Reggie Fountain always had trouble remembering Jeff Harris’ name. Not long before he founded Fountain Powerboats in 1979, Fountain owned a 20-foot Allison powerboat with a Mercury outboard, and he was the boat to beat on the Pamlico River.
Harris was a 17-year-old local who owned an 18-foot Hydrostream with a 200-hp Mercury, and he repeatedly challenged Fountain. One day Harris got in front of Fountain on the Pamlico, and he refused to give up the position.
“Once I got in front of him, I said, ‘I’m going to run to Hatteras if I have to,’ ” Harris told Trade Only Today. “After that he always knew I was Jeff Harris.”
Today, the 58-year-old Harris is the chief operating officer of Iconic Marine Group, which owns Fountain Powerboats, Donzi Marine and Baja Marine. “It’s been really exciting,” said Harris, who took the position in April. “I’m honored to be able to have the position.”
It would be difficult to find a more full-circle story than Harris returning to the company that launched his career. He was 17 and working as a mechanic at Greenville Marine, a Mercury dealer in Greenville, N.C., which was owned by a family friend. To supplement his income, he lied and said he was 18 to become a door-to-door Electrolux vacuum-cleaner salesman. “I had a powerboat habit to support,” he said.
After his victory on the Pamlico, Fountain told Harris he was building boats and that he should stop by the shop. “I showed up on a Saturday afternoon, and he put me to work laminating,” Harris said. “We were rolling glass on the first one he ever built. I came back on Sunday afternoon, and we worked at night.”
In addition to his part-time work, Harris helped Fountain finish a first 31-foot offshore performance boat. Fountain discovered that Harris was good at selling vacuum cleaners — he was No. 1 in his territory — so he hired him as national sales manager in 1983. Harris spent 20 years with Fountain Powerboats, leaving in 2004 to manage Mike DeFrees’ offshore powerboat racing team.
Harris moved on to other professional roles and continued racing. When Iconic Marine Group’s former COO Joe Curran died in 2018, company owner Fred Ross called Harris to throttle the Fountain powerboat for an upcoming world speed record attempt. Two weeks later, he asked Harris to come back to the company as COO.
“To come back and have a leadership role has been amazing to me,” Harris said. “It has the feel and nostalgia and the history, but it’s a 2½ year startup. It’s got the growing pains of a startup.”
Ross purchased Iconic Marine Group in 2018, and Harris said the company has been reflecting Ross’ competitive drive. This year, the company developed six new/remodeled designs, including a 34 Sport Console, 34 Thunder Cat, the 55th Anniversary Donzi 22 Classic, the Donzi GTZ, the Donzi 38 ZRC and the redesigned Fountain 47 Lightning.
Iconic Marine Group occupies about 250,000 square feet and has about 260 employees. The company built about 140 boats in 2019 and is bringing back Baja Outlaws plus some Donzi models.
“It’s taxing on your people and resources,” Harris said of coming out with so many new boats. “But that’s Fred’s vision for the company, to be a player in the different segments.”
He said there’s still a good amount of vertical integration that needs to take place, but the company is basically building everything except fuel tanks in-house.
Calling on his manufacturing background, Harris was able to reduce the build time on the 34 Sport Console by about 20 percent. If he restores Fountain, Donzi and Baja to their former glory, everyone in the performance-boating segment will know the name Jeff Harris.