By David Gee
The term “Movers and Shakers” was coined by Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his 1874 poem Ode. It is commonly used to describe those whose achievements are uncommon.
For our purposes, the 9th annual Movers & Shakers Awards recognize innovative leaders and pioneers in the recreational boating industry who embrace the challenge of change.
Their passion for boating, combined with a continual quest for improvement and problem solving, not only make their own companies better, but brighten the future of the entire industry.
We present to you our 2019 Mover & Shaker of the Year, Ron Huibers, President & CEO of Volvo Penta of the Americas, as well as three others we are recognizing, including one posthumously, for their outstanding contributions.
Mover & Shaker of the Year – Ron Huibers
President & CEO, Volvo Penta of the Americas
“When I expressed interest in the top job at the marine group following a retirement, lots of people within the company wanted to know why I would want to go from running the largest business within Volvo Group North America to one of the smallest. I told them that for me, as a lifelong boater, it’s just my ultimate dream job.”
And we’re off. My congenial, wide-ranging conversation with Ron Huibers was supposed to begin with his early boating background. However, the 26-year veteran of Volvo Group, who joined the marine group in 2012 as it was emerging late from the economic downturn, quickly worked the dream job reference into our discussion.
And if you need boating references, well, he can provide them. Lots of them as it turns out, up to and including a certified Captain’s license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, with Master 50T, Near Coastal, Auxiliary Sail and 100T OUPV endorsements.
His father had a 28-foot Chris Craft, and then a sailboat, and Ron and the Huibers family power boated and sailed throughout the Great Lakes, the east and west coasts of Canada and the U.S., the Caribbean as well as several broader international destinations.
Ron’s second date with his eventual wife of 35 years, Jenny, was on a Star racing sailboat. After they got married, they even bought a boat before buying their first house.
“We have friends to this day that my wife and I met through boating when we were newlyweds and new boat owners,” said Huibers proudly. ”Boating became an integral part of our family, throughout all of our lives, and our children have gone on to be boaters as well.”
You won’t talk to Ron Huibers for very long before you catch his enthusiasm for boating. It’s kind of contagious to be honest. And his desire for ensuring future generations grow to love boating is just as strong.
“Boating is the greatest family activity in the world. But we need to work hard to keep selling the boating lifestyle. That’s a continual challenge when there is so much competition for people’s discretionary dollars and their discretionary time,” Huibers said.
Iteration and innovation
Huibers feels strongly that innovation is the key to creating – and keeping – those new customers. And his path at Volvo Penta is permeated by numerous award-winning innovations.
During his first 90 days on the job, Ron analyzed the industry for trends. He met with industry stakeholders including key OEMs, dealers and employees. He attended shows. And he listened.
From there he charted a course to strengthen and grow the dealer and OEM partner network, strengthen and expand the Volvo Penta IPS, diesel and gasoline product offerings, and transform Volvo Penta by investing resources in people, marketing, solutions and customer satisfaction.
“The Volvo Penta culture is about people,” Huibers said earnestly. “Mutual respect. Diversity. Inclusiveness. What that creates is an open culture where people are free to express their opinions, and debate. A previous Volvo company leader was fond of saying debate makes for great science. It also creates a fertile environment for innovation.”
That environment, and Huibers’ forward thinking, led to the development and launch in 2015 of the Volvo Penta Forward Drive (FWD); a sterndrive unit featuring forward-facing propellers tucked under the boat away from the swim platform. This design allows Volvo Penta’s customers to build boats for the ever-growing watersports market.
Today thousands of FWD boats are in operation, and customers such as Cobalt, Regal, Chaparral and others have gained significant sales and market share as a result of the FWD. In fact, today there over 40 FWD models in the market with 10 builders.
Huibers also challenged the Volvo Penta team to solve problems related to winterizing sterndrives based on his own personal experience as well as feedback from customers.
This led to the development of Volvo Penta’s Easy Drain; the first gasoline sterndrive raw water engine-draining system that can be activated with a single knob. It allows boaters to drain raw water from their vessels in minutes without having to remove the boat from the water,
“Our guiding principle is easy boating,” said Huibers. “We need to do all we can to lower the barriers to entry for boating, by making boats safer, easier to drive, maintain and own.”
His analysis and research also led to Volvo Penta’s strategic decision to enter the outboard segment, specifically the high horsepower outboard segment, with the acquisition of Seven Marine in 2017.
With the original launch partner for the Volvo Penta IPS on a Tiara 38, and a strengthened partnership, he and his team were able to collaborate with Tiara on a completely new Tiara Sport 38LS experience.
The collaboration produced the world’s first fully-integrated outboard system featuring Joystick driving and docking, Glass Cockpit, Electronic Vessel Control (EVC), closed cooling and DuoProp, giving higher overall performance and efficiency. This innovative offer earned an Outboard Innovation Award at the 2019 Miami International Boat Show.
“When you look at the history of our company, whether it’s trucks, construction, heavy equipment, finance, or buses even, we have accomplished so many industry firsts, and commercialized so many great ideas, including the stern drive,” Huibers said. “As far as the marine space goes, it’s such an exciting industry and business to be part of, knowing we are selling fun and enhancing the quality of life of our customers.”
The numbers have certainly been enhanced under Ron Huibers’ tenure, directly attributed to a focus on nurturing and developing his team. Through this collaboration, Volvo Penta of the Americas’ achieved more than 40% growth in the marine business since 2012. During this same time, sterndrive sales specifically grew over 38%, gaining leading share, while the total sterndrive market declined over 30%. And sales have grown over 52% on the diesel side as well.
While that is all good, it’s also mostly a look back. What good things does Huibers see as he looks ahead?
“Our soon-to-launch silent shift is so cool. Whether it be a stern drive, an outboard, or IPS, the clunk will now be gone when you shift the boat into gear. It now feels more like a high-end automobile. We have also developed a surfable pontoon boat with our forward drives that we are super excited about. Again, the idea is simply to get more people boating.”
Add increased connectivity, automation, and even electric drive sailboats to the list, and you can see the future looks pretty bright as well.
“We have to keep innovating so people want to go boating over just about anything else. We feel so strongly about that!”
Finalist – Tracy Crocker
President, BRP Marine Group
“I always tell my team here we’re making fun, selling fun and having fun.”
Sounds like a good gig to me, and to Tracy Crocker, President, BRP Marine Group.
“I grew up boating, our family had a boat for the last 10 years, and all of our kids and extended family spent countless hours on the water together. Then it all kind of came full circle career-wise and I am loving it!”
Crocker grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, often fishing on the Cedar River with his dad, a small fishing boat and a trusty Evinrude outboard.
“When I took the BRP job, one of my friends said he might be in possession of that old motor we used. So I turned it over to the engineers at Evinrude, and they got it looking like new, and it now proudly adorns my office. Who knew, right?”
Crocker’s career path took him to some great companies on the brand marketing side that really proved foundational.
He was president of a digital media company called Next Generation Network that he helped sell three years later. Then he took a job with Ecolab, a global provider of water, hygiene and energy technologies, which at the time was a company in transition.
“I realized at that time I was drawn to companies with a certain profile, and who were at a particular point in their history where they needed some of the skills and experience I had,” said Crocker.
That led to Arctic Cat, which was also a turnaround deal, and provided Crocker’s first exposure to powersports and the outdoor recreation market which he realized he really liked.
“When Arctic Cat got sold to Textron, I was contacted by BRP, but I thought a non-compete would take me out of the running. But when we found out it was in the marine space, and the non-compete wouldn’t apply, I was all in.”
Besides being in the outdoor recreation space, I asked Crocker if there was something specific about BRP that was attractive to him?
“About two years in at Arctic Cat, we were battling BRP in powersports behind Polaris, and the more I came up against BRP, the more I began to respect their engineering prowess and capabilities. They really seemed good at understanding consumer needs and then designing and building products to satisfy those needs.”
The more he got to know the company, the more he developed a real appreciation for the culture.
“It’s not only a culture of collaboration, but there is a real appetite and openness for different points of view,” explained Crocker in further detail.
“Diversity almost always leads to more – and better – ideas and that is a real foundation of the company. It is definitely a part of the BRP DNA.”
He says his challenge as a leader is to take advantage of that, help the company to continue to spawn new ideas and new products, and make sure they consistently execute on the fundamentals in a consistent way.
“That starts with safety, then includes productivity, or what we call schedule attainment, then quality, and finally, the metrics and ways we measure our retail performance. Those are the four fundamentals. And getting people to buy into those things, rally around them, and then talk about them, was my first mandate.”
But it’s certainly not his last. Crocker has also taken a leadership role in tackling broader industry challenges such as the shortage of qualified marine technicians.
Crocker recognized that need is particularly acute for two-stroke engines, and believed it was important for Evinrude to invest in young technicians and help them receive the proper education and preparation.
To address this challenge, Crocker cultivated a partnership between Evinrude and Gateway Technical College that resulted in the opening of the BRP Evinrude Technology Institute in Racine, Wis.
“There is a lack of awareness of the ample opportunities in our field that this partnership will address,” Crocker said at the time of the announcement. “Through the BRP Evinrude Technology Institute students will not only develop a better understanding of the array of career options available to technicians, but they will also develop the necessary skills to help them succeed as marine technicians.”
Also under Crocker’s leadership, Evinrude made an historic $2 million outboard engine donation to the American Boating and Yacht Club (ABYC) Foundation in early 2019. With the donated engines, the ABYC Foundation is partnering with secondary and post-secondary schools around the country to support the next generation of marine technicians. The donation provides access to Evinrude’s training curriculum, including fundamentals and professional level online courses. Upon successful completion of this curriculum and associated tests, students will have the option to transition to the certification-level course at Evinrude’s technical training centers.
In his role, Crocker continues to oversee business development for the Evinrude brand, while also executing BRP’s strategic global goals.
“The addition of three boat companies has expanded our marine portfolio beyond engines to include aluminum boats and performance pontoon boats,” Crocker stated. “It has also increased our dealer network and expanded our reach in the Australian market. This expansion is bringing Evinrude engines to new customers while expanding the reach of our boat brands.”
But he has bigger things in mind. Crocker closed his Mover & Shaker interview by saying he thinks the company’s diversity, innovation, and engineering prowess is a “winning recipe” to really help boating evolve.
“At their core, boats really haven’t changed all that much over the years. A boat is a boat, right? And to a certain extent they may never fundamentally change. But we think we can change some of the paradigms around that boat. We are working on big things such as making it easier to get into boating, as well as easier to drive a boat, maintain a boat, and own a boat. We are constantly trying to improve the overall boating lifestyle experience.”
Finalist – Daniel Harper
Founder & CEO, Siren Marine
Daniel Harper loves boats, computers, computer code, technology, machines and creating solutions to solve problems. And after over a decade spent as a sailboat captain for hire, and logging over 150,000 nautical miles at the helm, he managed to combine all of his loves into an entrepreneurial endeavor called Siren Marine.
“It was 2005, and we were sailing from St. Maarten to St. Barts,” explains Harper, recounting the exact time Siren was “born.” “I’m on the foredeck, the boat is on autopilot, and I’m having a conversation with another engineer-type sailor, and we are comparing notes. We realize that most of the significant problems that occur on boats often start small but grow when left unattended. My solution was to develop a cellular-based device that would be connected to the boat’s bilge and battery, and could text anyone anywhere they happened to be if a critical event occurred on the boat.”
Obviously hardware, software, cloud computing and mobile applications have all become much more sophisticated in the ensuing decade-and-a-half. And along with that Siren Marine’s product capabilities have grown to monitor a boat’s high water levels, temperature, engine systems, GPS position, lights, A/C, and countless other things from anywhere.
“As we move toward a more connected world, we want our monitoring, tracking, controlling and security systems to revolutionize the boat-ownership experience by providing boat owners with remote access to critical and timely information about their boats,” Harper said.
Here’s how it all began.
It all adds up
“My father was an accountant when I was growing up, and he was constantly bringing home these antiquated adding machines,” recounts Harper. “I was fascinated by these machines, and began taking them apart at about the age of five. That began my interest in electronic and mechanical things that certainly exists to this day.”
That interest migrated to computers, and after learning how to code, he and a friend started a software company in college, his first endeavor as an entrepreneur.
“We were scanning journals, putting them on CD Rom and then adding search and query tools. It was a great idea but we were just too early. We did, however, sell some of that code to Westlaw, a company that went on to become the largest provider of legal research services and information in the U.S.”
By this time the Florida native had also developed a love for sailing, and sailboats, after years of being on the water he said about “five days a week” in canoes, kayaks and ski boats.
Harper took up competitive sailing in college at Florida State, and to use the school’s Harmony 22, you had to be checked out, and go through a certification process of sorts.
After digesting classic sailing reference books in short order, he began his on-the-water education in seamanship and navigation.
“I just fell in love with sailing, and thought this was really my thing,” Harper said. “So I began to think about buying a boat and living on it.”
Harper decided to take a few years off after college and pursue his sailing dreams, and he found himself in Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.
“I had this idea in my head that you could buy a simple, little boat and literally sail around the world. To earn money for that adventure I began teaching celestial navigation.”
One of Harper’s “students,” an accomplished senior business executive, said he would help Harper finance his boat if in turn he would take him along on some of his sailing trips. He wanted an accelerated course in some of the things Harper was teaching.
“As a result, I bought a little bigger boat than I originally anticipated, and then started doing some charters with some really wealthy hands-on business executives who wanted to learn how to be better sailors. That little adventure that was supposed to last for a couple of years turned into a 15-year career as a captain, with New England summers and Caribbean winters.”
And at the end of it, when he was ready to start the next chapter in the form of Siren Marine, Harper realized he had absorbed lots of great life and business lessons from these individuals and began to apply them.
“It has been a bit of an uphill slog at times, but we are proud to have brought the Internet of Things (IoT) to the marine industry through our ‘Connected Boat’ platform. We are also proud that every dollar of outside capital that has gone into this company came from someone who was a customer first.”
Harper says 10 years ago those prospective customers thought some of the things he was working on and proposing were kind of far-fetched. And even five years ago people were still “raising their eyebrows.” But not now.
“Boaters want a connection back to their boat, and dealers and manufacturers want a connection back to the owner. They want the data to build better motors and offer better services. Now we have a full platform where we can pull engine data, or send firmware back to that engine, and give stakeholders lots of data. We still solve today the same problems we were solving on day one, but now we just have so much more data.”
Harper says because everyone at Siren Marine has been in a heightened state of R & D and product development the last few years, they haven’t had time for much else. So they were deliberate about coming up for air this year.
“For 2019 we came up with 25 stated internal goals and we are constantly measuring our performance,” Harper said. “We are really focused on becoming a better company at the same time we are ready to scale.”
And Harper is always ready to be an evangelist for the connected boat.
“I truly believe that in the next three years, every single boat that rolls off any production line, down to about 20-feet, is going to be a connected boat.
People worry about their boat. People want to be connected to their boat. And there is value in providing a product to do that.”
Finalist – Jan Boone (1961-2019) Posthumous
Bluewater Yacht Sales, Jarrett Bay Yacht Sales & Hatteras Yachts
Jan Boone, who most recently served as the president of Bluewater Yacht Sales, and carved out an exemplary and pioneering career in the boating and yachting industries, passed away this past May at age 57, after a prolonged battle with cancer.
A statement from the company said, “This devastating loss to her family, friends and co-workers has also jolted the close-knit boating industry at-large. As condolences pour in from around the world, it is readily apparent how many people Jan moved with her commitment to excellence and genuine friendships.”
It also moved us here at Boating Industry when several of her former colleagues and co-workers submitted nominations for her to be recognized as a Mover & Shaker posthumously. It is the first time we have recognized someone in this way.
Boone’s marine industry career began in 1983 at Hatteras Yachts. She worked her way through numerous aspects of the company’s operations, taking on roles in marketing, customer service, personnel management and a progression of sales-related positions.
In 2008, Boone’s sales leadership skills were sought out by the chairman of Jarrett Bay Yacht Sales (JBYS), Randy Ramsey. She accepted the position of president during the economic downturn.
In 2012, Boone helped direct the merger between Jarrett Bay Yacht Sales and Bluewater Yacht Sales to form a new and brokerage yacht sales company, where she continued in the role of president with the new company’s founding ownership teams.
In the Mover & Shaker nomination form were letters, testaments and eulogies from former colleagues and co-workers, including this one from Randy Ramsey. It is edited for length.
“I had the privilege to know Jan as a friend. It is my honor to share a bit of life with Jan that brought so much to so many of our lives.
“Like many of you, I met Jan through the boating industry. A tough, passionate woman who expected excellence from everyone she worked with. Jan worked hard to climb through the corporate ranks, and each day broke new barriers in what was considered a man’s industry. As she excelled, she forged lifelong relationships with co-workers, industry leaders and customers. Her presence made the people around her better, sometimes by expecting more, but often by helping them succeed though her tireless work ethic and persistence. Jan was passionate about everything she did, whether it was giving us a PowerPoint presentation about the Hatteras Advantage, or supporting the sales staff at an event.
“Jan came to work with me at Jarrett Bay Yacht Sales in 2008, and quickly became part of our family. I can honestly say that every day with Jan was an adventure. Early on I learned that there were certain priorities:
• There had to be chocolate somewhere close for emergencies.
• Ho-ho’s were a staple.
• Her daily planner was going to be close by.
• She kept a statue on her desk to ward off evil spirits.
• Her briefcase was going to be too heavy to check at the airport, but whatever you do, don’t offer to carry it for her!
“Boat shows were like Christmas for Jan, and the Fort Lauderdale Show was her ‘Super Bowl.’ She loved having sales meetings and going over every detail.
“She made sure everyone was prepared and would ask questions like we were taking a final exam. When it was raining or bad weather, she would insist the serious customers would still come out. She worked until the last person left, and would never allow anyone to start taking the display apart until the show was officially over.
“Road trips with Jan seemed to take on a life of their own. Jan insisted someone drive so she could work, and she never wanted to stop even if the car was about to run out of gas. Low battery life in her computer or phone was a crisis; and if her hot spot wasn’t working, the world seemed to stop. When the day ended, you might find yourself at the outlet mall, or having dinner from a local convenience store, but she always had a plan.
“Even with a heavy workload and endless travel, we always found a way to have fun. Jan was a best friend, mother, psychologist, and boss in one package. Her ability to listen and know how to help was uncanny. She was the most unselfish person I have ever known. And was always willing to give you her most precious gift... her time.
“Jan battled cancer for the last few years, never complaining and fighting the disease with courage and dignity. Through the procedures and treatments, she was positive and remained there for all of us. When she realized this was one battle she wasn’t going to win, she became determined to ‘help us get through this’ by supporting her family and friends more than ever.
“If Jan was with us today, I think she would encourage you to follow your passions, and don’t let people tell you that you can’t succeed.
• Be determined to meet your goals.
• Don’t give up on your dreams.
• Treat people fairly, and with respect.
• Take time for others and listen!
• Don’t work your life away.
• Spend time with your family and friends.
• Always remember that life is precious.
• But more than anything else, love yourself, because if you do that, everything else will fall into place.
“She would want us to celebrate her life, and the time we had together. I can honestly say that knowing Jan has helped me be a better person, and my guess is you can say the same. Her life and legacy will live on through each of us, and how we go forward in our lives.”