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Fleetwood RV Inc.: ‘We’re Starting from Scratch’

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August 21, 2009 by   Leave a Comment

 

Paul Bamatter, AIP executive

Paul Bamatter, AIP executive

So you buy Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s name and its Decatur, Ind., motorhome operations and rehire the work force. All you have to do now is start making RVs, right?

It’s a lot more complicated than that, Paul Bamatter told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

Bamatter is a partner in American Industrial Partners (AIP), a private equity group whose Capital Fund IV bought the motorhome assets in bankruptcy court in July.

Bamatter was in Decatur on Wednesday (Aug. 19) to celebrate the creation of the new company, Fleetwood RV Inc.

But he said he has already made several journeys from AIP’s New York offices and will make many more.

“I’ll be here a week out of every month, or somebody else will be,” Bamatter said.

When the private equity firm bought the assets, it did so only after it became convinced it could work with the management of the motorhome operation, Bamatter said.

Chuck Wilkinson and John Draheim, former executives at Fleetwood Enterprises, are CEO and president, respectively, of the new company.

Fleetwood RV has 630 employees and plans to hire 300 more in the next three months, but AIP still has to build a business around them, Bamatter said.

“We’re starting from scratch,” he said.

The new operation’s headquarters will be in Decatur without benefit of any resources of Fleetwood Enterprises’ home office in Riverside, Calif.

“We didn’t buy any of that,” Bamatter said.

That means AIP has to assemble an information technology department, a human resources department, a legal department and all the other functions that go into supporting a big industrial company.

“Everybody’s working really hard,” Bamatter said, explaining he frequently meets with Fleetwood RV managers well into the evening.

It’s too soon to say when all of that work will be complete, but it’s going faster than expected, Bamatter said.

Decatur is a long way from AIP’s Fifth Avenue offices, but that has led to some pleasant surprises, too.

Bamatter described how he was having dinner and a beer alone one night in a Decatur restaurant when Mayor John Schultz and his family happened in and joined him.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen in New York, Bamatter said.

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