Sylvan “Ham” Hamberger, who worked in leadership positions at Mercury Marine, Boston Whaler, Yamaha and Tracker Marine during a 40-year career in the industry, died Friday in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 86.
Hamberger was recognized as an industry leader and marketing innovator and in 1995 he was one of the first people inducted into the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Hall of Fame.
“Everyone at Yamaha is saddened to learn of the passing of Ham Hamberger, who led the Yamaha Marine Group in its formative years,” Yamaha Marine Group president Ben Speciale said. “I am proud to have known Ham. A lot of us learned from Ham and continue to apply what he taught us. He wasn’t just the leader of our company; he was a visionary whose influence continues in the marine industry to this day.”
“Ham Hamberger gave me my start, which he did for many others in the marine industry,” said Dean Burnett, president of the Yamaha Watercraft Group. “Ham was a mentor to me, and I learned a great deal from him. Even after his retirement, he continued to be a confidant and a great friend. I will truly miss him and our industry owes him a great deal of gratitude for his long-term vision of growth.”
Born in Baltimore, Hamberger earned a degree in industrial management from the University of Baltimore and attended the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.
At Mercury Marine, where he worked for 22 years, he directed many successful advertising campaigns, including the famous “Black Max” ad and the memorable “Switch Ad” series, which showed dealers who chose to sell his products over those of competitors.
He left Mercury in 1979 to work for Boston Whaler before joining Yamaha Motor Corp. in 1982 as division manager of Yamaha Outboards. There he successfully orchestrated the introduction of Yamaha outboards into the U.S. market and was elected senior vice president, general manager and a board member of Yamaha Motors USA.
Through his guidance, Yamaha’s outboard motor division captured 15 percent of the market, moving from scratch to sales of more than $300 million. In 1989 he left Yamaha to become president, CEO and a partner at Tracker Marine. Through his direction, Tracker quickly accelerated as an industry leader.
Hamberger served as chairman of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Association of Marine Engine Manufacturers, and served on the boards of the National Association of Boat Manufacturers, the American Sportfishing Association, the Federal Boat Safety Advisory Council, the American Boat and Yacht Council and the American Water Ski Education Foundation.
He also was a board member at Cobalt Boats. After retiring in 1994, he lived in Palm Desert, where he remained active in the industry as a consultant.
He is survived by his wife, Connie (Van Pelt) Hamberger, of Palm Desert; sons Dr. Christopher S. Wilson of Golden, Colo., and John D. Wilson (Michelle) of Stamford, Conn., and daughter Wendy Wilson of Cary, N.C.; two granddaughters, Alexis (Gordie) Weightman and Emily Parker, both of Denver; and two great-granddaughters, Ainslee Weightman and Charlotte Weightman, also of Denver.
An obituary said donations in his memory can be made to the charity of the donor’s choice. Memorial service plans are pending. Uecker-Witt Funeral Home, 524 N. Park Ave, Fond du Lac, Wis., is assisting the family. Burial will be in Rienzi Cemetery in Fond du Lac.