Leon Slikkers, a boatbuilding pioneer whose time in the marine business dates back to the 1940s, has retired from Tiara Yachts. In a career that began with building wooden runabouts, Slikkers pioneered sport, sail and other boats with a focus on innovation, engineering excellence and commitment to quality.
Since its founding as S2 Yachts in 1974, Tiara has emerged as an industry leader in the midsize yacht segment. It currently employs more than 600 people at its state-of-the-art, 800,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Holland, Mich.
Leon’s son Tom Slikkers has been at the helm as CEO and president since 2012. “This company, its rich history and all that it has accomplished wouldn’t have been possible if not for the vision, passion and unyielding entrepreneurial drive that our father has demonstrated for a lot of decades,” he says.
Leon Slikkers began as a carpenter for Chris-Craft in 1946. In the mid-1950s, he sold his home to raise the money to start the Slickcraft Boat Co., building mahogany runabouts. He sold Slickcraft to American Machine and Foundry in 1969 and remained president for four years.
Slikkers founded S2 Yachts in 1974 and began to experiment with fiberglass and composites. The company was initially focused on building sailboats, but as it grew — armed with greater access to capital and Slikkers’ drive to innovate — S2 began building powerboats in 1976 and ushered in the birth of Tiara Yachts. In 1978, the company added the Pursuit sportfishing model line. (S2 Yachts sold Pursuit brand to Malibu Boats in 2018.)
“[Leon’s] dedication to excellence and the translation of his passion for boatbuilding across three generations will be a lasting legacy as we continue to provide exceptional customer service and highly specialized products,” Tom Slikkers says.
The elder Slikkers also gets credit for pushing the company to develop its outboard series, which the team says has “skyrocketed in popularity” and culminated with February’s launch of the 48 LS — the largest outboard-powered model offered to date.
“It was with our father’s foresight and vision that we made the critical decision to pursue a Tiara-inspired outboard luxury brand,” says senior vice president of operations Bob Slikkers. “That we’ve been able to embrace and so quickly adapt to those changes is a credit to our father’s original vision, combined with the skill and dedication of our design, engineering, manufacturing and sales teams. We set out to do something bold for our company and our brand, and we successfully pulled it off.”
Next year, the company will launch a 55-foot, inboard-powered yacht. Tiara says the new boat will be equipped with “multiple modules to customize the cockpit arrangement to suit each customer’s personal boating lifestyle, whether it be entertaining or fishing,” with myriad seating configurations, a summer galley and more.
“The new 55 in many ways is the culmination of everything we’ve learned as a company and a manifestation of what is most important to our customers who desire incredible boating experiences,” says director of engineering Tim Slikkers. “Each chapter of our journey has illuminated successful features that inspired the 55, which is an artful blend of the best features of our dayboat and cruising models, and an exceptionally innovative, luxurious and high-performing yacht that will be unlike anything in the market today.”
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.