Longtime president, praised for energy and advocacy, is stepping down at the end of the year
As Marine Retailers Association of America president Phil Keeter completes his last year in office, the board must find a replacement for a man who not only led the group for more than 20 years, but also helped found it.
"It has been my privilege and honor to have represented the marine dealers throughout North America for the past 20-plus years," Keeter says. "Having been a dealer for 30 years before becoming MRAA's president gave me a real understanding of what a dealer faces every day. They are brave and fearless small businessmen with their entire fortunes on the line, so my task of representing them has been daunting, but the friendships and relations I have formed with them are priceless treasures."
Keeter, who will be 75 at the end of this year, has been president of the association since 1988. He was one of the 12 founding members of the group in 1972. He says he had been thinking about moving on for a while and may do some consulting in the industry after he leaves the MRAA. He wanted to see the association's young leaders group established before he left and also see the industry on an "upsurge."
MRAA chairman Dave Foulkrod says the board knew an announcement was coming and has a plan for hiring a replacement. Applications will be collected during the first quarter and the association hopes to have a new president in place by the third quarter.
Keeter will remain with the MRAA until the end of the year.
Though it would be helpful if the new president has marine industry experience, it's not required, Foulkrod says. Financial planning, public speaking, association experience and experience working with new technologies are among the attributes the group seeks in its next leader.
"I've had a wonderful time during my time on the board working with Phil," Foulkrod says. "He'll be greatly missed. I just think that Phil has worked diligently and effortlessly to be a strong face and voice for MRAA and for dealers around the country, to help promote the industry, to help promote dealers and help promote their business."
Others in the industry also praise Keeter. "Phil has dedicated a lot of time and energy pursuing long-term growth opportunities for the greater recreational boating industry, including his work with the Grow Boating Initiative and Dealer Certification. He has been a strong advocate for dealers and recreational boating," says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
"We have worked closely throughout my tenure at NMMA to improve dealer-manufacturer relations and to improve the boating experience," he adds. "We congratulate him on his long career in boating and his retirement, and look forward to working with MRAA's leadership to foster better dealer/manufacturer relations and a stronger recreational boating industry."
Longtime Boston-area dealer Larry Russo Sr. remembers meeting Keeter in the 1980s at an MRAA conference and becoming an "instant admirer."
"As I became more involved with MRAA, I was elected chairman in 1988. On my watch, we set out to re-engineer the administration at MRAA. As we began the search for a new president, I recommended Phil to the board for consideration," Russo says.
"Over the past 20 years at the helm of MRAA, Phil has been a rock. He has been the ultimate leader, facilitator and ambassador," he adds. "He has forged strong relationships with industry and government associations to foster better communication and understanding for the membership and for the industry at large. He has been a champion for marine retailers. His legacy is one full of accomplishments."
Keeter has represented the MRAA with other industry groups and received a presidential appointment to serve on the National Boating Safety Advisory Council. He is also vice president of the Grow Boating program and is on the board of Marine Five Star Dealer Certification.
Keeter is a recipient of the Mel Barr Award, given by the National Marine Representatives Association, and a recipient of the Phil Keeter Environmental Education Award, given by the Marine Environmental Education Foundation. He served on the foundation's board for several years and received recognition from the National Clean Boating Campaign.
His career in the recreational boating industry began with the establishment in 1958 of Romer Marine in Tulsa, Okla., during his senior year in college. He sold that dealership in 1986 and went on to become regional sales manager for Glastron Boat Co. He was there for two years before becoming president of MRAA.
Keeter remains active with the University of Tulsa, the Will Rogers Rotary Club and the Boston Avenue Methodist Church. He is also active with the Tulsa Boat Sport & Travel Show and the two Green Country RV Shows.
Keeter and his wife, Marilyn, have been married for 52 years. They have three children and five grandchildren.
This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue.