As someone who grew up with and helped grow Rinker Boats to where it was during its heyday, newly reinstated president Kim Slocum has hit the ground running.
One of his first orders of business is trying to get back some of his former staff, many of whom left during the last few years as the company flailed with several leadership changes under its umbrella company, Nautic Global Group, which was recently bought by pontoon builder Bennington Marine.
The group, now under the branding umbrella Highwater Marine, includes Godfrey pontoon boats, Hurricane deck boats and Polar Kraft aluminum fishing boats.
Highwater Marine no longer includes former Nautic Global CEO Jim Malone, the most recent in a series of leadership turnovers and someone who, despite having led several Fortune 500 companies, was new to the marine industry.
“I hope we’ll be able to get a lot of prior staff back who were good people and know the operation,” Slocum, who began with Rinker Boats when he was 18 and departed only three years ago, told Trade Only Today.
“The outpouring of positive feedback from the industry has been overwhelming this week,” he added. “That includes dealers, our employees here, suppliers and the media. I’ve always maintained good and close relationships with those parts of the industry. Our industry is so relationship-based. It’s a really important part of it. That part had been lost [at Rinker].”
To the point about bringing good former talent back, Slocum says the best person on Rinker’s product development and prototyping team is ready to return and start designing boats.
“The more familiar, trained people we get back is just going to further our efforts to return to our former glory,” Slocum said.
At its peak the Syracuse, Ind., company employed 525 people. “We were doing lots of volume, had a great team and everybody enjoyed working together,” he said. “It was something special, the relationships we had throughout the plant and the community.”
The number of people employed at the complex and three plants now is “much lower” than it was, Slocum said, but he also said 80 percent of the core workforce is long-term people with “lots of experience and the good old boatbuilding tribal knowledge, which is so very important.”
The Nautic Global Group branding also has disappeared and Highwater has replaced it. Each brand will maintain its individual identity.
“Every single piece of signage, business cards, anything that had that on it, is long gone and in the dumpster,” Slocum said, adding that a longtime staff member volunteered to take the sign down the day Highwater Marine was announced.
Administrative operations are being completely decentralized, Slocum said. “The Rinker campus is going to be fully self-sufficient once again in the administrative area,” he said. “HR, purchasing, accounting — everything that we used to have in this office complex will return.”
In the meantime, Slocum is mending relationships with vendors that were badly damaged during the past several years. For example, suppliers had been forbidden from visiting the Syracuse facility and had to report to Elkhart, Ind. Some would schedule meetings and buy expensive trips, only to be told by the receptionist that they couldn’t be seen, Slocum says.
“You can imagine how many suppliers were reluctant to keep extending terms to the company and keep shipping product,” he said. “I’ve had many conversations with some of those key suppliers this week because I know them all. It’s easy for me to pick up the phone and call and have a productive conversation.”
Bennington, a company run by Steve and Jacob Vogel, has always maintained a strong standing within the marine industry among dealers, suppliers and customers, which also helps mend dealer and supply chain relationships.
“The Vogels know the business, the Bennington brand is so strong, and it’s great to have that feeling of strength behind our future efforts,” Slocum said.