Jeff Napier, the first president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, died at his home in Italy after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.
Napier is credited with having tackled major industry hurdles: growing the NMMA’s membership by 300 percent during his 18-year tenure, laying the groundwork for today’s industrywide Grow Boating campaign, and creating a presence on Capitol Hill as a leader in the fight against the luxury tax and other legislative issues.
“Jeff cared so much about people and was always so generous with his time,” says retired NMMA vice president of boat shows Cathy Rick-Joule. “He was a great leader, and my life was better for having him as a mentor and a real friend.”
Napier also made major inroads with the global marine community. He was instrumental in creating the International Marine Certification Institute, gaining European Union recognition for the NMMA. That work led to European certification of NMMA-member products, according to the International Council of Marine Industry Associations.
“Jeff was a much-loved husband and father, a longtime colleague and dear friend of ICOMIA,” says ICOMIA president Jouko Huju. “We mourn his passing and give thanks for his life of service to our recreational marine industry. Our condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the Napier family at this tragic time.”
Napier served on ICOMIA’s executive committee from 1981 to 1988, and as ICOMIA president.
As president of the NMMA from 1980 to 1998, Napier championed several issues on Capitol Hill, including the luxury tax — a 10 percent excise tax implemented on sales of boats, among other items, in 1990. The tax triggered a 70 percent drop in sales of boats costing more than $100,000, the NMMA said at the time.
Napier helped the NMMA make a case to the U.S. Congress that repealing the tax would put production-line employees back to work, leading a three-year battle that eventually led to the tax’s repeal, as reported in The New York Times.
“It’s hard to be elated when our own government activity created a loss of 30,000 American jobs and destroyed dozens of companies in the process,” Napier told The Times. “And the revenues weren’t there. For every dollar that was collected on the luxury tax, we estimated the federal government paid out $5 for each dollar collected in unemployment benefits and other costs caused by layoffs. Then, too, a contracting economy brought sales that were subject to the tax to a virtual standstill, causing unemployment, plant closings and foreclosures in the marine industry.”
Napier said in a 1994 press release that boat building jobs were up 27 percent since the tax’s repeal.
“Repealing the tax did what we said it would do,” Napier said in the statement. “People are getting their jobs back.”
In 1964, Napier started his career in the recreational boating industry as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Boating Industry Association, according to the NMMA.
As the lawyer for BIA, Napier performed much of the legal work to merge the BIA with the National Association of Engine and Boat Manufacturers to create the NMMA. At its inception, the NMMA had 450 members, two offices and a $3 million budget, and it produced four boat shows. By the early 1990s, the association had close to 1,800 members, a budget of more than $30 million, a Washington, D.C., office, state lobbyists and more than 20 boat shows that it produced annually.
“Jeff’s leadership played a key role in the growth and success of NMMA, devoting his entire career to bettering the boating industry and community,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich, who took over as president in 1999 after a brief interim term.
Napier argued two boating industry cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and created the original boating industry political action committee, increasing recognition of the industry as a player in Washington. He helped to establish the direction for the Uniting the Industry for Growth campaign, which provided dealers an open forum to meet with manufacturers to discuss sensitive issues.
He also persuaded the NMMA board to fund research programs that exposed industry challenges and identified steps needed to turn around things, an effort that planted the seeds for today’s Grow Boating initiative.
Napier won the NMMA Hall of Fame Award in 2003.
“A friend, colleague and mentor, Jeff was a visionary who helped push the boating industry forward in so many ways,” says NMMA executive vice president Ben Wold. “Jeff understood the need for the boating industry to own and control major boat shows to give the industry a voice in how they were produced, and also saw how shows’ revenue could support other industry initiatives and ultimately grow boating. He was always so supportive of NMMA members and its staff, and a mentor to so many of us who have enjoyed long careers in the boating industry.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.