Where will the next generation of marine leaders come from?

There seems to be a large generation gap in a lot of dealerships, suppliers and boat builders. The experienced owners know how to handle these types of downturns, but what about someone who is up-and-coming?

By Christopher Kourtakis, director of sales and marketing, 360° Industry Solutions — The other night I was sitting in a local marine business meeting listening to a lot of people discuss how bad the current conditions are. One stated that they have never seen it this bad. Another stated that this was similar to the 1980s and that we used the same techniques now that he did back then.

Listening to these conversations got me thinking. There seems to be a large generation gap in a lot of dealerships, suppliers and boat builders. The experienced owners know how to handle these types of downturns, but what about someone who is up-and-coming?  Will they know how to handle something like this in the future, or will they make the same decisions that the current owners and business leaders have made?

As a small business owner, if something were to happen to you tomorrow, who would run your facility or would the business close? Does your business have a succession plan in place? If you do, are you training the person who will one day take over your dealership? If you do not, how many people would be out of a job and how many families would be affected by your loss? Speaking to one of the marine dealerships at the meeting, his main concern is that a majority of his staff has been with the company for several years and that they are not getting any younger.

The same issues can be seen at the boat builder level. How many young aspiring minds are moving up through the ranks in these current economic conditions? How many young leaders will be able to sit around a meeting and say that the next downturn is better or worse than the one of 2008-2009-2010?

There is no better time than now to prepare, implement and train the next leader of your company and the next generation of leaders for the marine industry. If our industry is going to succeed, we not only need to retain the great young minds that are in it, but look outside of the industry to draw in great business minds that will help develop and shape our industry for years to come.

Furthermore, organizations around the country need to get the younger generations involved if they are going to continue to grow and support the boating industry. These organizations have been around for years. Now is not the time to let them fade away.

What steps is your company or organization taking to insure that will last? Does your company have a succession plan in place and is it being implemented?


  1. CHRIS: Good question/good article. There are some real good answers, too. In 2009 the MRAA Board of Directors, led by Director Nancy Smith (Colorado Boat Center), voted to set up a Young Leaders Advisory Council(YLAC) to advise our Board,and to input fresh ideas & initiatives, etc. YLAC is a WOW !!!! YLAC has lived up to that promise and then some with ideas & initiatives in long range planning, membership issues, marketing,internet and website development planning, planning for our annual convention (MDCE), and a lot more !!! YLAC itself in my estimation is a who’s who in young dealer leaders and has proven it big time. One of the things YLAC is currently suggesting is to have the key manufacturers group (NMMA) set up a like Council to advise and give input to NMMA. It’s a great suggestion which has been mentioned to Thom Dammrich, NMMA Pres. and hopefully NMMA will see fit to implement it.
    In summary, Chris, there are good young leaders out there, YLAC has proven this to MRAA and is a fresh new foundation stone in our Association.
    Best to all, Ed Lofgren, Chair, MRAA

  2. You are talking to the wrong people. The next generation of leaders is already being trained. I can point to a dozen “youngsters” who played major roles in moving their marinas through the tough tmes.

    You might not know who they are because they go to work, to work. They don’t go to work to complain how bad things are. Leaders make things happen.

  3. Ed,

    You bring up a great point and I am aware of the YLAC. I think what they are doing is great, but we need to see more of it, both internally at company’s and externally at the state and other local levels.


    You are right, the next generation is out there and they are learning, but we need more of them. There are still a lot of dealerships and OEM’s that do not have a succession plan in place. We need to have more than just “dozen’s of youngsters”, we need hundreds at all levels and in all business throughout the industry.

    Thank you both for your great feedback!

  4. This has been an issue for decades in this and many other industries. I disagree that many of our so-called seasoned veterans knew or know how to run a marine dealerships. When you observe that the average net profit in a marine dealership in the good times was a paltry 2% then you have a very strong clue that acceptable profitability, in most dealerships, was never at an acceptable level. They work insane hours for an unaceptable ROI. Hopefully this most recent recession has made it abundantly clear that critical ingredients such as a Business Plan’s are an absolute must if you want to manage your dealership towards acceptable profitability. I would suggest that the next generation of our leaders should come from a pool of individuals that are properly educated on how to set up and manage a well organized dealership that is devoted to accceptable ROI’s. Everyone is talking about how we must reinvent the marine industry. Education and training at a professional level designed to produce professional results must be at the forefront.

  5. At the risk of sounding like I am sitting on the fence, I have to say that I agree in part to many of these posts. As a member of YLAC and an active member in my family’s dealership and the Canadian boating industry I can speak first hand to some of the great things that are happening in our industry surrounding this issue. Christopher, you bring up a great point about a dealership (or any business for that matter) having a succession plan. In business as Mr. Osborn points out it is of utmost importance to have a “plan” or a road map that says…”here is where we are going and this is where we have been”. In my opinion a succession plan is part of your business plan.
    What I see, like Ed alluded to, with YLAC, and now with the fantastic response of nominees for YLAC 2010/11 is that there is an abundance of talented young marine enthusiasts out there. I agree with Mr. Schwartz however, we spend much of the time “in battle” rather than “organizing the company”, if you will. I think that we also need to take into account that my generation conducts themselves and business quite a bit differently than the generation of our forefathers. We have grown up with technology and often participate in webinars and blogs rather than your traditional meetings. We work hard but that may look to be a different version of hard working than our parents. We have smartphones that never turn off and business happens 24/7 from our pockets. I point this out because I think that during the next downturn you may not see us sitting around a meeting saying…”well last time we did this”. I know of some of our YLAC group and nominees who weren’t involved in the marine business during the last downturn and they are thriving in this economy. This makes me wonder if having not had that experience to lean back on has made those leaders think outside of the box and react better than those who simply resorted to what worked in the past.
    I guess that at the end of the day my point is that we have LOTS of great young leaders in our industry and they need to speak up and get involved if they aren’t already. That isn’t to say that there isn’t room and need for more however. Rather it is to say that I think that by the “20 & 30 somethings” out there who are rocking and rolling in their marine business sharing what they are doing this will encourage other young enthusiasts to join the industry and hopefully the next generation after mine too. I would also suggest, from my experience, that YLAC is a great way to do this. It is my hope that NMMA will pick up on this concept as well, as Ed mentioned. It is a great way to promote the industry and help it grow throughout all generations…specifically with all generations working together.
    Just some food for thought,
    Carly Poole
    YLAC Chair

  6. Christopher,
    I am a 30 years old marine industry professional and have now been unemployed for a little over a year. I graduated in 2004 with my bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Management and went to work for a large rack storage/boat dealership in South Florida as a service writer. Unfortunately in 2005, I was laid off when Hurricane Wilma knocked down half of the facility. I then went to work for Marine Max as a service writer and was employed with them for two and half years. With the first down turn in our economy I was laid off for a second time. After six months of being unemployed, I obtained a position with Allied Marine as Azimuth Project Manager. Within two month I worked my way up to a Service Manager position that I excelled in. Ten months later my location was closed due to a strategic shift to focus solely on warranty repairs and not retail service. I was subsequently laid off for a third time in a row.
    Every time I’ve been laid off, I have asked: why was I selected? Every time there answer was: “it was based on seniority”. If you’re looking to attract and retain young professionals, there needs to be job security and the possibility of advancement. Unfortunately this isn’t going to happen until the more “senior” employees start to retire and room is thus created.
    I don’t see this demand or desire for attracting/retaining young professionals that you speak of. But if you know of something I don’t, I am more than willing to forward my resume to you.


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