Trailblazers

Corporate careerists, serial entrepreneurs, even a knight. These 12 men have helped transform the boating industry over the last 40 years with acquisitions, new products and innovative business models.
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Jack Reichert

Jack Reichert

Jack Reichert, Brunswick Corp.

In 1957, fresh out of college, Jack Reichert got a sales job at Brunswick Corp. Thirty years later, he would transform the Skokie, Ill.-based company into the world’s largest builder of boats and engines. Reichert got his sea legs at Mercury Marine, where he worked for 20 years, becoming president in 1978. Four years later, he moved to the parent company as president and eventually became Brunswick chairman and CEO. Reichert divested Brunswick’s non-recreational businesses while investing in boat brands. In 1986, the company acquired Sea Ray and Bayliner for $773 million. Under Reichert’s watch, Brunswick created the Trophy, Maxum, Robalo and Spectrum brands, while buying Baja, Boston Whaler and five European brands. When Reichert retired in 1996, Brunswick was the world’s largest boatbuilder.

Charles Strang

Charles Strang

Charles Strang, Outboard Marine Corp.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Charlie Strang’s first job in the boating industry was at Mercury Marine in 1951, and he eventually became the right-hand man to founder Carl Kiekhaefer. Strang joined Outboard Marine Corp. in 1966, working his way up to chairman and CEO. Strang managed OMC to many technical successes, including launching the 235-hp V-6 Johnson in 1979 (the highest-horsepower outboard at that point) and, five years later, a 300-hp outboard. He reorganized the fiercely competitive Evinrude and Johnson brands for closer alignment while investing in nine new plants for boat brands. Acquisitions included Four Winns, Chris-Craft, Stratos and Seaswirl. When he retired in 1990, OMC had 20 boat brands and a 60 percent share of the outboard market.

J. Orin Edson

J. Orin Edson

J. Orin Edson, Bayliner and Westport Yachts

Fresh out of the Army at age 24, Orin Edson started selling parts from his hydroplane racing days in a parking lot. He eventually turned the business into a dealership called Advanced Outboard, selling wooden hulls rigged with outboards. The company then started selling a small wooden boat called Bayliner. In 1955, he bought the Bayliner brand for $100 and turned it into a powerhouse that shipped 1,000 boats a week from 24 U.S. plants. In 1986, Brunswick Corp. acquired Bayliner for $425 million. Six years later, Edson bought Westport Yachts, applying the Bayliner minimal-customization approach to the superyacht segment. He sold Westport in 2014 and is one of the few people to leave the boating industry as a billionaire.

Johnny Morris

Johnny Morris

Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Marine

Having qualified for five consecutive Bassmaster Classics, Johnny Morris understood the importance of having the best fishing gear. He traveled the country and sold his gear from a U-Haul, then set up shop in the back of one of his father’s liquor stores. Within two years, he had a mail-order catalog. That led to Bass Pro Shops, which in 2017 acquired Cabela’s for $4 billion to become the undisputed leader of outdoors stores in the United States and Canada. Morris also remains owner of Tracker Marine, which he started three decades ago with a boat, engine and trailer package priced at $2,995. The Tracker empire now includes nine boat brands. An ardent conservationist, Morris is co-author of the Morris-Deal Report, which led to the passage of the Modern Fish Act.

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs, Genmar and Minstar

An entrepreneur who acquired an ownership stake in Larson and Lund in 1978, Irwin Jacobs remained a larger-than-life figure until his death in April. By 1986, he owned 11 boat brands. Willing to spend big money on big ideas, he bought a company that used a technology called Roplene to create his Triumph line. Jacobs also spent millions developing Virtual Engineered Composites technology in the Larson facility in Little Falls, Minn. Genmar acquired six more boat brands from the OMC bankruptcy for a total of 18. In 2009, the Genmar empire crashed in bankruptcy, though Jacobs bought Carver, Larson, Seaswirl and Marquis. He signed a deal with Toyota Motor Corp. in 2017 to build the Lexus line of boats. The Larson line was sold off shortly before his death.

William McGill

William McGill

William McGill, MarineMax

Bill McGill, who worked for NASA as an engineer, loved water skiing so much that he left the space agency and opened Gulfwind USA in 1973 in a parking lot near Tampa, Fla. Twenty-five years later, McGill and other Sea Ray dealers launched MarineMax, which quickly became the world’s largest boat dealership. McGill and his team grew the business to carry 19 boat brands across 64 locations. MarineMax also started a boatbuilding division and opened two charter bases. McGill retired from day-to-day operations last year but still works with MarineMax on a project called Joi Scientific, in which hydrogen fuel is extracted from salt water. And, at 72, he still gets up at 5 a.m. to water ski every morning.

Sir George Buckley

Sir George Buckley

Sir George Buckley, Mercury Marine and Brunswick Corp.

After joining Mercury Marine in 1997 as president, George Buckley turned the marine engine manufacturer around with an advanced 4-stroke platform called Verado. Buckley was named Brunswick chairman in 2000. He divested many of its non-marine businesses while acquiring a dozen boat brands. Buckley and Irwin Jacobs of Brunswick competitor Genmar, disliked each other and often engaged in bitter public squabbles — which reached a peak during the outboard “dumping hearings” in 2004-05. It is generally recognized that Buckley left Brunswick in a much better position than he’d found it. In 2005, he left to become chairman of 3M. Buckley, knighted in 2011, is the current chairman of Arle Capital Partners.

Thom Dammrich

Thom Dammrich

Thom Dammrich, National Marine Manufacturers Association

When Thom Dammrich became NMMA president in 1999, the industry was in disarray. Dealers battled with boatbuilders, builders saw one another as enemies, and industry sectors, such as marinas and distributors, were viewed as bit players. Twenty years later, Dammrich has built bridges that nobody could’ve foreseen. The NMMA and MRAA even share office space in Washington, D.C. There’s now cohesion among 34 international marine associations. Even the smallest industry sectors are part of what Dammrich calls an “industry ecosystem.” Alliances with the sportfishing industry and outdoor recreational associations have also created powerful political coalitions. Dammrich still travels 45 weeks each year to speak at events.

Dustan E. McCoy

Dustan E. McCoy

Dustan E. McCoy, Brunswick Corp.

Hired in 1999 as vice president and general counsel at Brunswick Corp., Dusty McCoy was named president of the Brunswick Boat Group just a year later. He was tasked not only with bringing many fiercely independent brands under one roof, but also with acquiring a dozen more. In 2005, he was named CEO and chairman. It was a time of high profits and expansion. Three years later, after the industry collapsed, McCoy was forced to sell off many boat brands, shutter plants and lay off thousands. Despite the immense challenges, McCoy retained a focus on new-product development. (Brunswick was granted more than 1,100 patents under his watch.) McCoy had a steady hand during one of Brunswick’s strongest periods — and its weakest. “I never doubted we would come back,” he says. He retired in 2016.

SCHWABERO-3

Mark Schwabero, Brunswick Corp.

Mark Schwabero joined Mercury Marine in 2004 and, four years later, was named president. It was one of the engine manufacturer’s most challenging periods that included the consolidation of the MerCruiser facility in Stillwater, Okla., into the Fond du Lac, Wis., headquarters. Schwabero was also responsible for new-product development that culminated in the launch of 19 V-6 4-stroke outboards. After becoming Brunswick CEO in 2014, he oversaw a period of growth that involved 10 acquisitions (including the Power Products acquisition for $910 million) and the sale of its fitness division to make Brunswick a “pure play” marine company. “I think we’ve changed the company in very deep ways,” he says. “It’s been a period of remarkable growth and change.” Schwabero retired last December.

Phil Dyskow

Phil Dyskow

Phil Dyskow, Yamaha Marine Group

Phil Dyskow became connected with Yamaha in 1975 after being named the first Yamaha boat dealer in the United States. The California dealership quickly became the largest Yamaha boat dealer outside of Japan. In 1981, Dyskow joined Yamaha as one of its first employees in a venture to introduce Yamaha outboards to the United States. In 1997, he was appointed president. Under his watch, Yamaha grew outboard sales to more than a third of total U.S. market share. Dyskow also was involved in the acquisitions of Skeeter and G3 Boats, while divesting the Cobia brand. He has been on many industry and sportfishing boards, including being appointed by the U.S. secretary of commerce to the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. He retired from Yamaha in 2010.

Jose Boisjoli

Jose Boisjoli

Jose Boisjoli, BRP

Jose Boisjoli started his career with Bombardier Recreational Products in 1989 and within nine years was named president of the snowmobile and watercraft divisions. In 2001, he was given responsibility for managing the ATV division. He became CEO and president of BRP when it was spun off from Bombardier in 2003. BRP continues to grow, reporting record sales in 2018. Today’s BRP Marine Group includes Evinrude, as well as boat brands Alumacraft, Manitou and recent acquisition Telwater. “Along with our recognized approach to innovation and design expertise, we hope to transform this industry and do for the marine business what we’ve done for the power-sports business,” Boisjoli said after Alumacraft’s acquisition last year.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue.

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