“When you work to improve a legend, it is not always easy,” said Bill Yeargin, as he introduced the all-new Super Air Nautique boats for the 2014 model year. In one line, he could have also summed up his tenure as President and CEO of Correct Craft, an 88-year-old marine industry holding company with global operations.
Founded in 1925 by W.C. Meloon as the Florida Variety Boat Company, Correct Craft, best known by its Nautique brand, built a reputation for building the highest quality ski and wakeboard boats and delivering unmatched care to each and every customer. But in 2006, when Bill took over as the fifth CEO in as many years, the company was struggling from internal turmoil, and the economy was on the brink of what has come to be known as the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
“When I came to Correct Craft, the company was going through a very difficult transition from family to professional management,” Bill recalled. “Correct Craft was still holding itself out publicly as a Christian company, but behind the scenes relationships within the ownership family were significantly strained. Fortunately two of the family members, Ralph and Ken Meloon, saw what was happening and worked with me to get the company back on track.”
It wasn’t long before the effects of the struggling economy took center stage, requiring Bill to begin directing a strategic planning process to identify what was needed to be done throughout the company in order for Correct Craft to achieve its overall goals in 3 years. “My strength is leading organizations through strategic planning. We work hard on a plan and get buy-in from the key players, and then I can step back and let the team execute. I have said many, many times that my role is to set the vision, hire good people and then get out of the way. I am not a micromanager. I have no interest in micromanaging and do not believe it is effective anyway.”
The downturn forced them to make many positive changes in a short time. By introducing Lean Six Sigma (a managerial process designed to eliminate waste), they increased productivity and quality and reduced the hours required to build each boat. Even in the deepest point of the industry downturn, Correct Craft gave each laid-off employee three months of training in various technical and life skills to help prepare them for a new opportunity.
“The recession was tough, but also one of the best things that happened to us. While there were many individuals hurt by the recession, and that grieves me, overall I view it as a blessing. It allowed me and our team to make many years worth of changes in a very short period. We did not do anything we were not eventually going to do anyway, but the recession created a sense of urgency.”
Because he had been attracted to this company that was built on a foundation of integrity, ethics and faith, Bill felt it was important that the operational changes they made did not impact who they were at their core. From its inception, Correct Craft operated under simple, yet profound philosophies: integrity, ingenuity and servitude–a mission that still stands true today. Over the years, the mission statement had gone through so many revisions that it became so wordy and confusing that nobody could remember it. So Bill returned the company’s focus to its true mission: Building Boats to the Glory of God.
“Another important part of my job and leadership style is creating the right culture at Correct Craft. We have a very high energy performance culture that also highly values service. About a year ago, we created what I call ‘the Nautique Identity Pyramid’ based on those timeless values and principles that have always defined Correct Craft. I love this, because it clearly captures who we are. I use it often to share this message with new employees and others outside the company.”
To keep up with the changing times, they focused on the long term and relationships that would ensure the company’s success for the next 80 years. The company set up a new “Strategic International Initiative” and began developing their brand globally.
Bill explained, “My role was to travel to 50 countries, opening, developing and understanding markets. As part of that process, I worked on relationships in each country, meeting with government officials, industry people and others. It led to lots of interesting experiences, including meeting the Crown Prince of Dubai, the President of Bahrain and even an Oval Office meeting with President Obama!”
At the center of the “Nautique Identity Pyramid” is “Nautique Cares,” which is a big part of the company’s culture, and what forms the basis of creating a great product for its customers, a positive work environment for its employees and helping make the world a better place.
In caring for their customers, the company took on the challenge of improving the Nautique product line, which already had the best performing boats in the industry. By giving customers the option to customize their Nautique, which required changes in the manufacturing process, they were able to attract a niche of new boat buyers. To retain its loyal customer base, the company improved on product quality, its industry-leading warranty, and service in its dealer network. As a result, they increased market share in the down economy–they were still down in a down market, but not as far down as their competition.
These efforts continue to pay off today as Nautique consistently wins every customer satisfaction award offered in their industry, and the Nautique dealers are regularly recognized as the best in the industry, with many landing on the industry’s Top 100 list every year. The commitment to deliver the highest quality in the industry is reflected throughout independent surveys that indicate Nautique has the fewest defects in the towboat industry.
“‘Nautique Cares’ is also about doing our best to ensure that working at Nautique is rewarding in many different ways,” Bill explained. “We provide all the typical benefits you would expect from a company our size, but try to also go beyond what would be expected of us. For instance, we believe we should work and play hard. We have an incredibly productive and ‘can-do’ culture that makes the days go fast and working fun.”
“Nautique Cares” reflects the beliefs that success should be shared, and that physical fitness, personal finance, spiritual well-being and service to others are important. So the company gives EVERY employee an opportunity to benefit from the company’s success through a bonus plan, provides employees with an onsite fitness center, offers free personal finance training, welcomes participation in the company’s faith culture and provides, and significantly subsidizes, opportunities for employees to serve others all around the world.
"Whether it is building a home with Habitat for Humanity here in Central Florida or serving those who need help in far-flung locations around the world, the Nautique team is not only committed to building the world’s best boats but also helping to make the world better. I am proud to be part of this amazing group of people!"Bill Yeargin
Bill’s belief that Correct Craft has a fairly unique culture and is a great place to work is echoed by his team. Shirley Adams, Human Resources Director at Correct Craft, said, “I’ve worked here for 26 years. We’ve always been a faith-based organization, but Bill has taken that to the next level. He lives out exactly what he speaks, and he is not shy about speaking out about who he is. We are all here to ‘Build Boats to the Glory of God,’ and Bill is very vocal about sharing that message.”
One way Bill communicates this message is through social media and his blog “The Nautique Insider,” where the closing line to each entry reads: “The world’s best ski boat; the world’s best wake boat; and, a company that cares!”