Owner of Ranger Boats Stays Above Water

by Tre Baker  on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 3:37 pm  

Financier Irwin Jacobs' investment in Ranger Boats of Flippin has "paid back many times what I paid for it," he told a Little Rock audience on Wednesday.

Jacobs, chairman of Genmar Holdings, joined Randy Hopper, president and CEO of Ranger Boats, for a lunchtime open discussion during the Commerce Arkansas event at the Statehouse Convention Center.

Forrest L. Wood, who founded Ranger Boats, was scheduled to appear but instead was hospitalized with a kidney stone.

Known primarily as a liquidator, buying bonds for pennies on the dollar, Jacobs focused his attention on Ranger Boats in 1991 after Wood had sold the business to a company that later began suffering financial distress. Jacobs bought Ranger and then left the day-to-day running of the boat maker in the hands of its founder and Hooper, who has been involved in the every aspect of the company since he was hired by Wood at the age of 17.

"It's magical," Jacobs said, calling his involvement with Ranger "a remarkable financial experience."

Saying that "history doesn't repeat itself; it changes from day to day," Jacobs said Genmar has used Ranger Boats as a springboard to other industries, including energy and technology. One technological advance Jacobs is proud to have been a part of is slashing the time needed to make a fiberglass boat from more than six hours to a mere 35 minutes.

"You could put your eye make-up on and be done with it by the time the boat was finished," Jacobs said.

With manufacturing facilities cranking out large hulls of fiberglass at such a fast rate, Jacobs said that the makers of wind turbines have become interested in the process.

The "biggest financial albatross" in the wind turbine industry, according to Jacobs, has been blades that don't work. Using the technology his boat makers use, Jacobs says that he has found "an opportunity to build the perfect blade."

Jacobs is collaborating with Oklahoma businessman T. Boone Pickens on the "Pickens Plan", a venture to reduce the nation's dependence on oil and a way to build on natural gas and wind energy.

Jacobs was also asked his opinion on what it's like to do business with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, as Genmar and Ranger have done through their fishing products and marketing its bass tournaments through the FLW Series.

"You earn your stripes," Jacobs said, adding that it took 37 trips to Bentonville from his home base of the Twin Cities over the course of two-and-a-half years before Wal-Mart agreed to a deal with him.

He added that the company is very fair with its partners, but he warned against getting too comfortable with the retail giant. The way Genmar has stayed in good graces with the company is by putting "Wal-Mart ahead of us."

Jacobs acknowledged that Wal-Mart had forced many smaller retailers out of business, but he also credited Wal-Mart with helping to control inflation in consumer goods. "If it wasn't for Wal-Mart," he said, clothes, food and $56,000 fishing boats would be much more expensive than they are today.

Hopper asked Jacobs whether or not the boating industry would be able to survive tough financial times without too much wear and tear.

Jacobs said he wasn't worried. "People are not going to give up the pleasures of fishing," he said.

For related stories:

Ranger, The Rolls-Royce of Fishing Boats, Marks 40

Arkansas Boat Builders Cut Back as Sector Slows



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