Interview with NMMA Chairman George Bellwoar

As part of Boating Industry’s April 2005 cover package, we spoke with newly appointed National Marine Manufacturers Association Chairman of the Board George Bellwoar. With space limitations in the printed version, we have published the entire interview here. The interview took place in January 2005.


Boating Industry: As the chairman of one of the industry’s leading associations, your background is of particular interest to our readers. Can you share with us how many years you’ve worked in the marine industry? How did you become involved in this industry?

George Bellwoar: My first involvement with the marine market began in the late 1970s as a product manager for Ampco Pittsburgh Corp. We developed and manufactured highly corrosion-resistant alloys, which at first were used primarily by the Navy in submarine applications. Eventually, some of these materials (NiBrAl, Copper Nickel and Monel being the best known) found their way into the high-end pleasure boat market. In the mid 1980s, I shifted from the military side to the pleasure boat market when I took a position as marine sales manager for General Automotive. Except for a two-year hiatus back into the metals business, I’ve been involved with pleasure boats ever since. And although much of my work has involved electrical components and lights, my background is really corrosion resistant material.

Boating Industry: What company do you currently work for? What are your title and responsibilities at that company?

George Bellwoar: For the past nine years, I’ve been vice president of marketing at Perko, Inc., a Miami manufacturer of marine lights and hardware. We are one of the few remaining fully integrated American manufacturers of these products. We injection mold, chrome plate and make our own castings, ironically, using some of the same alloys I’ve worked with for years. My responsibilities at Perko include new product development and directing our worldwide sales and marketing efforts.

Boating Industry: Who has served as a role model or example for you in your professional development?

George Bellwoar: It wouldn’t be fair to blame any one individual for my professional development. All kidding aside, working on industry projects for many years has given me the opportunity to learn from some of the most legendary figures in our industry. And through the years, I suppose I’ve changed jobs more than most. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement and challenge that comes with change. I find that it also presents the opportunity to watch very different leaders, some good, some not so good. Both varieties offer a great learning experience.


Boating Industry: Congratulations on being selected as chairman of your association! What would you say is your No. 1 goal in your new position? Why is that goal so important to you?

George Bellwoar: Without question, finishing the job of building the consensus needed to implement the Grow Boating Initiative has to be at the top of my list. After nearly 20 years of talking about this, I think we’ve finally turned the corner. We’re no longer saying “if,” we’re saying “how.” I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to be in this position during such an exciting time.

Grow Boating isn’t just an advertising program. It is an opportunity to change the entire boating experience for our customers. The Grow Boating Initiative is the single most important issue facing our industry today in part because of its all-encompassing scope. Reversing the stagnation of boat sales and participation in boating is critical to the future of recreational boating, and the Grow Boating Initiative offers us a clear path to succeeding in this.

Boating Industry: What skills do you possess that will allow you to achieve that goal and other goals within the association?

George Bellwoar: That’s a tough question. I suppose we’ll find out together. I’m a salesman at heart. I think that any salesman who truly believes in his product has a great advantage. I doubt anyone believes more than I do in the potential value that the Grow Boating Initiative offers our customers and us.

Boating Industry: What kind of a leader would you describe yourself as?

George Bellwoar: This position is much different than being the leader of a company. As an individual, the chairman of our board has no authority. But as a collective association of members, we have total authority. I’d rather think of this almost as a team sport. My job is to contribute as much as I can and to do my best to motivate the other players to do the same. I try to do what I think has to be done, not quit until it’s finished and encourage others to do the same.

Boating Industry: Why did you decide to serve as chairman of the association?

George Bellwoar: Board and committee work offers both personal and business benefits. We have the opportunity to raise issues that directly affect companies like our own. We can learn from the ways others face them, and, as a group, we have a much better chance at successfully dealing with issues common to all of us. On the personal side, I like getting to know people in our industry, and I enjoy diversity. Association work affords me challenges I don’t face in my position at Perko. And from the standpoint of personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, the rewards are great. I’m hoping that serving as chairman will offer even more of those opportunities.


Boating Industry: How would you describe the role of your association in the industry at large?

George Bellwoar: The NMMA is the largest and best financed organization in the industry. And we continue to grow. Since 2001, our membership has increased 25 percent. We now have more than 1,500 member companies. We are dedicated to creating, promoting and protecting an environment where members can achieve financial success through excellence in manufacturing, in selling, and in servicing their customers. We have and will continue to fulfill this mission by devoting our resources to public policy advocacy, marketing, quality assurance and by providing our members with timely and accurate data upon which they can rely for decision-making.

Boating Industry: How is your association perceived by the industry at large? Are these perceptions fair?

George Bellwoar: The NMMA has undergone dramatic, positive changes in the last few years. We are listening to our members like never before. As a result, we are building a solid reputation in the industry. Recent successes, like creating the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show (MAATS), working with Professional Boatbuilder to build the successful IBEX show, and taking on the charge of the Grow Boating Initiative, have made a positive impact on the industry and the NMMA’s reputation.

Boating Industry: What are the association’s strengths and weaknesses?

George Bellwoar: Thom Dammrich has put together a great staff. We have an involved Board of Directors. They work closely with staff to guide programs and initiatives, ensuring that the group is serving the needs of its members. As we sit here today, I don’t see weaknesses, only opportunities for improvement. Our Government Relations program falls in that area. The NMMA does a tremendous job representing the industry on the Hill, but member involvement is critical. More members should be playing an active role in government, whether by attending the annual American Boating Congress (May 1-3, 2005), hosting local congressional leaders at their plant, or donating money to the industry PAC. There is a considerable difference between the level of NMMA’s PAC, and those of comparable industries. It is crucial that we build the NMMA PAC so we can help elect representatives that are knowledgeable and sympathetic to the needs of the boating industry and our customers. We need every individual in our industry to contribute to our PAC at whatever level makes sense for them.

Boating Industry: How would you evaluate the job your association has done in serving its members in the past two years and why?

George Bellwoar: I feel our association is doing an excellent job of serving us. And I’d like to look back a little further than 2 years for the reason I believe that. I don’t know whether it was Thom’s leadership, changes in the level and intensity of board involvement or a synergistic combination of both. But something has changed over the past five years. Our association feels different, and our industry feels different. A sense of teamwork has developed. Individual members, staff, our boards and committees, other Marine Trade Associations and even individual companies are working together like never before.

Here are just a few examples:

1) The Mutual Efficiency Forum (MEF), an NMMA-sponsored unlikely group of accessory manufacturers, retailers and 2-step distributors, has come together and developed a set of supply chain standards to improve the efficiency of the distribution system.

2) The original idea of creating the MAATS Show and the Marine Data Exchange (MDX – an NMMA-owned and operated e-commerce system) came out of this group. Boat builders have become involved in this process with the formation of an OEM MEF group.

3) The NMMA and the NMDA have joined forces and combined the S.T.E.P. Conference with the MAATS show, saving members of both organizations the cost of attending two different events.

4) And of course Boatbuilding and IBEX have merged.

Every one of these initiatives is the result of our organization listening to our members. Our industry has never been better poised to take on a challenge as great as the Grow Boating Initiative.

Boating Industry: What changes or improvements would you like to see your association make to do a better job of serving its members in the future?

George Bellwoar: The strength of any association lies in its members. Their involvement allows and encourages associations to do more things, and their input determines what those things should be. The best way for us to do a better job of serving all of our members is to get each of them more involved in issues that are important to them. I want all our members to realize that their involvement is both welcome and needed. As we increase that realization and their subsequent involvement, we will naturally do a better job of serving them.


Boating Industry: What are the three biggest challenges the industry as a whole faces today and what should be done to overcome them?

George Bellwoar: Beside the Grow Boating Initiative, we have to grow the NMMA PAC. Our effectiveness as the industry advocate in Washington and state capitals depends on it. We want to double our PAC to $400,000 in the current two-year election cycle. Boat shows are the backbone of our financial strength, not just as an association, but also as individual companies. Making boat shows more effective for exhibitors and exciting for consumers helps everyone – boat and engine builders, accessory manufacturers and consumers alike. One of our biggest challenges is to significantly increase quality boat show attendance.

From an accessory manufacturer’s perspective, we must continue to work with our aftermarket and OEM customers to streamline operations and logistics, improve the exchange of data, develop the means to better forecast needs and drive non-value added costs out of the supply chain.

I know you asked for the three biggest challenges, but there is one more of nearly equal significance that has to be on this list. That is access to water. The urgency of this issue varies geographically from minimal to critical. Eventually, all areas will have to face this issue. While we need to stay focused and execute on the primary goals already in the works, we have to start thinking about this. So, we are in the early planning stages of a major initiative related to access.

Boating Industry: What are the three biggest opportunities the industry has to improve itself in the future and what should be done to take advantage of them?

George Bellwoar: The Grow Boating Initiative is first. To move forward, we must raise at least $2 million for the startup phase. Then we have to finalize and implement the long-term funding model. Raising these funds, preparing the creative and tactical execution plans, and keeping the momentum for Grow Boating will be our foremost priority over the next several months. Certification is next, both boat builder and dealer. I know this is part of the Grow Boating Initiative, but it offers such a good opportunity for industry improvement that it should be singled out. And finally, growing the PAC will make our Government Relations efforts much more effective.

Boating Industry: What impact do you believe the Grow Boating Initiative will have on our industry?

George Bellwoar: The Grow Boating Initiative is the future of the industry. Properly executed, we feel that it can and will reverse the stagnation that we have seen in the last several years. Remember, the Grow Boating initiative is more than just a marketing program. We have recognized that we can’t just market ourselves to prosperity without addressing the underlying issues that have challenged us for a long time. The Grow Boating Initiative is an integrated plan to improve product quality through certification and CSI and to improve dealer sales and service quality through standards and certification, along with a marketing communications plan grounded in research.

Boating Industry: Is dealer certification integral to the success of the Grow Boating Initiative and ultimately the industry at large? Should it even be part of the initiative? Why or why not?

George Bellwoar: Without a doubt, dealer certification is integral to the success of the Grow Boating Initiative. Grow Boating is about improving the entire boating experience, and in the process, showing consumers just how rewarding that experience can be. Marine dealers are an integral part of that experience. Their certification is just as important as boat builder certification.

Boating Industry: Putting yourself in the shoes of a consumer, what do you think are the three best things and three worst things about being a boater today?

George Bellwoar: Boating is one of the best ways to spend quality time with family and friends. It is a great way to get away from the stresses of everyday life, and one of the best ways to experience the outdoors. The world looks different from the water. The benefits of boating are what it is all about. As an industry, we tend to focus heavily on all the things that can be improved, and we should, but boaters focus on the terrific benefits they get from boating. And our research shows that boaters are very optimistic, passionate and committed to boating.

Boating Industry: Are there any marine industry topics of discussion we haven’t covered that you would like to address?

George Bellwoar: Yes. I want to encourage all of our members to get involved with their organization. There are many ways they can do that from volunteering for committee work, contributing to our PAC or simply making their opinions known to members of our boards. Our association welcomes involvement, participation and a diversity of opinions more than ever before. But to move forward on anything, we need consensus. Consensus doesn’t mean that we all agree on everything. Rather, it means that we can all live with and support the group decision. More often than not, it involves intelligent compromises that we are now more willing to make.

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