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Q&A with Brett Dibkey

President, Brunswick Advanced Systems Group
01_DIBKEY

Brunswick Corp. formed the Advanced Systems Group in late 2019. The group specializes in electronic and power components, and consists of a long list of brands, including Navico, Attwood, BEP, Blue Sea Systems, CZone, Garelick, Lenco, Marinco, Mastervolt, MotorGuide, Progressive Industries, ProMariner, RELiON and Whale.

When the group was formed, Brett Dibkey was appointed president. He had just finished a 12-year run at Whirlpool Corp., where he served as vice president and general manager, business units, brand marketing, e-commerce and the Internet of Things.

Soundings Trade Only met with Dibkey at the Miami International Boat Show in February to discuss supply-chain issues, consolidation, the components business, growth areas and more.

What’s happening in the components business?

In many respects, the components business is becoming the integrated systems business. I think we are starting to see — and hopefully have an impact on being — an evolution beyond simple-component solutions to integrated components and systems that work better together.

How is the Advanced Systems Group dealing with supply-chain issues?

I obviously understand that it’s not unique to us. It doesn’t make it any less painful, I can tell you that. We’re dealing with it in large part through heroic efforts of nearly 4,000 people in the organization who, in many cases, are working day and night, seven days a week, to overcome supply issues as much as possible.

Our core principle and tenet, which I can tell you we’ve not always been perfect about, is to communicate as much as possible. There are certain cases where we can’t snap our fingers and improve lithium-ion cell supply, as an example, but what we can control is communication to our customers. We really want to be out front in providing as much visibility on the supply chain as we can.

Over the course of the last year — and this dynamic, I think, is going to continue into 2022 — we prioritized our OEMs as much as possible. We’ve admittedly had to starve our retail partners a bit, but it’s absolutely been the right thing to do, and that’s one of the many ways that we’re dealing with it.

Are most of your OEM sales within Brunswick?

No, that’s a bit of a misconception about ASG. We service the entire industry, and about 5 percent of our sales after the Navico acquisition are done internally. So 95 percent of our business is done outside Brunswick. We sell to other boatbuilders. And we do have a pretty material presence in the RV and specialty-vehicle markets as well, which kind of sets us apart and makes us a bit unique, relative to the rest of Brunswick.

Pivoting to a hot trend, are you going to do both the Mastervolt and RELiON battery lines? Do you see them going into different segments?

I do. I think the Mastervolt product is targeted at a different segment of the industry than RELiON. Mastervolt packs a lot of capability and features on board with the battery management system. RELiON is just aimed at a different segment of the industry. It’s more of a drop-in lithium-ion replacement. I do see a place and a kind of a growth pathway for both brands.

Dibkey says components such as CZone digital switching are an ever-increasing part of ASG’s business.

Dibkey says components such as CZone digital switching are an ever-increasing part of ASG’s business.

Where are you seeing the most growth at ASG?

I’ll highlight a couple of areas where we’re seeing disproportionate growth. Number one is genset replacements with lithium-ion batteries. I think builders are discovering the really meaningful benefits to their consumers of moving away from traditional gas or diesel gensets to lithium-ion batteries. They’re virtually maintenance-free, and importantly, they’re quiet and without vibration at all. It’s just a much better experience on board than a genset. We are seeing terrific growth in that space, which is both good and bad because we admittedly can’t supply it all right now. It’s good that we’ve been making investments in battery technologies and battery companies.

The other thing I’d highlight is overseeing the migration from analog to digital switching, and capitalizing on that transit.

What does your OEM/retail mix look like?

We don’t really talk about it, but directionally it’s 50/50. Navico skews more heavily in the aftermarket, especially with the Lowrance brand. ASG historically skewed a little bit the other way. So in directional terms, it’s about 50/50.

Where do you think integrated systems are going?

I genuinely believe that one of the things that underpinned the Navico acquisition for us is the ability to deliver a better branded experience at the helm. I’ve owned all kinds of different boat brands over the years, but oftentimes I own the same MFD brand. It always struck me as odd that I have a different boat brand, but the MFD brand was the same. The digital experience at the helm was the same. I think part of the integration is enabling OEMs to deliver value for the consumer at the helm.

We also want to deliver branded experiences to consumers. Boston Whaler is going to want a distinctive Boston Whaler experience at the helm and in the app, and that’s why we’ve built the CZone mobile platform, to enable them to do that. Sea Ray is the same.

We’re really close to talking about some other OEMs outside of Brunswick in that space that we’ll be doing some neat work with. So I think integration is all about making the experience on board better, and delivering more of a branded experience than the one that exists today.

How does the future look?

It’s good, especially once we tackle these tough issues like supply-chain problems, inflation, oil prices and turbulence in the markets. We’re in a good place to capitalize on our acquisitions and make a difference in the industry. 

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.

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