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Take a look at the next generation of our industry

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We’ve talked a lot about older boaters, younger boaters and a more diverse face for the next generation of boat buyers. What about young leaders? It’s not just the guy on the dock or launch ramp who is graying. It’s all of us.

It’s time to meet the future.

At least two national groups and more at the local level are focused on young industry leaders and professionals, the very people who will be running the show before you know it. The MRAA formed the Young Leaders Advisory Council in 2009 to provide new ideas, energy and youthful oomph to the dealer association. The council provides the MRAA board with feedback and ideas, and four former YLAC members currently serve on the 19-member board.

“They’ve really helped pull MRAA forward,” says Matt Gruhn, 41, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “It’s really like a farm system for the board.”

The more seasoned industry hands listen, too. “From the start, the board said, ‘We want your ideas. We want your feedback to make us better,’ ” Gruhn says. “It’s been a great thing for the board.”

The 11-member council organizes the educational and social events at MDCE for the young industry set, which is integral to building a sense of community where these second- and third-generation industry pacesetters can connect and share new ideas.

“We get used to doing things the way we’ve always done them,” says Gruhn. “The youth is bringing in a new approach to their businesses.” Technology, for instance, is something the up-and-comers are clearly more accomplished with than those of us who grew up in an analog world and had to “learn” digital.

The Young Professionals in Yachting group, based in Fort Lauderdale, is providing the same sort of networking opportunities and professional development for those 40-and-unders who work in the big-yacht segment (yachts roughly 80 feet and larger).

“I wanted to create a welcome environment,” says YPY president John Jarvie, a San Diego native who five years ago moved to Fort Lauderdale, where he runs the East Coast office of Oversea yacht insurance. “The yachting industry doesn’t always do that. A lot of the old boys think you have to learn it the old way, the way they did.”

The group has about 100 members and meets once a month to share news, discuss best business practices and hear from industry leaders, who serve as guest speakers. “They’ve been very supportive of the concept,” says Jarvie, 32, a lifelong boater and the fourth generation to work in the family yacht insurance business. “They come in and tell their stories. Everyone says, ‘Gee, I wish there was something like this when I started.’ ”

YPY has a Monaco chapter with about 130 members and was about to start a London chapter when I recently spoke with Jarvie. It’s a natural progression, given the global footprint of the large-yacht business.

Like YLAC, the association for young yacht pros focuses on building a community through professional development, networking and social events, which for YPY take place at the Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Monaco shows. YPY also serves as a clearinghouse of sorts for companies looking to hire young people, Jarvie says.

YPY members must be 40 or under and shore-based. They hold jobs across the range of the large-yacht segment, from yacht management and electronics to brokerage and insurance. The average age of a member is 33, with the youngest being a 24-year-old yacht broker (youngprofessionalsinyachting.org).

Jarvie says YPY is looking at new ways to add value for its members. The next initiative may be a mentorship program that pairs new members with those who have been in the association for a couple of years. There may also be a mentorship role at some point involving industry veterans and YPY members.

YLAC members also have to be 40 and under and have worked in the industry for five to seven years. The MRAA staff itself skews younger than the industry and younger than the typical boat owner.

“You give them a mission and a goal, and it’s bam, they go out and get it,” says Gruhn. “It’s that energy and excitement.”

Interestingly, both groups had their genesis during the depths of the recession, which shouldn’t be surprising, given all the turmoil and change that occurred. Who has more chutzpah than the young?

It would be nice if these young leadership organizations prove to be a lasting legacy of the recession. Even better, if the young people who pass through them become the next cornerstones of change, which as much as anything may be the definition of the “new normal.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue.

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