Aine Denari was named president of the Brunswick Boat Group last October, following a 20-year career in the automotive and global consulting industries. Most recently, Denari led ZF’s Advanced Driver Assist and autonomous driving business, a $1 billion segment of the German company with a portfolio of intelligent sensors, cameras, control units and more.
Denari earned a bachelor’s degree in her native Ireland, then earned three master’s degrees, from Northwestern University in business administration, University of Detroit Mercy in engineering management, and Purdue University in mechanical engineering. She also has done a variety of engineering and product development work at Ford Motor Co., returned to Europe as a global management consultant, and held product strategy roles with industrial multinational Ingersoll Rand before returning to the automotive industry with ZF.
When Denari looks to unwind, taking to the water is an ideal escape — occasionally. “With three kids, we can’t slow down too much, so wakeboarding, tubing, snorkeling and swimming will definitely be part of the day, followed by a dock-and-dinner to enjoy the beautiful water views and reflect on all we have to be thankful for,” Denari says. “Being on the water provides an opportunity for my husband and I to escape the daily stresses of life and just enjoy time together as a family.”
Did you grow up boating?
I grew up in Ireland, and the outdoors were an important part of my childhood year-round. Whether I was hiking, running or spending time on the water, I’ve always been drawn to recreational activities and love getting an opportunity to get out on the water, and I look forward to many more days on the water in this new role.
What was your role as senior vice president of ZF’s Advanced Driver Assist systems?
Our goal was to drive significant progress in both safety and comfort with many global OEM partners. Products and solutions included a broad portfolio that spanned from developing safety features, such as emergency braking and emergency steer assist, to comfort features, such as highway pilot and traffic jam pilot, and all the way to fully autonomous solutions in specific-use cases.
My team delivered fully comprehensive solutions encompassing “see, think and act,” which breaks down to sensors being able to see the environment — cameras, radars, LiDARs; central computing modules to think by processing and interpreting all the perception data and deciding what action needs to be taken; and actuators such as brakes, steering, powertrain to act and execute the action.
The great part about my time in automotive is that there are so many synergies between automotive technology and the future of marine, and I’m excited to bring advanced driver-assistance systems and a lot of my automotive knowledge to support our ACES — autonomy, connectivity, electrification and shared access — strategy.
How do you see technology in the automotive segment transferring to Brunswick Boat Group?
In the recreational marine industry, we have significant opportunities to leverage technologies originally developed for the high-volume automotive space and adapt them for our industry and consumers. This includes technologies like electrification, connectivity and autonomy, as well as human-machine interfaces, overall user experiences, shared mobility solutions, predictive maintenance and many more.
Since the fundamental development of these technologies has already been completed, we can adapt them for the marine industry in a more affordable manner, avoiding the costly up-front development and leveraging components that are more mature in their life cycle. For example, cameras and radars in automotive applications today cost less than 10 percent of what they used to cost when first launched.
As much as there are synergies, there are many differences between automotive and marine applications. From a functionality and use-case perspective, there are no brakes on a boat, no lane markings, traffic lights, etc., but the basic building blocks of the technologies can be adapted and deployed more efficiently in the marine industry.
Brunswick is well-positioned to lead the industry in adapting these technologies. We have pioneered many of the most advanced solutions in the space today, and we are hyper-focused on spearheading the development of new technologies. We have a well-defined and mature process in place for gathering and understanding deep consumer insights to identify what consumers are looking for, to ensure we’re adapting and developing the right technology solutions for the marine environment to meet and exceed consumer expectations.
How does all of this relate to Brunswick’s ACES strategy?
Many of these technology advancements are closely connected and align with Brunswick’s ACES strategy. We are uniquely positioned in the marine industry to adapt and integrate these technologies given our strong position in pioneering new technologies, the scale and the breadth of our portfolio, our deep understanding of marine-use cases, as well as our ability to develop optimal and fully integrated end-to-end systems incorporating all aspects of the Brunswick enterprise.
What are the chief roadblocks to adapting this technology to boating?
There are several technical hurdles that we need to overcome for recreational boating applications. For example, components need to be marinized to be safe and reliable in the marine environment. Additionally, solutions need to be affordable and understandable for consumers. You know what to expect in your home and in your car; we need to make sure the experience is the same in a boat.
What most surprised you after becoming Brunswick Boat Group president?
This was not necessarily a surprise, but I am excited and passionate about the tremendous opportunities we have in the space, which has been solidified since joining. We have amazing products and technologies; a team of incredible, dedicated and talented employees; and a strong commitment and alignment from our overall enterprise to execute on our strategy to deliver innovation and inspiration on the water.
I am also particularly excited about everything we are doing to provide our consumers a great boating experience across all aspects of their journey, including supporting new boaters as they join our community, as well as our existing consumers who have been passionate about boating their entire lives.
How familiar were you with Brunswick’s constellation of propulsion, parts and accessories brands?
I am very familiar now. You can look at a boat similar to a car. Take a Boston Whaler. When the customer purchases a Whaler, they do so with a Mercury Marine engine, potentially a CZone. Some of our Sea Rays have Fathom; they may have VesselView or VesselView mobile. A consumer may use Quicksilver oils and parts, etc. All elements of Brunswick’s portfolio are complementary and synergistic. As I was discussing this opportunity with various people, one of the aspects of the role that I really liked was the way the Boat Group, Propulsion Group, Parts and Accessories, and Business Acceleration contribute to each other to deliver the best overall marine experience.
Brunswick is expanding production and reopening its Palm Coast, Fla., plant. What long-term strategies go beyond increasing the number of boats built?
Given the boating boom that took place during the pandemic as many consumers turned to boating as a safe social distancing activity to enjoy time with friends and family, we currently have record-low pipelines. We expect these pipelines to take some time to refill, given the strong demand that is continuing. These expansions represent an opportunity for us to not only deliver on the incredible retail demand we are seeing across all our brands in all our geographies, but also give us the ability to pursue vertical integration in some components where it makes sense.
After a strong 2020, what are some other ways the Boat Group can maintain momentum? Is continuing to grow OEM part of this?
The demand is still incredibly strong across our Boat Group portfolio, and we expect retail sales for the year to exceed 2020 levels. So delivering on that demand is one of our highest priorities for the year. There are certainly some headwinds in the current environment of supply-chain constraints and labor shortages, but we are making thoughtful investments and enhancements to meet consumer demand.
In parallel, we will be launching many new, exciting products over the course of the year, such as the recently announced Sea Ray Sundancer 370 Outboard, the first to incorporate Sea Ray’s new design language — a new direction for Sea Ray, as the first model to incorporate cues from BMW’s Designworks — and while I can’t say more, you will see many more equally exciting new launches from our various brands over the course of the year.
And finally, as consumers are turning more to digital channels, we are heavily investing in our consumer experience and engagement, in particular building our digital capabilities. We can garner deep insights from our 1.4 million owners and brand champions in this aspect and are already experiencing great results.
Do you see Freedom Boat Club developing the next generation of boat owners?
Yes. With more than 38,000 members and 260 locations and growing, Freedom Boat Club provides a flexible channel to bring new boaters into the industry and introduce them to the on-water lifestyle. On-water training led by Coast Guard-certified captains is required for each Freedom Boat Club member upon joining, which helps to increase comfort and confidence on the water as they begin their journey in boating.
Numerous studies show that most boat club members were not considering purchasing a new boat at the time they joined — a study we conducted a few years ago put that number at 92 percent — but over time, as the club converts these members into boating enthusiasts, a significant number graduate to ownership. Alternatively, for some current boat owners who are looking for options, a Freedom Boat Club membership provides an opportunity to retain and extend their boating participation beyond when they might otherwise own a boat. Whether members participate in an ongoing membership with the club or graduate to boat ownership, our focus is on delivering incredible consumer experiences.
Freedom Boat Club is also synergistic with other aspects of Brunswick. It is a great channel for us to sell boats and engines, and we can leverage our large membership base to provide us with great insights to enhance their on-water experience with our products and technology.
Last year’s Consumer Electronics Show saw Fathom e-Power replace a gas genset with a lithium-ion battery system. When might we see Fathom e-Power roll out as optional or standard equipment across model lines?
The Fathom e-Power is already available as an option on the Sea Ray SLX 400. We have already successfully delivered multiple boats equipped with the Fathom e-Power and continue to receive very positive feedback. Looking ahead over the course of 2021, you will see the Fathom e-Power offered on several additional models and brands.
What other innovations are in the pipeline at Brunswick’s i-Jet Lab?
We have a great team of full-time staff and interns in our i-Jet lab working on a variety of projects primarily focused on supporting our autonomy, electrification and sustainability activities across the enterprise, leveraging simulation, visualization and augmented reality. For example, the lab has created images for use in training our autonomous path-planning algorithms. The lab has also been a great resource to test new tools and approaches and help roll them out more broadly in other parts of the organization. I should also point out that the lab is a great way for us to engage with and develop student talent during their college careers, many of whom go on to join our team full time after they graduate.
In what other ways can Brunswick’s boat brands leverage the parent company for technological and other advances?
In addition to close collaboration on new technologies and business models, and profound understanding of market dynamics and consumer insights, I would highlight the strong talent base across our organization. We have more than 14,000 employees globally with deep experience and talent in all aspects of the recreational marine experience. This not only provides great career paths for our employees, but also enables us to attract and retain the best talent in the industry.
This year, Forbes recognized Brunswick Corp. as one of America’s best large employers — No. 1 in the manufacturing category. What does this mean to you and the manufacturing team?
I and all my colleagues are incredibly proud. It solidifies for all of us what a special culture we have at Brunswick, which enables all of us to deliver our best and achieve great things together. In every day of my four months here so far, the culture and support have been resounding in all my interactions. I am so honored to have the opportunity and to use my leadership position to execute on our strategy to deliver innovation and inspiration on the water.
What excites you most about Brunswick’s role in the global boating industry?
We are in the best position to define the present and future of the recreational marine industry. Brunswick has 17 boat brands, the leading engine manufacturer, the largest boat club in Freedom, and the largest global parts and accessories businesses in the industry. We have everything a consumer would want within our portfolio. It is our job to lead and show the way for our industry. You saw that last year as we exhibited at CES, and we will be back again in 2022. We are excited for the growth of our industry.
Brunswick released its first sustainability report in 2020. How is the company achieving those goals?
Brunswick is fully committed to developing and manufacturing products that are safe, responsible, and supportive of enjoyment and quality of life. Our sustainability approach is based on four key pillars that we are building our strategy around in all of our divisions: efficient consumption of energy, care for the environment, product stewardship and quality of life for all our stakeholders.
Across the Brunswick Boat Group portfolio, we are leveraging the successes that our sister division, Mercury Marine, has had in place since 2010, setting aggressive targets and measuring our performance diligently. We are striving to produce products that have the lowest practical impact on the environment and implementing initiatives such as zero waste to landfill, reduced water consumption, electricity reduction initiatives, renewable energy installations, improved HVAC efficiency, and reduction of VOC emissions across our manufacturing facilities.
We are also highly focused on the health, safety and well-being of our employees. Since the start of the global pandemic we have been hyper-focused on the safety of our employees in our facilities as our No. 1 priority. We implemented stringent protocols before reopening our facilities, and I am pleased to report that we have not had any cases of in-facility transmission of Covid-19. In 2020, we had our lowest-ever recordable incident rate, and our safety metrics are 40 percent better than the industry average.
This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.