In 1922, World War I veteran Edward “Mack” McGovern pondered whether to eke out a livelihood in his family’s hometown in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region.
As a machinist aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer, McGovern had learned a vital trade that would prove highly marketable as East Coast cities industrialized. He took his skills 100 miles east to Newark, N.J., where he accumulated tools in the basement of a house before opening a modest storefront workshop. It evolved into Mack Boring and Parts Co., now one of the nation’s best-known distributors of marine engines and components.
“His father was a blacksmith in the coal country, and he saw how hard life was, so he made his way to Newark and started his own shop,” says the founder’s great-grandson and current Mack Boring president Patrick McGovern. “He was known as a fair person to deal with. He was loyal to his employees and built a reputation for service.”
For the first three decades, the business revolved around machining skills and the sale of loose parts. Later, under the leadership of other family members, the company grew a specialty in marine diesel engines. Today, almost exactly 100 years later, Mack Boring is a leading distributor of global propulsion brands including Yanmar, Scania, Isuzu Diesel, OXE Diesel and Suzuki Marine. It also is the exclusive national distributor of ePropulsion electric outboards and accessories.
“It was really in the 1950s that we took on our first engine lines,” McGovern says. “Back then, Newark was a booming industrial city. That’s when we really started spreading our wings into the distribution products. There was just a great local base of business.”
The founder was succeeded by Ed McGovern Jr., who eventually was followed by Edward “Ned” McGovern III, with support from other kin, including eventual president Steve McGovern. Patrick McGovern is the son of Ned and nephew of Steve. All of those men inspired Patrick McGovern, he says, including his father, Ned, who “was very good at mentoring and developing people.” Uncle Steve, he says, had the gift of promotion “and was more involved in outside sales and the outside world.”
Inevitably, the thriving family business needed more space. A new warehouse opened a few miles west in Union, N.J., in 1967. True to the company’s roots, that facility included a machine shop operation, which was phased out in 1997. The Union location totaled 65,000 square feet spanning four buildings.
In 2017, the company outgrew its digs yet again. Mack Boring moved west to Somerset, N.J., into a 100,000-square-foot space, this time within a single building. Nowadays, Mack Boring focuses mostly on supplying engines and related components to the marine industry, connecting engine providers with original equipment manufacturers, boat dealers and fleets. By the mid-2000s, almost 90 percent of Mack Boring’s products were from the Yanmar brand. Since then, agreements with additional engine manufacturers have diversified the supply base.
The company also once operated a for-profit service business with locations in the Great Lakes region, on New York’s Long Island and in Massachusetts and North Carolina.
Mack Boring still has traveling support specialists based all along the East Coast.
McGovern credits the century of success to the company’s culture of customer service and enumerated standards. Employees and visitors to the Somerset offices have immediate access to company booklets with such titles as Delivering Our Customer Promises and The Mack Boring Way. The latter “ensures that we will build an impactful and lasting positive experience, not only for us but for our customers — different from anyone else.”
There are 29 fundamentals of The Mack Boring Way.Honor commitments. Do the right thing, always. Think safe, work safe. “Bring it,” every day. Be a fanatic about response time. Practice blameless problem solving. Be positive. Show grit. Walk in your customers’ shoes. Work smart. Get clear on expectations. Find a way. Lead by example. Listen generously. Speak straight. Deliver results. Make quality personal. Think team first. Be relentless about improvement. Go the extra mile. Treat each other like family. Create a great impression. Pitch in wherever necessary. Be proactive. Act like you own it. Deliver legendary service. Use data to make decisions. Make healthy choices. Keep things fun.
The Our Customer Promises booklet emphasizes: “Keeping promises to our customers and partners embodies everything that we do. It is the core of customer service excellence and the path to achieve customer loyalty. Customers have choices, and they are unlikely to stay with a company that is unable to inspire confidence and trust.”
Every Monday, there is a staff meeting with a discussion focusing on one of the commitments or fundamentals, with specific examples. The company has 61 employees.
Mack Boring has also benefited from clever promotions, demos and marketing giveaways. An emphasis has always been placed on having a visible presence at major boating industry events. The company maintains its own Scania-diesel-powered Viking 46 Billfish on the Jersey Shore as a showcase for customers.
Mack Boring also is known for its training programs. As early as 1935, the McGoverns ran the New Jersey Diesel School in Newark, then Engine City Technical Institute, which operated in Union from 1969 to 2003.
Today, the Somerset facility’s training center offers courses for technicians who service the company’s engine brands. Examples are basic propulsion training, maintenance, troubleshooting, how to use diagnostic tools and warranty administration. The programs help to qualify new and experienced technicians. Mack Boring also offers a two-day diesel training program for boat owners.
Like most companies, the labor shortage has left Mack Boring advertising this summer to hire production technicians, and staff to work in shipping and receiving, information technology, account management and product support.
The Somerset facility has several digitized aspects, including serialized inventory. In 2020, management added enterprise resource planning software to monitor workflow. Stock marine engines come in from manufacturers and are customized in Mack Boring’s work bays with specific gearboxes, crankshaft kits, pumps, flywheel pulleys, vibration isolators, connections and other requested components. Finished products are then tested to ensure they are running properly, with team members observing the functionality of components, checking all connections, watching for leaks and load-testing the item for one hour. When ready, the package is shipped to customers.
An engine package on a work bay can take as little as 45 minutes to complete for a simple job — for example, a small sailboat engine — to as many as 60 hours for a more extensive value-add military job.
Mack Boring also works to help build brands. The latest example is ePropulsion, a manufacturer of electric propulsion systems that is launching into the U.S. market. McGovern says Mack Boring’s ePropulsion volumes are doubling every eight months.
Mack Boring also customizes and distributes industrial-grade engines for diesel-powered equipment, including tree chippers, corn and pea harvesters, and mining and quarry machinery. The company sells a lot of Scania diesels directly to lobstermen, and carries Aquadrive, ZF Marine and Twin Disc powertrain products.
As with many family businesses, each generation of McGoverns practically grew up around the shop, doing all manner of odd jobs while learning the ins and outs of marine engines. McGovern started out in the service department in summer 1991, unclogging the drainage pit and painting the front of the building. “It was all do-it-yourself,” he says. “We all did the dirty jobs.”
McGovern has seen his family’s company grow stronger during his career after tenures serving as controller, powerboat engine sales manager, chief operating officer and, since 2014, president. Of course, not all of the company’s years have been prosperous. Lean periods for the boating supply chain included various economic recessions, especially the early 1990s.
“That was a tough period,” he says. “You had the luxury tax on the marine industry. It destroyed [demand]. It just put everything at a standstill. You had a two- to three-year period when nobody would buy a new boat.” Then came the Great Recession and the economic slowdown in 2014, when McGovern and his uncle made the “most gut-wrenching” decision to lay off 24 people.
All the while, the business evolved. Himself an avid angler and boater, McGovern has witnessed the hobby and the business evolve. Engine standards were updated every few years. Federal emissions regulations on diesel exhaust created a new set of challenges and opportunities. So did the advent of electric boat propulsion.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought death and chaos but presented a silver lining for the boating industry as Americans embraced outdoor activities in record numbers. The subsequent supply-chain disruptions meant that Mack Boring had nearly complete engine packages delayed while awaiting arrival of electronically controlled units and chips.
At the time of a visit by Soundings Trade Only in May, McGovern said the company was on pace for a potential $50 million in revenue this year, approximately double the level in 2014. Its engine supplier base has never been more diversified, and the revenue mix is shifting, with electric propulsion now up to 15 percent of the business. Some of Mack Boring’s boatbuilding clients will take two to three years just to work through their order backlogs.
“We have a multilegged stool, and we have strengthened our balance sheet a lot,” he says. “We have a good chance to have our highest revenue and highest profit in our 100th year.”
Will there be a fifth generation of McGoverns running Mack Boring? McGovern has four children, ages 16, 13, 11 and 9.“My kids are starting to see the cool part of the business,” he says, “but one thing I want to keep in mind is that a family business is tough, and we’ll see if it’s something they really want to do. It’s not a goal, but it’s certainly a possibility, and we have time to think about it.”
This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue.