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Larson Boats CEO reflects on builder’s centennial

Larson Boats has been in the same business for 100 years and Al Kuebelbeck knows that’s exceptional.

As the company celebrates its centennial, Kuebelbeck reflects on the challenges of recent years, from a bankruptcy restructuring to the Great Recession, and he’s looking ahead to what he believes will be some of Larson’s most exciting times.

“The past three years have probably been the toughest three years that I’ve participated in this business,” said Kuebelbeck, the company’s president and CEO, noting that some of Larson’s boatbuilder competitors failed.

“That affords us the opportunity to gain some market share because we’re still alive and still here. We landed in bankruptcy in 2009, and we worked our way through, and we’ve repositioned ourselves in the market. We didn’t sit on our laurels. We worked hard on developing new product that we feel is apropos for the market we’re dealing with and the generation we’re dealing with.”

Larson is the umbrella company for the Larson, Triumph and Seaswirl Striper brands. All of the operations were consolidated in Little Falls, Minn., after the 2009 restructuring.

The process has not been without difficulty. Genmar Holdings CEO Irwin Jacobs filed for bankruptcy protection for all 15 of Genmar’s companies in June 2009. The case was later converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation, and the assets were auctioned. Platinum Equity, a private equity investment firm, purchased the Larson, Triumph and Seaswirl brands from Genmar and sold them to Jacobs’ new company, J&D Acquisitions.

Most of the 43 years that Kuebelbeck has spent in the marine industry have been with Larson — 38 of them with Jacobs — and he defends Jacobs against those who criticize him. “Working with him is very rewarding,” Kuebelbeck says. “I fully understand there are a lot of negatives out there, [but] most of the negatives out there — there isn’t much substance to it.”

Jacobs got into the marine industry in the 1970s when he purchased Larson because he believed so strongly in the brand, Kuebelbeck says.

“Frankly, without him having that strong feeling in Larson, I don’t think Larson would be having its 100th anniversary this year,” Kuebelbeck says. “We’re completely restructured, and coming out of the bankruptcy Irwin could’ve walked away, but he had such dedication to the company — he stuck with us. We’re building the brands back up, and I’m excited with what we’ve got coming down the line and anxious to see how it’s received.

Look for more about Larson in the October issue of Soundings Trade Only.

— Reagan Haynes

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