Industry, family mourn loss of Sail & Ski Center founder, co-owner Rod Malone 

Douglas Rodney Malone (Rod), founder and co-owner of Austin, Texas-based Sail & Ski Center, died unexpectedly on Friday, Aug. 31. He was 78.

Under Malone’s guidance and leadership, Sail & Ski added to its original location in Austin, a dealership in San Antonio, Texas, a sales showroom in Lakeway, Texas, and Sail & Ski Yacht Club and Sundancer Grill on Lake Travis. 

Sail & Ski employs more than 100 employees and serves passionate boaters, water sports and snow sports enthusiasts in central and south Texas. The dealership was Boating Industry’s Dealer of the Year in 2009.

Brunswick Boat Group President Huw Bower said Malone was a universally respected leader who, with humility and passion, helped shape the boating industry in many ways.

“Rod’s affection for the pastime and the welfare of our industry, his unabated respect for his customers, and his business acumen and reputation as fair and reliable partner were well known,” Bower stated in an email. “Rod’s devotion to his family and his wife, Wanda, speaks volumes of his sense of loyalty, devotion and ideals,” Bower said.

For 58 years, the Malones shared a life, and for 40 of those years they were an incomparable team building Sail &Ski into one of the most respected and successful marine dealerships in the country, Bower added.

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“We feel a profound feeling of loss at the Brunswick Boat Group, and to the Malone family and the family at Sail & Ski, Brunswick offers its most heartfelt condolences and deepest respects,” Bower said.

Brad Anderson, president and general manager - Sea Ray Sport Boats & Cruisers, said Malone was an industry pioneer and a top Sea Ray dealer for 31 years.

“I’m personally grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him and learn from him,” Anderson said. “He was instrumental in growing Austin and San Antonio as top Texas Sea Ray markets, and let’s not forget the Sail & Ski partnership with one of Sea Ray’s most famed events - Aquapalooza, hosted on Lake Travis.”

Anderson said Malone will be dearly missed, but his legacy lives on with a dedicated team of individuals he inspired within the Sail & Ski organization.

“I have lots of really fond memories of Rod,” said Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “The one that really sticks with me was back when I was Boating Industry editor-in-chief and I went down to visit him, his dealership, and locations.”

Malone picked Gruhn up at the airport, provide a tour of Sail & Ski’s various locations, and shared the plans he had put in place for growth.

“He spent the entire time during the tour talking about how he was going to make the business better,” Gruhn said. Malone spent a significant amount of time conversing about the impact and importance of the Dealer Certification Program.

“I was down there to talk about the Top 100, and to have him go down that path, and talk about the significance of that program, and the impact it had on his business, you don’t find a lot of business people who point to something else that helped fuel their success," Gruhn said.

Malone was always looking to help people within the industry, Gruhn said, and was always available for a call.

“Many dealers who have attended the Marine Dealers Conference & Expo made sure they visited with Rod,” Gruhn recalled. “It was a highlight of the conference for them. It’s been a highlight for me. Even at the stage in his career where he had done so much for his employees, his business, and the industry, he still sat in the front row of every MDCE educational session with a pen and a notebook, taking notes and learning.”

Malone, an only child, is preceded in death by his parents, James Alden Malone and Agnes Elizabeth Malone and his wife, Wanda, six weeks ago. 

He is survived by his children, daughter Tammy and her wife Lisa, son Douglas and his wife DeAnna, and daughter Holly and her husband Steve; grandchildren, Jake, Jenni, Addison, and Hutchison; aunt Dorothy Cruz; brother in law Cullen Kay; nephews, Ricky, and Gregg; nieces, Cynthia, and Gina; great nephew Kristopher; and several cousins.

Malone was born on May 31, 1940 in Jacksboro, Texas. He graduated from Jacksboro High School in 1958 and moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas and pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering.  On June 4, 1960, Malone married his high school sweetheart, best friend and the love of his life, Wanda Faye Kay.

Rod and Wanda purchased their first home in Austin in 1961 and soon after the couple welcomed three children into their lives. Malone pursued a career in electrical engineering. He was employed by several engineering companies and began a startup with a close friend Jerry Connor in the early 1970s.

Among his accomplishments in electrical engineering were a few inventions and several utility patents.  During this time and on one hot summer weekend, a work friend invited Malone to go sailing on Lake Travis. He was soon smitten with the sport and began to sail competitively.  He became very involved in the Austin Yacht Club, where he served as commodore and won many races, awards, and trophies, including the Governor’s Cup.

Through this activit, Malone met Norman Rylander, who owned a sailboat shop named Sailing Imports. Malone ultimately purchased Rylander’s shares of Sailing Imports and became the sole owners of the sailboat dealership. 

In 1979 Malone met Buzz Watkins, who was interested in starting a snow sports business. It did not take long for Malone to recognize Buzz’s capabilities and business acumen.  The pair became business partners and combined the two businesses together into what became the Sail & Ski Center.

Their partnership has thrived for over 40 years as Sail & Ski grew to be one of the best boat dealerships in the country. In a Boating Industry Top 100 profile published in early 2010, Malone’s mission statement for Sail & Ski was clearly defined.

“Goal setting and achievement is a process that requires discipline and a consistency of purpose that is based upon a clear vision of the mission of the organization,” Malone stated, summarizing a guiding principal that propelled Sail & Ski to recognition as the No. 1 marine dealership in North America.

Two years earlier, in July 2008, the Austin market had begun to feel the effects of the economic downturn that had already gripped much of the remainder of the nation. Sail & Ski’s response was calculated and precise, and took the form of a rigorously followed expense-control plan.

The tactics that Sail & Ski developed – which were updates to tried-and-true systems and procedures the company already had in place as opposed to unproven strategies – allowed the dealership to be proactive in beating the economy. 

Of equal importance, Sail & Ski made a conscious effort through meetings and one-on-one conversations to remain open and forthright with its employees about the possible effects of the downturn on its business and the impact it could have on them.

The dealership’s 2009 Top 100 profile concluded with the following: “Sail & Ski’s well-defined systems and processes have provided the company and its employees with a roadmap through the best of times and the hardest of times. But it’s the underlying foundation of an excellent management team and a guiding mission that have made Sail & Ski the top dealer in North America.”

The Malone family issued the following statement, published in Rod’s full obituary:  “[We] would like to thank everyone at Sail & Ski, past and present, for your hard work, dedication, and selfless contributions in making Sail & Ski the nationally recognized dealership that it is and will continue to be. Thank you to the many manufacturers, retail associations, boating industry associations and associates that Rod considered friends, cohorts, mentors, and leaders in an industry he loved so passionately. Special thanks to Buzz and Kathy Watkins for their years of loyalty, dedication, fun, friendship, and love.”

A Celebration of Life for Rod Malone will be held on Sunday, Sept. 16, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Sail & Ski Yacht Club. Sundancer Grill will cater on the grounds.

2 comments

  1. Bill Holmes Sr
    Barbara Holmes
    Billy Holmes Jr
    Alex Holmes

    Gulf Coast Marine, Inc sends love and admiration to Rod Malone and Sail & Ski.

    Rest in peace Rod.

  2. The Malones were our next door neighbors in the 60s, until we moved in 1971. Tammy was 3 days younger than my sister - best friends. Wanda and my mom had a baking business together; I still have handwritten recipes in Wanda's flowing longhand. Rod was always working, setting this phenomenal dream in motion. He was a good and fair man who still found time to occasionally "play" with us kids.

    All love to this family, I hold you in my heart.
    Allyson Frost

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