Spend a few minutes with Jens Bering, and you won’t be thinking “salesman” despite his title: vice president of marine sales at Volvo Penta of the Americas.
Bering is instantly likable, with a disarming charm and a methodical approach to providing information, even when responding to basic questions.
“I’ve always been a solutions provider,” he says. “It becomes less selling.”
Bering, 50, has been with Volvo Penta for 25 years. He works with recreational and commercial customers and says both groups want the same thing: improved boat management systems, not just engine and drive packages.
“We are moving toward an automotive-style experience,” he says. That includes Volvo Penta’s car-like dash panel — the Glass Cockpit System — as well as Electronic Vessel Control and the Volvo Penta Interceptor System, which does more than trim a boat.
“It’s a boat-behavior system to control the vessel in four different ways: trim, heel, list and ride control,” Bering says.
When Bering came to the United States in 1992 from his home nation of Denmark, he was the first to fill a new position created by then-Volvo Penta of the Americas President Clint Moore: an application engineer at a boat manufacturer’s facility. He moved to Wisconsin and started working with technicians at the Carver, Cruisers and Marquis factories.
“They made the right decision when they picked someone to do what they expected him to do at Carver-Marquis,” says Randy Peterson, head of systems engineering at Marquis Yachts.
Peterson worked alongside Bering on multiple projects and was impressed with Bering’s work ethic and tireless desire to get things right.
“A good word to describe his work ethic is precise,” Peterson says. “When there’s a specification, there’s a specification.”
Peterson says Bering also was a hands-on person.
“It wasn’t a sit-in-the-office job,” Peterson says. “It was going out and helping people install the products in our boats, and taking it through our testing procedure in our test pond, and making sure everything was exactly as it was intended to be. And he was really good at it.”
Eventually, Bering became such a critical part of product development that the boat manufacturers would not start a project without consulting him.
“He definitely got involved in deciding what direction we should go with different engine packages for various boat models,” Peterson says.
The on-site application engineer program became so successful for Volvo Penta that the company now has employees at builders such as Tiara, Rec Boat Holdings, Cobalt, Regal, Monterey and Chaparral.
“It makes for a really strong product integration,” Bering says. “We qualify the builder for the installation.”
Product management chief
Bering eventually joined Volvo Penta’s product development team. He became head of product management in 2013, when engineers were refining the joystick system for Volvo Penta’s IPS drives. They realized that they could only achieve total efficiency with the joysticks if the engines were installed on a 2-degree, toe-in angle. For Bering, tweaking the installations was a no-brainer.
“Volvo Penta is all about 100 percent. We don’t leave behind 5 percent,” Bering says. “We needed 2 degrees to make the joystick more efficient.”
They also needed something else to make the joystick work. “We did not get IPS to behave until [Electronic Vessel Control],” Bering says. “The electronics made IPS. They opened the door for the joystick.”
After the initial IPS package was well received, customers wanted bigger engines, but Bering says that simply adding power wasn’t the answer. “It was harder than we thought it would be,” he admits.
“There’s more mass to move in a bigger boat,” he says. “We needed bigger engines, bigger propellers. We had to put more equipment on the engine.”
Concerns had to be addressed, including getting the idle right to keep the joystick effective, and to produce the increased efficiency and higher speeds that came with the first IPS.
“We wanted the customers to get the same feeling as with the smaller motor,” Bering says.
One operating mode for IPS, called Sportfish, was discovered when Volvo Penta technicians were on a sea trial with Spencer Yachts. Spencer personnel asked whether the boat could have the IPS pod drives turned to the outboard instead of inboard to improve maneuverability.
Bering says a couple of software changes were all it took for the Sportfish mode to be introduced. He also says a 38-foot Tiara cut its time to complete a circle from 38 seconds to 19 when the operating mode was used.
No ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
Today, Volvo Penta offers nine IPS packages in diesel and gas, ranging from 370 to 1,000 hp. The models are named for the corresponding inboard shaft power that the IPS engine and drive match. For example, the IPS500 makes 370 hp at the crankshaft, but Volvo Penta says it equals a 500-hp inboard for performance.
The engine manufacturer’s inboard series consists of 28 models ranging from 12.2 hp to the new 1,000-hp 13-liter D13 diesel. In the Aquamatic sterndrive series, Volvo Penta makes 38 models that run on gas and 12 diesels. There’s also the Forward Drive for wake surfing, and the Saildrive and inboard models for sailboats.
“We don’t believe in one size fits all,” Bering says.
Working with individual manufacturers often involves finding individual solutions, but one area where Bering and Volvo Penta will not allow a boatbuilder to deviate is the lamination guidelines for IPS installation. Structural engineers developed the guidelines to support the engine and drive system, and Volvo Penta won’t risk compromising that. “We will not deviate, and nor should you,” Bering says.
In his current position, Bering leads a team of 28 people and believes in empowering them. “We will make mistakes, and we will do the right thing when we find them,” he says.
He looks for salespeople who have a strong technical background and an outgoing personality — smart people who can find solutions and provide real answers.
Bering says Seven Marine, which Volvo Penta recently acquired, will be a standalone company. Seven Marine makes the biggest, most powerful gasoline outboards in the industry. Volvo Penta and Seven Marine build engines on the GM LS V-8 platform, so they could share technologies, but Bering would not provide additional details.
Peterson misses having Bering at Marquis and Carver.
“There wouldn’t be anybody in this company who would say anything bad about him,” Peterson says. “He’s always been helpful and knowledgeable.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.