By David Gee
The 11th Annual Boating Industry Movers & Shakers awards recognize innovative leaders and trailblazers in the recreational boating industry who embrace the challenge of change.
Their leadership has been especially critical during this extraordinary past year-and-a-half when it seems as if the only constant in our lives – and the industry – has been change.
Our 2021 Mover & Shaker of the Year, Paul Singer, took over as president of Centurion and Supreme in early 2016, and the first few months were a bit bumpy.
Despite the challenges, Centurion and Supreme had a great team and Paul viewed both the team and the company as his ministry. Paul began investing heavily in his people, improving benefits before the company could really afford to do so. He shared his strategic goals and regularly updated them on their progress. And he made a commitment that every employee would benefit financially from bonuses if the company succeeded. And they did. Together.
We present to you our 2021 Boating Industry Mover & Shaker of the Year, Paul Singer, president of Centurion and Supreme, as well as finalists Brenna Preisser, Robert Newsome and Bryan Venberg. Congratulations to all of them, and our Bold Moves honorees, for their outstanding – and ongoing – contributions to the recreational boating business.
Mover & Shaker of the Year
President, Centurion & Supreme Boats
“I have spent time with innumerable leaders the past 35 years and Paul Singer may be the best one.”
Of course, Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin is a bit biased. After all, he is the one who hired Singer to lead Centurion and Supreme, at a time when Singer wasn’t looking for a new job. But Yeargin, and presumably lots of others across the entire Centurion and Supreme team, are glad they got to yes.
“He is a learner, he cares about his team, he is smart, talented and gets amazing results,” continued Yeargin. “Paul is effective because people trust him, and he does not let them down. Paul develops a unique culture of trust and performance that very, very few leaders can duplicate. Paul is definitely one of a kind.”
Okay, that’s a pretty good starting point.
When I started my interview with Singer to tell him he was our Boating Industry 2021 Mover & Shaker of the Year I didn’t really intend for it to wait 40 minutes into our Zoom conversation. It just kind of worked out that way. To use some journalistic parlance, I buried the lead!
But pretty much right after saying hello and pressing the record button, we were quickly deep into a conversation about culture. More on that a little bit later.
Here is what Singer had to say when I congratulated him on being a finalist.
“I’m flattered and excited that someone thought enough of me to even nominate me.”
And this is what he had to say when I told him he was actually Mover & Shaker of the Year.
“Wow…ah….yeah…well now I’m past flattered, I’m actually at a loss for words, and for those who know me know that’s not normal. Very grateful, but as anyone in a leadership position will tell you, when you receive recognition such as this you certainly didn’t do it alone.”
If you spend any time talking with Singer, you will hear a lot about teams, both his team, and teams in general. For a guy who was so active in organized sports growing up, that’s only natural.
“I grew up in Riverside, California, and we didn’t have much,” said Singer. “I certainly wasn’t exposed to boating at a very young age. But I did really like sports and somehow my parents got me to San Diego for a John Wooden basketball camp.”
Nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden won 10 NCAA national championships in a 12-year period as head coach for the UCLA Bruins, including a record seven in a row.
“He wrote several great books, including ‘The Pyramid of Success,’ but in 1975 he wrote a book called ‘They Call Me Coach,’” continued Singer. “And it really was my first introduction to culture, and the importance of creating a winning culture.”
During a stint in the Air Force, Singer got his first introduction to water skiing, and boating, and knew he had found something he could grow to love.
Following his Air Force service, Singer moved to Merced, CA, and after meeting Malibu Boats co-founder Bob Alkema in church, he got the chance to work in the boating business.
“Bob taught me a lot about leadership and how leaders need the ability to allow others to grow and how important that is,” stated Singer. “He gave me a lot of responsibility, but he also gave me a lot of autonomy. Bob was a classic engineer type who didn’t have much room in his heart for sales and marketing. He was simply more of a build it and they will come operations-focused person. But he respected me enough to allow me to do my own thing and together we were really able to help grow that brand.”
Culture is king
Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin knew Singer well enough to be impressed by him, and his potential, and after Correct Craft purchased Centurion and Supreme, headed west for a meeting in Madera in search of a new leader for the business.
“We had met previously, but that lunch was the first opportunity for Paul and me to spend any real time together,” recounted Yeargin. “We look for character, competency and chemistry in our leaders and I quickly realized that Paul had all three, in spades.”
Singer wasn’t buying what Yeargin was selling though. At least not right away.
“I told him I was doing fine, working at home, spending time with the family, collaborating on a couple of other things, and I declined the opportunity at first,” Singer told me. “I hadn’t even finished my food though and Bill was already sliding the Correct Craft company pyramid across the table in my direction. He didn’t talk any about the performance or financials of the company. He just talked about the opportunity. And he emphasized how much he valued culture. That really did it for me. I don’t need anyone to motivate me. Instead, I am looking for inspiration. And Bill knows how to do that very, very well.”
Singer has now been in the towboat business for 31 years. And though he said he always loves a good challenge, for him the greatest satisfaction comes in having the potential to impact people positively.
“When I started, we held a couple of meetings with the employees, and I could tell they were looking at me suspiciously. And rightly so. They had not been treated very well, or communicated to, and here was another new guy telling them things were going to get better. But we invested in them, and trusted them, and tried to incentivize them. I told them performance bonuses typically kick in at around the 10% profitability mark and we were nowhere near that when I started. So we had a long way to go.
“By the third year of our initial three-year strategic plan we were really close, and I told Bill I really wanted to do something for them,” continued Singer. “And we distributed about $250,000 worth of bonuses that year. We also brought back health insurance, 401Ks and really made a financial commitment to them even before we had begun reaching all our performance goals. And that’s not always an easy thing to do.”
Today, the company is now able to pay more annually in bonuses, to every employee, than the entire company made for several years before Singer’s arrival.
“Yes, I am always committed to building great boats, but I also wanted to build a really strong team and we have done that,” Singer stated. “We have released 16 new models in six years, so there are great things going on innovation wise. We basically put away all the old product, asked a bunch of questions and started anew. We really started to change the message and the culture.”
Making lives better
It didn’t stop there though. Giving back to the community is also a core value at Centurion and Supreme, and across the entire Correct Craft portfolio.
Paul and the team regularly undertake community service projects, including rebuilding a local community center with the help of over 100 employees, as well as taking service mission trips to places such as Haiti and Jamaica.
“The very week I was due to have my first meeting with Bill to discuss the opportunity, I was also preparing to start a couple of men’s ministries at my church,” continued Singer. “As it turned out, Bill has opened up more ministry opportunities for me than I ever thought possible. Without getting overly spiritual about it, I really feel God moved me into this opportunity at Correct Craft. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that because I believe it has had a huge impact on our success together.”
And as you have no doubt noticed by now, together is a word Paul Singer uses a lot.
“We have been fortunate to have achieved some great results with transparency, communication, accountability and urgency. I am grateful to my team and all of our employees, and on behalf of all of them, I am also grateful to Boating Industry for this award and this recognition.” And if you would like the opportunity to hear more about building a winning company culture from Paul Singer, join us for the Mover & Shaker of the Year Fireside Chat, our very first event at the 2021 ELEVATE Summit Conference, November 8-10, in Atlanta.
President, Business Acceleration and CHRO, Brunswick Corporation
If you ever have the chance to be in the same room as Brenna Preisser while she is representing Brunswick at IBEX, or other boating industry event, several things will be immediately evident. She’s super smart, possesses some great public speaking skills as well as some very robust and impressive job titles. Yes, titles, as in plural. As in President of Business Acceleration and Chief Human Resources Officer. Either one of those things is a big job at the biggest company in the boating industry, but what is it like to have both of them?
“The first thing you do is organize,” she said, which seems like a big understatement. “But I am also really fortunate to have a really exceptional team working alongside me on both the business acceleration side and the human resources side where we have also brought in some new leadership talent. And I have the opportunity to really connect the two.”
With the 2018 formation of Business Acceleration, the company is dedicated to making boating more accessible, providing connected solutions and amplifying and enhancing the boating experience.
And with People comprising one of the five P’s of Brunswick’s Innovation Strategy, and a steady stream of acquisitions, managing over 14,000 employees as the chief people person is also critical.
“I am constantly curious and restless and always thinking and there is an energy and a passion I bring as well to both of these roles,” Preisser added. “I also bring an ability to stay focused on what’s important. Further, I am always measuring what my team can lead, and then conversely, the things that likely won’t happen if I don’t drive them. When your passion is high your energy level and capacity tend to run high as well though.”
Brenna certainly didn’t always have a passion for boating, and really didn’t have any early exposure to boating at all.
“I grew up in Ohio and am a first-generation college graduate,” she said. “My early life consisted of working a lot to try and achieve some of my initial goals, including putting myself in position to get a higher education. I’ve always been very driven and saw an early opportunity in HR, though throughout my career I have tried not to put myself in any one defined box, but instead focus on finding those places where I can have an impact.”
She began her Brunswick career in Knoxville, Tennessee, as Human Resources Manager at Brunswick Boat Group, and then HR Director at Sea Ray. Over her long career she has now worked in nearly every Brunswick division, including a VP of HR and Customer Care role at Hatteras Yachts. In April of 2016 she assumed the Chief Human Resources Officer position, and in January of 2019 also became President, Business Acceleration, and has been having fun every day since she says! Both in the office and on a boat.
“We got our first boat when I was working at Sea Ray, and right away began to understand what the attraction is with the freedom and making memories. It quickly became obvious to me why so many people love the water and boating.”
Her own personal example of how she quickly went from haven’t-ever-done-it to enthusiast, underscores she says the importance of simply exposing people to boating.
“That experience is what connects with people and that is how and where the tide is going to rise for this industry. We have the opportunity to create a sustained industry expansion. The more people we get on the water the more people will become boaters, particularly as we begin to do a better job of reducing the barriers to entry for first-time boaters.”
If you would like to hear more from Brenna Preisser about industry expansion, reducing barriers to entry and the customer of tomorrow, she will be speaking at the Boating Industry ELEVATE Summit conference in Atlanta on Tuesday, November 9, at 3 p.m.
“I honestly can’t think of a day that goes by at Brunswick that the customer of tomorrow doesn’t come up in some form or fashion,” she said in closing. “We believe the industry is at a very special inflection point, especially as the world around us changes so rapidly. We have experienced some tailwinds in retail, and how we use that as an opportunity to shape the future is critical. That could mean digital, access and participation, attracting new consumers, new demographics, design trends and a whole host of things. However, your consumer always has to be your North Star. We work very diligently to make sure that while we are organized as a company into division segments, the consumer cuts across all of our businesses. And that’s ultimately what drives our decisions and the bigger strategic choices we make.”
SVP Operations, National Marine Manufacturers Association
Rob Newsome’s 17-year career with the NMMA began with a letter. Actually, to back up a bit further, it actually started with a conversation he had with himself one morning.
“I literally woke up one day and asked myself what am I really going to enjoy in life?” recounted Newsome in a recent conversation. “Career plus passion, right? I thought I’m a lifelong boater, this is what my family does, this is what I grew up doing, this is what I want to do. So I literally looked up ‘boating businesses in Chicago’ and came across the NMMA.”
Newsome told Boating Industry that he had not only never heard of NMMA specifically, but he really didn’t know or understand the role of trade associations in general.
“I wrote long-time NMMA president Thom Dammrich a letter and told him how I wanted to get involved in boating, and that I was passionate about safety, and great boating experiences, and a whole bunch of other things I don’t even remember. I received a call shortly after that saying how they appreciated my interest but didn’t really have a position open for me.”
Regardless, Newsome did actually come into the office, met with a couple of people, and then a couple of months later received a phone call.
“This time they said they actually have a job that might be a good fit for me,” said Newsome with a smile. “So I started out in our engineering standards department working on certification marketing. But then the person who was running the program left about a year later and I took it over. I didn’t have an engineering or scientific background but that was okay. It’s really program management, making sure we represent the interests of a multitude of parties. What’s best for the boating public, what’s best for the manufacturers, what’s good for the entire industry, and balancing all of those interests in a harmonious manner. And along the way I really did get a chance to learn a lot from some great engineering minds.”
Newsome, who got his MBA from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business while continuing to work full-time at NMMA, must be a quick study. Because he kept accumulating responsibilities during his long career.
In February of 2020, Newsome, who at that time was senior vice president of strategy, engineering standards and membership, was named to an expanded role as senior vice president, operations, as the NMMA focused on its strategic vision and membership engagement to grow the industry.
Newsome now oversees NMMA’s strategic planning, human resources, IT and systems, membership, member programs, engineering standards and governance.
“I have a pretty big portfolio that’s kind of the central nervous system, or the hub, helping with all that NMMA does,” explains Newsome. “I’m just always trying to figure out how we can come together to best serve our members, and how we align resources, human or financial, behind those things. And probably the most important thing, to look for opportunities to bring the right people together, for the right team, to work on the right product.”
It sounds like a big job, but Newsome says it’s both fun – and satisfying.
“I get to see everything our organization does, and I get to see it in depth. I’ve been here a long time now, and I’ve always appreciated my colleagues and co-workers. But for the past couple of years particularly, I’ve really had the backstage pass if you will, to truly see so much excellence. It’s a unique perspective and a privilege.”
Newsome told us it was also a privilege to participate in NMMA’s long-term strategic planning process.
“That was so transformational,” he said. “Out of that we began investing more in consumer research. We began investing more in government relations and public affairs. It wasn’t designing a product and then selling it. Instead we used the customer, or in our case the member, or the industry, to tell us what they want and need.”
That’s quite a bit about the past. What does Newsome see in the future for the recreational boating industry?
“It’s all opportunity ahead. With what we’ve seen in the past year or so, as people go through this life re-evaluation, and realize they want to spend more time engaged in outdoor recreation activities such as boating, I just think that momentum is here to stay for a long time.”
CHRO and head of supply chain, West Marine
A new CEO, a new ownership group, a global pandemic. Bryan Venberg has packed a lot of things into his time at West Marine since joining the company in January of 2020.
“I did grow up surrounded by lakes in Minnesota, but I was not really a boater before,” said Venberg during his Mover & Shaker interview. “However, I was what I consider a retail guy, and the former CEO of West Marine, Ken Siepel, who I had worked with at Target corporate headquarters years ago, wanted to bring me on board to help shift the culture and do some of that. I have, however, learned a lot about the marine industry and have really come to enjoy it.”
Venberg says he has also enjoyed working with Eric Kufel, who was appointed to succeed Ken Seipel as Chief Executive Officer in August, as Seipel transitioned to the West Marine Board of Directors.
That news followed the acquisition of West Marine by L Catterton, a private equity firm that has made more than 250 investments in consumer brands and has $30 billion under management.
“Our new CEO has worked with L Catterton at three other companies, so they are really familiar with one another, and that’s great,” said Venberg. “He is also one of the most positive people I have ever worked with, and I have worked with some great leaders. I’m really excited about the future.”
Venberg started as the chief people officer, and then added logistics and supply chain responsibilities about six months later.
“I took that over with the initial mandate of simply getting product to stores faster,” he recounted. “It was really just roll up the sleeves to make it happen, and I hired some great new leaders, and the team and I did that.”
“When Bryan took over the responsibility of our distribution centers, he immediately identified the problems and created a plan to correct the issues,” said Lorene Frank, Regional Marketing Manager for West Marine. “This resulted in a change in culture and processes. Bryan leads with compassion, determination, focus and is always sharing his vast retail knowledge. He has high standards for results and performance and sets teams up for success through training, mentorships and communication.”
“I had run the HR function at large companies for lots of years, so I was very comfortable with that part,” Venberg stated. “But none of us had a COVID playbook or handbook. And when that hit, we had to figure out how to keep our stores open, our employees safe, our customers safe, and protect the business. The easy thing to do would have been simply to shut down our stores, but we have guests who live on their boats, government agencies who rely on us, and so on, and I am really proud of helping to lead the company through that.”
“Bryan has worked very hard to create a work culture that turns your passion into your day job,” continued Lorene Frank. “He has led the charge for competitive wages, benefits and work life balance. He has also implemented a much-needed succession plan to support internal growth within the company. Bryan stands up for what he believes, has a firm commitment to doing the right thing and supports his teams in any way he can.”
Venberg says they have a strong focus on growing the business and ensuring they have the talent to support that growth. Some of his HR initiatives designed to accomplish that include a comprehensive communication strategy, a safety plan for crew and customers, and a “talent toolbox” that includes goals and objectives, deep succession planning and consistent performance assessments.
“Taking care of people” was in fact the first objective of company founder Randy Repass. What has become the world’s largest boating supply retailer started in his garage in Sunnyvale, CA., as he saw an opportunity to improve the way people shopped for boating supplies. In 1968 he began selling nylon rope by mail order under the name West Coast Ropes, and then opened his first physical location in 1975 in Palo Alto, selling a small selection of basic boat supplies.
The selection was meager at first, but Repass says the service was outstanding, according to the company’s founding story published on their website.
“We believe that it’s just as important to offer knowledgeable service and support as it is to offer top-flight products,” stated Repass.
That’s something that continues today, according to the Chief Human Resources Officer. “What I am most excited about is continuing to figure out how to best connect the marine experts in each of our over 200 stores with the boating consumer,” added Venberg in closing. “We have just rolled out some new training tools and leadership training, and we really want to get better at serving our customers.”