaded efforts that led to the company launching its Service Skills Training program, which allows dealerships to send employees to the program to be trained on Yamaha product. Maniscalco initially ran a pilot program to see what was or wasn’t helpful for attendees and dealership, and made tweaks to the program before it launched fully to meet those needs. 

“I like being able to come up with a structure and a plan, and then try to get the industry to help me understand how we need to adjust that plan to make it work the best,” he said.

The two-week program includes a week of group training where attendees have a lab partner to work together on major instruction, classroom lecture and hands-on guided instruction. The second week is completely independent and the technician is tested in specific areas of competency, followed by a final exam.

Maniscalco also implemented the Yamaha Marine Technical School Partnership Program, which works with high school and post-secondary technical institutions to support their programs. Yamaha-partnered schools have access like a Yamaha dealership does to order parts, get reference materials and more, with their own engine ordering program that is differentiated from dealership ordering. Yamaha also donates materials and engines to help support programs. 

“We understood early on that the biggest challenge that Yamaha dealers and the marine industry as a whole are facing is the lack of qualified service personnel, and more importantly, more focused technicians. We started out at the bottom: How can we bring more Yamaha Marine technicians into the industry,” said Maniscalco. “The focus was twofold for growing technicians: it was the institutions and getting the schools identified and supported, and then [it] was focusing on the dealership itself.”

Attracting future techs

After establishing the two programs, Maniscalco began working on the Yamaha Marine Apprenticeship Program, a pilot program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor that gives dealerships tools, resources and guidance directly from Yamaha on how to grow technicians at their own dealership. The program is currently in pilot phase with about a dozen dealerships and is scheduled to roll out fully at the beginning of 2018.

“We’ve seen it all too often that a dealership would hire a student and expect them to perform like a seasoned technician, and it just doesn’t work that way,” said Maniscalco. “The dealership needed to have a structure within itself to train the technician, to grow the technician on how they conducted business and what they expected from that technician.

“I know that the key to success for growing technicians and dealerships is supporting our dealerships. I think as an industry, there are dealerships at so many different levels across the country and we as Yamaha need to focus on providing our dealerships with the tools and the roadmaps to help them create the best environment within their service department,” he added. 

The funding from the DOL is significant to Maniscalco, as he believes it is an underutilized resource in the industry that could help companies get the support they need to grow new technicians. 

“Not only is the dealership getting the benefit of the resources that we can help them with how to grow an apprentice and get that new-to-the-industry technician into their dealership, but there’s funding that could be available to the dealership that could range anywhere from paying half of an employee’s salary for six months to immediate grants of funds in the range of $5,000,” he said. 

Maniscalco has also increased Yamaha’s presence at Skills USA, a national program that brings together the best technical students for a competition. Yamaha has gone from having three partnered technical schools to having a projected 60 partnerships by the end of this year, thanks to Maniscalco’s efforts. He sees this program as a huge opportunity for the industry that few manufacturers are taking, and he believes manufacturer support is key to attracting young people to the industry. 

“If we don’t [court these students], we will lose the high-profile potential characters that would go into the marine industry into a different industry,” he said. “It’s important that [manufacturers] figure out that we have to invest in the institutions that are supplying us with the potential students for the future.”  

One comment

  1. Congratulations to all the finalists- Special congrats to Thom and Matt- Well done gentlemen! Keep up the great work!

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