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How We Lead

Crisis management has been thrust into the forefront.

While workforce retention, technology, product development and environmental concerns remain top-of-mind for marine industry leaders, the covid-19 pandemic has thrust crisis management into the forefront of everyday business. As Soundings Trade Only spoke with people for our leadership issue, we found that core values remain. A good deal of those who answered our five questions, as they find their way through the crisis, are relying on strong teams, clear communications, positive outlooks and leading by example. Everyone seems to recognize the unique, hydra-headed set of issues the pandemic is creating, and the fact that creative, evolving solutions will be needed going forward. (Responses have been edited for space and clarity.)

1. What is the best leadership advice you have received?

2. What leadership mantra helps you stay on course?

3. What is your strategy to lead during a crisis? What did you learn about yourself?

4. What main takeaway from this time will change the future?

5. What else should the industry know?

Martin Bjuve

President, Volvo Penta of the Americas

1. You don’t build a network when you need a network; you build it before. Fortunately, the marine industry is a strong network that has been built up over decades, and during times like this, it’s reassuring to see how we come together to maneuver the situation. The current situation is unprecedented, but one thing is for sure: We need to go through this together.

2. It is not about what a single person or department is doing; it is about working together toward the same purpose. As leaders, we can add the most value when we are supporting and coaching our teams.

Martin Bjuve

Martin Bjuve

3. Our management placed strong focus on frequent and open dialogues with team members and partners about what we’re seeing, along with the decisions we’re making and why. In order to expect honesty and transparency from your team, you must deliver the same to them.

4. I strongly believe that sustainability awareness will grow in importance. What this pandemic is doing to us as a society can easily be translated into what global warming can and will do to us. We will become more conscious about protecting our environment and societies as we learn that it can be affected by circumstances out of our control.

5. The marine industry is resilient. We’ve learned from past crisis situations, and I am confident we’ll come out stronger in the end. This pandemic will make people find their way back to boating. It’s a safe and enjoyable way to spend time with loved ones, and it delivers a truly unique experience.

John Adey

President, American Boat & Yacht Council

3. Let my people do their thing. Stand back and be in awe of whom I have the privilege to work with. I can change and adapt with the support of those around me.

5. I’m proud to be associated with the companies and people that make up the boating business. From boatbuilders stepping up with community projects to small members buying meals for the next 20 customers at a local restaurant, the stories are inspiring and reinforce my commitment to this industry.

Chris Baird

Managing Director and CEO, Oceanmax

1. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, always.

2. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill

3. Lead from the front and get down in the trenches. Picking the right people always confirms why you picked them in the first place, especially when the going gets tough.

4. Mother Nature has way more control than anyone could imagine. My guess is that health and the environment will be taken more seriously in the future.

5. Holidaying on your boat will become even more important as international travel takes a major hit.

Chris Drees

President, Mercury Marine

3. An important aspect of leadership through a crisis involves being able to focus yourself and the organization on the factors over which we have influence. Like this pandemic, most crises entail some circumstances that are beyond an organization’s control. However, within those circumstances, there are also many factors that the team can control — and those, we should focus on.

4. I am struck by just how well our salaried staff was able to make the rapid transition to working from home without missing a beat. We are still innovating, engineering, testing, taking orders and running operations extremely effectively. When we all emerge from this crisis, I believe one of the new-normal factors for Mercury will be expanded flexibility to work from home for those positions that can be remote.

Chris Drees

Chris Drees

Brent Christian

President, Tobler Marina

1. There is no such thing as neutral: You are either moving forward or backward.

2. This turn of events has really had us dig deep into our core values and use all of our team to communicate. It is character revealing for all of us to not give in to what others may do or say, and to make sure we are operating within our values, being wise stewards and transparent, and remaining committed to our customers.

Tony Barber, CEO

SmartPlug Systems

1. Do the right thing. Think of your people first, do the best you can to take care of your customers, and remain positive. Take advantage of this time to best prepare your business so when this event passes, you will be well-positioned to take care of the pent-up demand.

3. Create a plan, take every day one at a time and be flexible. If you need to change course, don’t hesitate. And remember what is most important: family and friends. Being isolated and not having the freedom to spend time with them has been a challenge.

5. Our industry will bounce back, and we will be stronger than ever. Boating is ingrained in our culture, and it will be one of the leading activities as we move to the new norm.


Genevieve Casagrande

President and COO, SeaSucker

1. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, writes, “First who, then what.” As a leader, it is your responsibility to get the right team on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and get everyone sitting in the right seat. During times of crisis, having the right people around you and making sure those who aren’t the right fit are no longer with the company can make all the difference.

2. With a team that is split between remote work from home and socially isolated shifts on the manufacturing floor, now is the time to overcommunicate, reinforce new processes and procedures, and constantly orient the team around their role in achieving company objectives.

4. Before the crisis, companies were collectively planning for growth. Following this crisis, I believe companies will instead prepare for the worst and will become much more risk-averse.

5. In times of crisis, our country needs strong U.S.-based manufacturers. As a company, there is great power and security in being responsible for as much of your supply chain as possible. I hope that this crisis encourages more American companies to bring manufacturing stateside.

Ernie Ellis

Ernie Ellis

Ernie Ellis

President, Sea-Fire Marine

1. A leader must exhibit the same work ethic and qualities expected of the people who follow. Lead by example.

5. Once this covid-19 crisis begins to fade, the marine industry has the opportunity to bring fun back into people’s lives, so we must seize this moment and promote boating.

Josh Berry

Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Prospec Electronics

1. Part of success is putting in the work when no one is watching. Oftentimes, you are not going to be recognized for your efforts, and that’s OK. You may even think your paycheck is far too small for the number of hours you are putting in. Are you going to push through, or will you give up? Are you going to be a regular Joe, or will you fight to be above average? I prefer the latter, and that’s to be the best possible version of myself.

2. This pandemic is temporary, and we will all get through it. In the words of The Grateful Dead, “We will get by, we will survive.”

3. Lead by example. Show your team that you are developing new ways to refine sales tactics, warranty programs, engineering strategies or marketing plans. These imagineering exercises can be developed without spending money. If your ideas do cost money, they can always be executed when your company is in a better financial state.

4. Sentimentality will be a significant takeaway from this pandemic. Whether you’re a live-in-the- moment individual or a future nostalgic, these times with the family may never be repeated. We will all eventually get back to our routines. Face-to-face meetings, flights, shaking of hands and conferences will resume. But you will look back on this and appreciate the familial bond that is occurring and has already occurred. Embrace it.

5. Turn on some music at your home office and explore your inner creativity. Whether you answer phones, input data into spreadsheets or head customer service, don’t settle for the status quo. No idea is too ludicrous, no rank too lowly. Your voice, your idea, counts.

Sebastian Zelger

CEO, Liqui Moly USA

1. Keep your team motivated during times of crisis, and give them confidence that they’re a valuable part of your business. Only if people aren’t afraid of losing their jobs can they outperform and help stabilize or even grow your business.

2. Is the company serving the employee, or is the employee serving the company? It has to be both.

3. Our company finally has the time to catch up on training employees, as well as our partners. We grew significantly in the last three years, and training was one segment where we always wanted to do more. We already see a difference in the motivation of our team members.

4. There are times when thinking outside of the box enables you to take routes that you wouldn’t have taken before. Simply, you were in a comfort zone and were hesitant to take a risk, or weren’t sure about the positive outcome of a new trial. We learned a lot about training modules and navigating business remotely, both of which we will definitely stick with in the future.

5. Most businesses grew tremendously in the past years because they had outstanding employees. If things decline for a time, always have in mind those who achieved what you currently have.

Grace L. Schmidt,

Grace L. Schmidt,

Grace L. Schmidt

President, Life Industries

1. The impossible only takes a little longer.

2. Don’t be afraid to navigate in uncharted waters.

Tony McLachlan

President and CEO, Veratron US

1. Focus on priorities and keep it simple. It seems very basic, but at times, overthinking a challenging topic can make the decision process more complex than it needs to be. Focusing on the priorities that drive key elements to your core strategy helps set the tone and direction for the organization.

2. Think long-term. It’s difficult to predict when and how quickly the pandemic recovery will occur, but I’m confident there’s a positive future ahead for Veratron and the marine industry.

3. Be proactive in communications. Contact, connect and listen carefully to your various stakeholders. Customers, shareholders, employees and partners all manage stress and business challenges in different ways. We believe it’s important to listen and be sensitive to our stakeholders’ needs. We are then better equipped to make decisions and adapt or tailor our response appropriately.

4. As the marine industry is made up of many small- and medium-sized companies, businesses will seek to review or develop broad risk management and contingency plans targeted to maximize safety for employees while minimizing financial risk. This ultimately will be a long-term benefit and will make the marine industry more robust.

5. When this crisis passes, people will want to get together with family and friends to enjoy life, and there’s no better recreational outlet than boating.

John Clarke

President, Jaguar Powerboats

1. You have to embrace the grind. I think immediately to my experience in the sport of wrestling and mixed martial arts. You have to have a never-give-up attitude to be successful. Losses are the only way to grow.

2. It is what it is. You cannot change the event but must adapt and overcome to achieve the mission.

3. Lead from the front. Our team knows we have their back during this time of crisis, and they have ours. This time has made me reflect on how much I love being a boatbuilder and how fast the world can change.

4. Having the ability to scale operations at a moment’s notice will be a huge advantage in times of national emergency.

5. Hang in there and ride out the storm.

Brandon Flack

President, Atlantic Marketing

1. In the crash of 2008, we implemented a company crisis management book that was handed down to me from the previous principal in our rep firm. Who Moved My Cheese? was opened and reviewed on day one of the lockdown.

2. Lead by example, but don’t create followers. Create more leaders.

3. My interest level in learning and educating myself to make the best decisions possible is insatiable. In a crisis, I can’t sleep until I can understand at least the framework of the problem and possible solutions.

4. There is no substitution for experience, the ability to learn and having relationships that truly matter. Knowing whom to call, whom you can trust to try and form a fast and accurate opinion during times of dramatic change are things I might have taken for granted before. There was always more time to talk later, or maybe implement this idea at some point. I’ll never take those relationships, or the times we got to enjoy building them, for granted ever again.

5. This global pause, for all it’s horrible consequences, might actually be a gift. It’s been 30 years since I have slept in the same bed for four weeks in a row. I’m so lucky to have an amazing family to be going through this with. I have even taken some time to clean out my basement and have grown a new appreciation for the things I have versus the things I want. Business is never going to be the same again, and that’s OK, especially if you use this opportunity to create changes that make your team, your company and your life better.


Michael Gabriel

Vice President of Sales, Delta T Systems

1. Leadership is a two-way street. Considering the input and collective wisdom of the team before making an important decision will often render a better outcome for everyone than a tyrannical decision based on power and ego.

4. We have seen that we are a fragile yet global society. We do not have the systems and procedures in place to prevent the equally fast spread of disease. I believe that this crisis will cause a paradigm shift in many areas of life, including, but not limited to, travel, retail, restaurants, medical care and disinfection practices.


Kevin Roggenbuck

President and CEO, Union Marine

1. Have a clear vision for your business and always be honest with your employees, your customers and yourself.

2. Communicate with your most trusted team members regularly. They will enhance and accomplish your vision for success.

3. Be compassionate and understand the stress employees are experiencing. We have over 100 dedicated employees who are responsible for the financial health of their families. I’ve learned to set my needs aside, remain calm and focus on them.

4. While we cannot plan for issues like our current situation, inventory and cash management controls that look even further into the future will be the keys to our success.

5. I always remember that I don’t have all the answers and must rely on those team members on the front lines to help navigate our ever-changing business.

Bill Yeargin

President and CEO, Correct Craft

1. Hire good people and get out of their way. My job is to create clarity around our vision and strategy, and let our excellent team execute. If I am involved in executing, something has gone wrong.

2. Making life better. We are trying to do this even in difficult circumstances.

3. My strategy is to take care of our dealers, customers and employees while working to protect the company. My job is to make sure our employees have a healthy company to return to when they are able to come back to work.

4. This will be a great leveler and provide huge opportunities to businesses that are ready to adapt. As I write this, leaders cannot even imagine the changes we will experience because of covid-19.

5. View the restart of your businesses as a reset. Make all the changes you want to make over the next five years now.

Tom Schuessler

President, Power Products

1. Give clear messages and guidance as a leader. Open, regular and honest communication is critical for maintaining credibility and helping your team get through any crisis.

2. Be adaptable. A crisis requires leaders to step up and focus on providing direction, but be mindful of your communications and ensure you also listen.

3. Honest, calm and reassuring communication along with thoughtful and intentional actions will get you and your team through the trying times. Collectively and personally, we can adapt to change positively and quickly when needed.

4. Enhanced focus on family activities and small, close-group socializing. For a period of time, I believe there will be more of a focus inward toward a person’s close circle of relationships, rather than large gatherings and events.

5. The industry will get through the current situation, and on the other side will see the benefit of all the positives that boating brings to families and communities.

Tammer Lynn

Sales Associate, West Coast Sales

1. Stay in touch with your customers.

2. Everyone is dealing with this. Everyone has their own pain. Be kind.

3. Remain calm and thoughtful. The sky-is-falling mindset is not productive. Figure out a way to make it work.

4. Kindness overcomes a lot. Rudeness has no place in society.

5. I have witnessed a strong sense of community in our industry. I am happy to be with a great group of individuals.

Eifrion Evans

CEO, Lumishore

3. Get out front and show yourself. Be visible and communicate. If you believe every crisis is an opportunity in disguise, you will help everyone who is close to you. People rally to a cause, and human nature is remarkable when we get together and help others.

4. This play is still in its first act, and I suspect there are a couple more to go. I hope the learning is that we are a global nation, that viruses don’t respect boundaries and markets. People and the future of our mankind are more important than any ideological nonsense.


Scott Kolodny

Sales Director, ComMar Sales

1. Stay calm and stay in touch. Being a sales representative means that you are responsible to your employer (supplier) and your customer. Make certain that you remain in front of them both (even virtually) so they know you are available to help when you are needed the most.

2. Being able to remain calm and collected is important to the psychological aspect of this situation. If I panic, those around me might also be unsure and uncomfortable. That would only multiply the sense of worry.

5. This situation is not the result of an economic disaster. It is up to all of us to stay calm and be ready to resume business when the path is cleared to return to work. Employers must be ready to bring back their workforce, workers must be ready to resume working, and the public must be ready to resume their lives and spending. The ramp-up to normalcy may be hesitant, but it must be steady and positive. There is no reason we cannot return to a prosperous economy.

Eric Fetchko

Eric Fetchko

Eric Fetchko

President, Dometic Marine

1. On a daily basis, strive to get out of your comfort zone. Get used to making uncomfortable decisions.

2. “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.” — Horace

3. Tackle crises head-on. Do not procrastinate or hope for a solution.

4. The world is changing. Online virtual lifestyles will gain acceptance much faster than previously anticipated.

5. The current crisis is unlike any in the past. However, like 2001 and 2008, this too shall return, not to normal but to a new normal that, if we are wise, we can influence.

Jeff Husby

Owner and General Manager, Regal & Nautique of Orlando

1. Number one for me is communication. As the leader, the single most important part of what I do every day is communication, directing the staff to achieve our goals on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis. Open dialogue with the employees builds teamwork for the company to achieve those goals as a group.

2. I love to use the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. I come to work each and every day with an agenda. It is easier to make an agenda away from your place of work and then implement and communicate it when you get to the workplace. We hit the ground running, and they are productive because we have an agenda that was effectively communicated.

3. We have been using Kenect now for couple of years, and it provides a great platform for us to communicate with our customers quickly.

4. Relationship sales with existing customers will be more important than ever before. The online presence of your dealership, along with your reputation, will help established business grow. We may see more referral and repeat business via electronic communication, and delivering more boats to people we have never personally met. The trend of consumers already doing due diligence before visiting a physical dealership will spike and may stay that way in the future. It will be more important to nurture our current customers and ask them for referral business. Stay in touch and communicate with current customers on a frequent basis.

5. When the crisis began, I preached a sense of urgency to my staff. Not only in the sales department, but in each and every aspect of the dealership. We have not lost one sales deal to a competitor. We adjusted our service department to meet the dockside service demand, and myself and another are personally monitoring every Kenect message with an instant response time. It is essential that you do not let your customer wait in this environment.

Keith LaMarr

Co-owner, Macaroni Marketing

1. Value everyone’s input. Often, the quietest voices have the most valuable insight.

2. Love what you do, and inspire others to do the same.

3. Look at this as an opportunity to find a better way, as I can’t continue to do it the same way.

4. Even the most scary scenario can be overcome with careful assessment, planning and execution.

5. When times get difficult, it is most important that we show compassion and support for one another. Suppliers, customers and competitors all can affect your future. It is best that they all have a positive impression about you and what you do.


David Foulkes

CEO, Brunswick Corp.

1. My job is to make my team as effective as possible and empower my direct reports. In this time, you build trust by being transparent and overcommunicating — people are looking for more information. It’s also important to be supportive and empathetic — people are juggling a lot of priorities; some have family members who have been furloughed.

2. It’s remarkable how effective working remotely has been. Our core systems and other communication tools, like Zoom, have worked well. Clearly this will have long-term implications for flexible work practices. This could be seen as one of the largest IT experiments of all time. We would’ve found it too risky to attempt otherwise. Building robustness in a new set of risks will be important.

3. The industry should be proud of how it responded to frontline workers, from making masks to donating much-needed equipment. It is a thoughtful industry that is committed to communities and, with a committed customer base, is amped to get back on the water.

Thom Dammrich

Past President, National Marine Manufacturers Association

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You cannot overcommunicate to your employees, customers, members and stakeholders during a crisis. In a vacuum of information, people will make things up to fill the vacuum.

2. Be honest. Be transparent. Be positive. People follow positive leaders. You must be honest and realistic, but you must also be positive.

3. Ask for help. If people can help you, they will help you, but they need to know you need help, and they can’t read your mind.

4. Persevere. All great leaders have perseverance. Most people who fail give up just before they would have succeeded.

Ray Fernandez

President, Bridge Marina

1. Be patient, aware and flexible when making decisions. Make decisions with the information I have. I may not predict everything with perfect accuracy, and I need flexibility to pivot quickly or make another decision if the first one didn’t produce results.

3. Stay just enough ahead of the situation, and be flexible. Listen, be aware, anticipate the best you can and be courageous to make decisions. Be willing to adapt those decisions when the results are not what you anticipated.

4. Leadership is truly tested in hard times but is built all the time. You can’t successfully lead a team in the darkest times unless you have gained their trust, devotion and support.

5. Businesses should do more in good times to support each and every organization that supports us, such as state marine trades associations, the Association of Marina Industries, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and BoatPAC. These groups and organizations become very important to the industry when there is a crisis and things go bad.

Nancy Piffard

Director, Newport International Boat Show 

1. Focus on what you can control, and have a step-by-step action plan.

2. Trust in your skills and those of your core team. Their knowledge, experience, passion, flexibility and confidence are critical for a positive result. You must be comfortable with change. View challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth, and lead staff with the energy and determination to not just survive, but to thrive. Never lose hope that we will get through this.

Nancy Piffard

Nancy Piffard

3. Positivity and a realistic outlook can give others the energy and incentive to forge ahead.

4. This crisis will come to an end, and when we get back to work, the marine industry and our guests will need a boost.

5. The marine industry has dealt with some tough economic times in the past. It could take years to come back, but it will come back. Those who boat and love the water will continue to do so. It’s a great escape.

Christoph Ballin

Co-founder and CEO, Torqeedo

2. I find the future-engage-deliver framework helpful. It structures leadership in three disciplines. Future: If you do not know where to you want to lead an organization, don’t bother trying. Engage: Take care that the entire organization works toward one goal. Deliver: Make sure results are achieved.

3. People notice if a leader is not interested in them. A good leader knows why his people are engaged in the company, and how contributing to the company contributes to their own goals in life.

Christoph Ballin

Christoph Ballin

Brenna Preisser

President, Business Acceleration and CHRO, Brunswick Corp.

1. Someone once said “What’s important is what’s important.” With so many competing priorities, there’s only a small handful of things that are going to make a difference.

4. Every week, you deal with it and you adapt. This isn’t something that we could’ve contemplated. Looking back now on how we are working remotely, we did it because we had to. Some things we put in place — daily check-ins, etc. — they’ll become part of our operating cadence going forward. Our communication has increased.

5. Some aspects of this crisis present a tremendous opportunity. People are reflecting on what matters to them. Now is the time to rally and step into this. When it’s time, we have to be there to draw customers in. 



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