MasterCraft CEO plans to retire this summer


John Dorton, president and CEO of MasterCraft and Hydra-Sports, is retiring this summer, he told Soundings Trade Only this morning.

“It’s been over 15 great years there, and now seemed like as good a time as any to leave. We’re No.1 in market share and the company’s profitable. We have some great products coming out. We’ve got a pretty healthy dealer network,” he said. “It’s always going to be tough. I love that company. I’ve wanted to work there since college and finally got my chance to do it. It’s been a great ride.”

Dorton, 50, said he will stay on through the transition, and likely stay on as an adviser to the board of directors for two years. He also serves on other companies’ boards.

In retirement, he said he’ll take time to enjoy life. Dorton said he and his wife have an interest in a ranch in Colorado, and “we’ll certainly always have a MasterCraft at the dock.”

“It will be nice to have a couple of years to do some of the things that we have at our disposal,” he said.

Asked what he’d miss most, Dorton said the people he’s worked with and met throughout his time at the company.

“I had a real close relationship with the manufacturing team out in the plant and with the dealers and with a lot of customers and professional skiers and wakeboarders,” he said. “I just got fully ingrained in the business. I would get out and work side by side in a lot of the manufacturing pods, and I would get out with the wakeboarders and skiers and evaluate boats, and then I would go to boat shows and events nearly every weekend.

“They’re the ones that kept me going in hard times and kept me smiling in good times,” Dorton added.

The accomplishment he is most proud of is the strategic decision to focus on the core high-end watersports enthusiast at a time when others companies were trying to appeal to a mass audience. The philosophy helped the company maintain and grow market share. Profitability is up significantly as a percentage from last year, and retail sales are up, he said.

Dorton said that during the recession he never lost sight of the importance of bringing employees back to work and getting the factory humming again. During the dark times, he would park in the back of the plant and walk through the empty parking lot to remind himself of this.

Today, there are 450 people working at the Vonore, Tenn., facility, he said.

Dorton said he’s not sure whether he will get back into the boating industry in the future, but he’s certainly not closing the door on that possibility. He told National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich that he’s happy to serve in any way that’s useful, willing to work for “airplane tickets and Joe’s stone crabs.”

“I will be a lifelong supporter of the marine industry,” he said, adding that his son is set to begin working at MasterCraft later this spring. “It’s in our blood.”

Dorton said he has wanted to work for the company since he graduated from the University of Tennessee, and it took 13 years to get an answer to his resume and join the company as marketing director.

“I never took my eye off of MasterCraft,” he said. “I really feel good about where we stand. I think in the next six months the business is going to really heal greater even yet. If there’s any time to do it in the next near future, this is it. It feels like everything’s healed, the company’s profitable.”

— Beth Rosenberg


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