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Winnebago Hosts Sendoff for Retiring Bob Olson

February 24, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Bob Olson with newscaster Harry Smith during an interview in New York for the CBS Early Morning Show

Friends, colleagues and community members will gather today (Feb. 24) at Winnebago Industries Inc.’s manufacturing complex in Forest City, Iowa, providing an official sendoff to long-time executive Bob Olson as he closes the door on a 43-year career.

“I started at Winnebago in August of 1969,” Olson, 60, told RVBUSINESS.com. “My 18th birthday was July 17 and I was looking to make a little money before I headed to college. Well, obviously I never left.”

Olson, instead, found his calling installing windows on Winnebago’s assembly line. “My first day, I put in all the windows upside down,” he recalled. “I put in some overtime getting them all right side up. In just six months, though, I was moved to the new facility, which is the company’s current complex. By then, I knew that I wanted to stay at Winnebago.”

After serving in several management capacities, he took the reins from Bruce Hertzke in May of 2008 as Winnebago’s chairman, president and CEO, fulfilling Winnebago’s succession plan. In turn, Randy Potts officially takes over all three top-level positions today.

“I’m going to stay on as a member of the Winnebago board,” said Olson, a long-time resident of Forest City. “I also will continue as a member of the RVIA board and co-chair of the Go RVing Coalition while Randy gets completely acclimated with his responsibilities at Winnebago.”

Bob Olson with his wife, Kathy, in front of their Journey motorhome

The informal open house marking his retirement is scheduled for 2:30-5:30 p.m. today. Olson told RVBUSINESS.com that he is viewing his exit with mixed emotions.

“On the one hand, you are looking forward to retirement,” he said. “On the other hand, you’re hoping it never ends. But this is something that my wife, Kathy, and I have been thinking about for a long time. When you leave something like this, you want to have some plans in place to take away the boredom.”

 

Fittingly, the couple will be launching Olson’s retirement behind the wheel of a Winnebago Journey motorhome. “On Monday, we’ll leave for a Winnebago rally in Orlando, Fla.,” Olson said. “We haven’t had that many opportunities to use the motorhome because of work. But we’re going to be your typical RVers – heading to a warmer climate in the winter and traveling around this great country of ours.”

He also plans to spend more time with family. His son, Shawn, works in quality control for Winnebago while his daughter, Angie, is a teacher in Omaha, Neb. Both are married with two children each.

“It’s been a great run,” Olson said. “But I’m really looking forward to the next chapter.”

 

 

 

 

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Winnebago Announces Retirement of Bob Olson

January 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Bob Olson

Winnebago Indusries Inc. today (Jan. 12) announced the retirement of Bob Olson from the position of chairman, effective Feb 24.

Randy Potts, 53, will assume the role of chairman in addition to his current positions of CEO and president, in accordance with the Forest City, Iowa-based company’s succession plans. A 28-year veteran of Winnebago Industries, Potts joined the company in 1983 as a senior tool designer and has served in various engineering and management positions since that time.

In January 2011, he was elected to the position of president and was elected to the additional role of CEO in June 2011. Potts has also served as vice president, manufacturing and senior vice president, strategic planning in which he was responsible for new business development for the company. Potts is a graduate of Hawkeye Institute of Technology in Waterloo, Iowa.

Olson, 60, is a 43-year veteran of Winnebago Industries. While relinquishing his role as chairman, he will remain a member of the board and will also continue to serve in his role on the Executive Committee of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and as co-chair of the Go-RVing Coalition.

Randy Potts

“I look forward to traveling more with my wife, Kathy, in our Winnebago Journey motorhome as we experience the RV lifestyle we have promoted the last 43 years,” said Olson. “I am also excited to continue to serve the company as a member of the board. Randy has done an outstanding job in leading Winnebago Industries since his promotions last year and I have every confidence in his ability to lead as we continue to move forward and grow in the future.”

“Bob has successfully led Winnebago Industries through some of the most challenging times in our company’s history,” said Potts. “We are greatly indebted to Bob for his exemplary service, his unwavering dedication and his passion for improving quality and performance in every area of our organization. I feel fortunate to have ready access to his expertise in his continued role as a member of our board and look forward to moving forward with the vision he has helped to chart for the company’s future.”

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Go RVing & RVIA PR ‘Working Hand in Hand’

June 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Winnebago CEO Bob Olson

Winnebago CEO Bob Olson

RVIA logoThe leaders of the RV industry’s marketing communications program reported how Go RVing advertising and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) public relations are working hand-in-hand to protect the image of RVing and build RV demand at the association’s Annual Membership Meeting Wednesday (June 9) in South Bend, Ind.

In a presentation during RVIA Committee Week titled “Go RVing: We’re Back in the Saddle Again,” Go RVing Co-Chairman and CEO of Winnebago Bob Olson, and RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella told RVIA members that investing in Go RVing’s new “Ambassadors of Affordability” ads was a wise decision during the recession, according to a press release.

“We were under severe economic constraints last year,” said Olson. “Continuing to advertise and deciding to develop new creative in such a year were bold moves to keep our industry on the offensive.”

The new ads emphasize savings, which research shows is a smart move given how the economy has affected consumer thinking.

“We’ve always promoted value and affordability as big advantages of RV ownership,” said LaBella. “But dramatic changes in consumer behavior due to the recession have now made value and affordability even more important to purchase decisions.”

Following the “Back in the Saddle Again” report, LaBella was joined by B.J. Thompson, chairman of RVIA’s Public Relations Committee, to present “The New Consumer and the Road Ahead,” a look at RVIA public relations activities, as well as an overview of findings from a new communications planning survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

LaBella and Thompson reported that the image of RVing has remained strong, and that media has widely reported core RVIA messages.

“The key to our successful outreach is the industry’s continued investment in PR,” said Thompson. “An investment that has protected our image and deftly positioned in the industry to capitalize on our nation’s growing economic recovery.”

After showing an 11-minute video of news and entertainment programs featuring RVs, the duo provided analysis of the new Harris Interactive research.

“Among the findings, the survey showed that statements focused on family togetherness and cost savings rate equally with RV owners and non-RV owners alike,” said LaBella. “Messages that mention families saving money while enjoying a great outdoor experience will appeal to a wide cross-section of consumers.”

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Karlgaard to Speak During Committee Week

May 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine and a regular panelist on the business show ”Forbes on Fox,” will be the keynote speaker at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) annual meeting June 9 during RVIA’s Committee Week at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind., according to RVIA Express.

In a talk titled, “U.S. Outlook: Is the Recovery Durable?” Karlgaard will give an outlook for stocks, home prices and asset classes while also discussing which sectors of the economy will benefit from increased government intervention and which will lose ground. He will examine how the results of the 2010 midterm elections might change the business landscape and which products and services, growth models and economic regions are likely to perform best in the immediate future and in the long-term.

Also at the meeting, RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon and RVIA President Richard Coon will discuss the state of the association and speak on a wide range of topics including government relations, standards, industry education and RVIA-sponsored trade shows. RVIA Treasurer Bob Olson will detail the association’s finances.

In a presentation titled, “RVIA Public Relations: The New Consumer and the Road Ahead,” RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson and Gary LaBella , vice president and chief marketing officer, will provide an analysis of the post-recession consumer, examine the new Harris survey findings on the factors that influence RV purchase decisions and give an overview of the media exposure created for the RV industry through the association’s public relations programs.

In “Go RVing: We’re Back in the Saddle Again,” Go RVing Co-Chairman Bob Olson of Winnebago Industries Inc. and LaBella will provide a briefing on the award-winning ad campaign. RVIA will also honor industry and association leaders by presenting a host of awards.

At a luncheon immediately following the membership meeting, economist Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan, will provide his outlook for the RV market for the upcoming year. Curtin has directed RVIA’s RV Consumer Demographic Profile research for 30 years and authors the association’s quarterly RV Roadsigns newsletter.

For more information on the RVIA Membership Meeting and the industry forecast luncheon, contact RVIA’s Meetings and Shows Department at (703) 620-6003 ext. 305 or visit www.rvia.org.

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Bob Olson New Co-Chairman of Go RVing Coalition

January 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Bob Olson

Bob Olson

Go RVing has named Winnebago Industries Inc. Chairman, CEO and President Bob Olson to serve as co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition, the RV industry’s national advertising and market expansion initiative.

Olson joins RV dealer Tom Stinnett of Tom Stinnett’s RV Freedom Center (Clarksville, Ind.) as co-chairman of the industry-wide coalition, replacing Dicky Riegel, who was recently named Thor Industries senior group president with responsibility for Thor’s bus group, investor relations and strategic acquisitions.

“Bob Olson is the ideal person to assume the co-chairmanship of Go RVing,” said Riegel. “Bob and Winnebago are avid supporters of Go RVing, and Bob will now help sustain and accelerate the campaign’s momentum going forward. Bob’s talents and passionate advocacy for the RV industry dovetail perfectly with those of co-chairman Tom Stinnett. Though I will miss working with Go RVing in my new role at Thor, I am confident that Bob and Tom will make an outstanding team bringing real benefits to the RV industry.”

Olson, who joined Winnebago Industries in 1969 as an hourly production employee, rose through the ranks of inventory and production control, manufacturing and operations to become president and then chairman and CEO of the company. He has held numerous posts within the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), serving on the Nominating Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and as chairman of the Audit Committee. A member of the RVIA board of directors since 2008, Olson currently serves on RVIA’s Executive Committee as treasurer and is past secretary of the association.

Said Olson, “I have been in the RV business for 40 years, and am very proud of the industry’s heritage as well as the memories it has made for millions of Americans. I am truly honored to be a small part of the Go RVing Coalition and look forward to the opportunity of working with a very talented group of people from our industry to continue to spread the message of the RVing lifestyle.

“Memories are what our industry creates and I look forward to being a part of that through the work of Go RVing.”

A resident of Forest City, Iowa, Olson and his wife Kathleen have two children and four grandchildren.

The officers of Go RVing, Inc. – RVIA President Richard Coon and Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Mike Molino – issued a joint statement praising Olson as an excellent choice to serve as co-chairman.

“Bob Olson is a veteran leader of one of the largest RV manufacturers and of this industry. He will bring extremely valuable experience, insight and influence to the Go RVing Coalition. Bob and Tom Stinnett will make a strong team that will lead Go RVing well at a key time for the industry,” they said.

Stinnett, who has been involved in Go RVing since it began in 1994 and has served as a co-chair since 2004, will continue to play a leadership role as a key consensus-builder among dealers and manufacturers. Said Stinnett, “With his years of experience as a leading RV manufacturer and his passion for the lifestyle, Bob Olson will be a tremendous Go RVing co-chair. I am looking forward to working with him as the 2010 ad campaign gets underway.”

In 2009, together with Riegel, Stinnett led the coalition through the development of new “Ambassadors of Affordability” television commercials, which are being received with accolades from all segments of the industry. The spots are scheduled to debut in mid-February.

The Go RVing campaign is widely credited for boosting the image and popularity of RV travel and helping to maintain RV awareness and demand through the recent economic downturn. The Go RVing Coalition consists of RV manufacturers, component suppliers, dealers and campgrounds who work to provide the public and media with information about the benefits of RV travel and to foster satisfaction with the RV experience through its Committee on Excellence.

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Winnebago Posts Quarterly, Fiscal Year Losses

October 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

winnebago-logoWinnebago Industries, Inc. reported a net loss of $78.8 million for the fiscal year ending Aug. 29, $50.2 million of it being recorded in the fourth quarter.

Revenues for the fourth quarter were $59.5 million versus $85.3 million for the same period last year. The company reported an operating loss of $9.2 million for the quarter versus an operating loss of $18.9 million for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008.

Included in the operating loss for the quarter was a non-cash charge of $855,000 related to the asset impairment of the Hampton, Iowa, fiberglass facility. Net loss for the fourth quarter was $50.2 million versus $12.7 million for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008. The net loss for the quarter included a non-cash charge of $41.1 million, or $1.41 per diluted share, related to the establishment of a full valuation allowance against its deferred tax assets. Excluding these non-cash charges, the Winnebago’s tax-benefited net loss for the fourth quarter would have been $5.4 million, or 19
cents per diluted share.

The fourth quarter was negatively impacted by lower motorhome deliveries resulting in a reduction in plant utilization. Revenues were also negatively impacted by a continuation of wholesale and retail
product incentives, but benefited from a better mix of Class A diesel products, according to a news release. There was a positive benefit to cost of goods sold, however, from the liquidation of last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventory values due
to a significant reduction of inventory levels. This had the effect of decreasing the gross deficit by $2.9 million.

Revenues for the 52 weeks of fiscal 2009 were $211.5 million versus $604.4 million for the 53 weeks of fiscal 2008. Net loss for fiscal 2009 was $78.8 million versus net income of $2.8 million for 2008.

On a diluted per share basis, the company had a net loss of $2.71 for fiscal 2009, versus earnings of 10 cents for 2008. Excluding non-cash charges, the company’s tax-benefited net loss for fiscal 2009 would have been $37.2 million, or $1.28 per diluted share.

“While fiscal 2009 was one of the most challenging in our 51 year history and in the history of the RV industry, we have taken many necessary steps to preserve adequate liquidity, manage our balance sheet
and costs, and maintain our ability to make investments in products and processes important to our long term growth and profitability,” said Winnebago Industries Chairman, CEO and President Bob Olson. “As an
example, we increased our cash flow by dramatically cutting our inventories by 58% from the end of fiscal 2008 to the end of fiscal 2009.”

“Just as important as managing our balance sheet and costs for today’s market, however, is planning for growth once the economy recovers,” continued Olson. “Research and product development was a top priority,
with over 50% of our lineup new or redesigned for the 2010 model year. From top to bottom, we raised the bar in creating innovative products with exciting floorplans and features with an emphasis on form,
function and styling.”

 According to Statistical Surveys, Inc., the Michigan retail reporting service for the RV industry, Winnebago Industries’ gained market share in the combined Class A and C markets with 19.1% for the first eight
months of calendar 2009, compared to 18.5 % for the same period last year.

“We are pleased with our market share gains and believe we have further opportunities to gain share going forward with our innovative new products,” said Olson. “As testament to the appeal of our new motor home
offerings, our sales order backlog was 940 motor homes at Aug. 29, 2009, an increase of approximately 58% compared to the end of fiscal 2008; and an increase of 146% from May 30, the end of our third quarter. We have seen particular strength in the backlog for our Class A gas and diesel products.”

 “Nevertheless, the economic environment and the level of retail demand remain uncertain. Additionally, credit availability remains difficult on both the wholesale and retail level,” said Olson. “Floorplan lending
institutions continue to manage dealer inventories very closely with an emphasis on the aging of inventory and the number of times a dealer turns his inventory each year. As a result, dealer inventory declined 54% during fiscal 2009, to 1,694 motor homes as of Aug. 29, 2009. Since retail sales have been much higher than wholesale shipments throughout the past year, we believe dealer inventory is very close to reaching the bottom, and our dealer partners will need to start to replenish soon to satisfy retail demand going forward. The increase in our sales order backlog referenced above may also be a sign that the replenishment process is now beginning.”

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RVIA Announces Board, Executive Committee Changes

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

rvia-logo3The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has made changes to its board of directors and executive committee following the resignation of Paul Eskritt of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. from his elected positions.

Fleetwood has appointed John Draheim, vice president of the Motor Home Division, to fill the company’s manufacturer seat on the RVIA board for the remainder of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30.  Draheim will run for re-election to that seat during the association elections taking place in August. 

Meanwhile, RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon of Monaco RV has appointed RVIA board member Bob Olson, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., to fill the secretary position on the RVIA Executive Committee, filling the vacancy created by Eskritt’s resignation.  Olson will hold that seat until the next RVIA board meeting, set for Sept.14 in Hershey, Pa., at which time the board will elect officers to the fiscal year 2010 Executive Committee.

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Winnebago Shuttering Hampton Fiberglass Facility

June 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Winnebago Industries Inc. today (June 11) announced the closing of its Hampton, Iowa, fiberglass manufacturing facility, which primarily makes fiberglass components for motorhomes.
 
The majority of the production capabilities for fiberglass components will be shifted to Winnebago’s main Forest City facilities during the company’s fourth fiscal quarter, ending August 29.
 
The relocation reportedly won’t affect Winnebago’s customers or product offerings.

“Current market conditions continue to be challenging, necessitating further capacity reductions,” the northern Iowa corporation’s management states in a press release. “The company believes these actions will better position it for a business environment that it expects will continue to be challenging in the near future.”
 
“The decision to close the Hampton facility has been very difficult,” adds chairman, CEO and President Bob Olson.  ”Unfortunately, it has become necessary to decrease our manufacturing footprint to reduce overhead expenses for the company. It is particularly difficult to lose valued employees. However, the wholesale and retail market for the company’s motorhomes continues to be very challenging, and it is important to downsize to market demand.”  
 
As a result of the closure, Winnebago expects to incur a non-cash impairment charge of $1.4 to $2.4 million on the facility in its fourth fiscal quarter. In addition, other associated out-of-pocket costs with the idling of the facility are estimated to be approximately $600,000.
 
Winnebago, according to a press release, will continue to evaluate the need for additional right-sizing measures in accordance with market demand.  
 
Winnebago Industries’ management met with the plant’s 40 employees today and will help coordinate employee support from state, regional and local agencies in an effort to assist with job placement, training and various other services and benefits available to dislocated workers, the release states.
 
“Although the current economic environment is extremely challenging,” Olson added, “we continue to believe we are in a strong financial position with sufficient cash and investment balances, no long-term debt and with the benefit of a respected brand known for its quality products.”

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Call For RVIA Board of Directors Nominations

April 10, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) nominating committee is seeking candidates  from the general membership to run in this year’s board of directors election.

 There are seven seats up for election this year, including four manufacturer, one supplier and two at-  large seats.

 The RVIA board has the highest level of authority in the association’s organizational structure. It is responsible for association affairs on a broad policy basis.

“RVIA depends on the board of directors to guide the association’s work and chart a course for the future of the industry,” said John Regan, chairman of Fabric Services and chairman of RVIA’s nominating committee.

The board meets three times each year: in March, during Committee Week in mid-June, and in mid-September.

“All RVIA members who are interested in the many policy issues that affect the RV industry as a whole should consider running for election to the board,” Regan continued. “Board membership is a terrific way to help shape the climate for the industry for years to come.”

Each RVIA manufacturer and supplier member is afforded a single vote. Newly elected board members will begin serving their terms on Oct. 1, 2009. The deadline for nominations this year is June 15.

This year’s nominating committee members include Carl Pfalzgraf of Atwood Mobile Products and Bob Olson of Winnebago Industries Inc. Those interested in running for a board seat should contact a member of the nominating committee.

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