Winnebago Industries Inc. CEO Randy Potts flipped the pages of a recreational vehicle magazine until he got to the page with a new Winnebago advertisement.
The ad promises a new Mercedes Benz with a purchase of a Winnebago motorhome. The ad shows photos of the front end grills of several Winnebago and Itasca models, which have the Mercedes Benz logos. Winnebago uses Mercedes Benz’ chassis in many of its products and motorhomes carry the Mercedes Benz logo.
Potts said the ad is edgier than what Winnebago would have written and designed in the past, but it’s part of the culture he is fostering as he enters his second year as CEO, president and chairman of the board, the Mason City Globe Gazette reported.
“There is an excitement around here and I think everyone can share that with you,” Potts said.
Advertising, sales and marketing are just one example of how he wants employees and companies to be bolder and “more responsive to the market.”
Potts hired Scott Degnan as vice president of sales and product development within the past year. Degnan had worked for other recreational vehicle manufacturers before coming to Winnebago.
“My perception coming in was that Winnebago had built a reputation of very high quality products but that it was somewhat resistant to change as in ‘we’ve done it this way for years,’” Degnan said.
When he met Potts and visited the company, Degnan realized the company was ready for changes.
“Randy is a change agent,” Degnan said.
Potts said while the company needs to lead on trends and changes or be on the edge of those, it cannot sacrifice quality or the foundation that’s been built on that quality.
Still, “you have to be bold enough to take risks,” Potts said.
For Winnebago, advertisements such as the one that uses Mercedes Benz and others, are examples of taking risks and “empowering people to do it,” Potts said.
“There is more freedom,” said Kelli Harms, a public relations and marketing specialist with Winnebago. “I hate to use the cliched ‘think outside the box’ but that’s what it is.”
Degnan said Harms, her department director Chad Reece and other employees, “felt handcuffed.”
When Degnan said the department had more freedom, Reece responded with, ‘I’ve got such a great team we will blow your mind.’”
Advertising is just one example, Potts said.
The company released two new models with a price of $69,999 for 2013 to hit a price point it was missing before.
Potts said employees completely reconfigured existing motorhomes to get to the new models. They didn’t just remove or add pieces from prior models, Potts said.
He’s formed product development teams that will be responsible for specific products within the company.
Employees will be challenged and they will be encouraged to be creative, Potts said.
“It’s everything, from ads to product development to the way we conduct meetings,” Potts said. “It’s time to change what’s been done here but what won’t change is the quality of the product. That is non-negotiable.”
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.
“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.”
Focus on hard work is what led Randy Potts from his roots in Waterloo to his new position as president of Winnebago Industries Inc.
And, he said, it’s that same focus that will continue to lead the iconic motorhome manufacturer out of a financial funk that first gripped the RV industry two years ago and forced some major cutbacks, the Waterloo Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier reported.
“I’ve always tried to stay focused,” Potts said. “Early in my career, I always tried to stay in the technical side of the manufacturing environment. I love the manufacturing environment. I enjoy it to this day.”
Now, he’ll have a chance to focus on wider responsibilities.
Potts, 52, a 1977 graduate of Waterloo West High School and son of Larry and Eunice Potts, who still reside in Waterloo, was elected Forest City-based Winnebago’s president Jan. 18 by the company’s board of directors.
Potts is the second Waterloo native in recent years to head up the company, which employs more than 2,000 workers in Forest City and Charles City. Waterloo’s Ed Barker had served as company president until his retirement in 2007. Potts follows Osage native Bob Olson as president. Olson stepped down in order to concentrate on his responsibilities as chairman and CEOat Winnebago.
“It’s kind of a strange coincidence,” he said of the Waterloo heritage developed in Winnebago’s president’s chair. “I talk to him about our Waterloo roots.”
Skills developed in hometown
Potts honed his manufacturing skills around Waterloo even before his graduation from Hawkeye Institute of Technology — now Hawkeye Community College. He started with Schultz Manufacturing in Waterloo, and then took his skills into a senior tool designer position at Black Hawk Engineering, which numbered Deere & Co. among its clients.
It was his experience at the latter company that first exposed him to Winnebago, he said.
“What brought me here was tough times in Waterloo, the farm crisis of the early 1980s,” he said. “I was working for Black Hawk Engineering, and the farm crisis had put hard times on John Deere. Times were tough and, consequently, things were very slow at Black Hawk Engineering.”
The Waterloo company dispatched Potts to Winnebago on temporary assignment as a tool designer.
“I was really impressed with Winnebago and the town of Forest City. I saw a lot of opportunity here, so I pursued a full-time position.”
He landed a full-time job at Winnebago in 1988 as senior tool designer and never looked back. Since joining the company, he has filled various engineering and management positions. In 2006, Potts was appointed vice president of manufacturing and, in November 2009, he was promoted to senior vice president for strategic planning, responsible for new business development for the company.
“Randy has a great working knowledge of the company and its operations, having worked in senior management positions within Winnebago Industries for over a decade,” Olson said in a news release.
A more diverse company
Olson credited Potts with guiding Winnebago’s recent move toward diversification, which led to formation of a new Winnebago of Indiana LLC subsidiary, which will build SunnyBrook and Winnebago brand towable products.
Moving up in the company has given Potts a chance to take a wider view of its mission, he said.
“When I became vice president of manufacturing, that’s when I had to look at things more globally and take a broader view than just a technical side,” he said. “That was a good step to where I am now. I’ve been challenged over many years to look at the company as a whole, look at it from big picture, and that’s where I am now as president.”
Potts also has had to help the company work through tough times. When fuel prices spiked in 2008 and the recession first swept through the area, it hit the RV industry particularly hard, according to industry analysts. Winnebago was forced to cut back, closing one of its plants in Charles City and laying off hundreds of workers both in Charles City and Forest City. In Charles City alone, the company trimmed its work force from about 400-500 to about 135.
“The entire RV industry in the financial crisis really saw unprecedented declines,” Potts said. “Our company, through Bob Olson’s leadership, had to do a lot of very tough things to endure that. They’re tough but necessary. So I think it’s a testament to Bob’s leadership and the entire company that here we are today, having survived the toughest times in the history of the company and now in a position where we’re already displaying profitability.”
The company has remained debt-free, Potts noted.
“Our strategy going forward, of course, is one of rebuilding,” he said. “The market is still quite soft, but it’s coming back. We want to make sure that we have fresh products out there, that we have very appealing products and that our brand is stronger than ever.”
Stock on rebound
After hitting its five-year peak at $35.08 in November 2006, Winnebago shares began to slide, eventually bottoming out at $3.23 per share in March 2009. The stock started to climb slowly, reaching its 2010 high at $17.43. Shares have been trading in the $15 range of late, showing an air of stability that was notably absent during the down years, Potts said.
One reason is that the company doesn’t build an inventory it doesn’t know it will sell, he said.
“We’re an order-driven company and essentially don’t build to speculation, and that’s part of the reason we’ve managed to stay healthy,” he said. “That’s a requirement in the modern manufacturing environment.”
As orders pick up, hiring will increase, Potts said.
“So, as the orders for our product pick up, we’ll staff accordingly,” he said. “We have fortunately been able to increase our production staffing as things have improved and essentially maintained our salaried staffing levels. We just have to be vigilant and stay appropriately staffed to the market conditions and, hopefully, that market will continue to improve.”
Potts and wife Pam, also a West graduate, have two sons — Andrew, 27, and Landon, 22.
Winnebago Industries Inc. announced Tuesday (Jan. 18) the board of directors has elected Randy Potts to the position of president.
Potts, 52, is a 27-year veteran of Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago Industries and was promoted to the position of president effective immediately.
Most recently serving as senior vice president, strategic planning, Potts joined Winnebago Industries in 1983 as a senior tool designer. He has served in various engineering and management positions since that time. In November 2009, he was promoted to the position of senior vice president, strategic planning and was responsible for new business development for the company.
Previously, Potts had served as vice president, manufacturing, a position he held from 2006 to 2009.
Bob Olson will retain the position of chairman and CEO, while relinquishing his title of president in order to focus on the company’s overall direction.
“Randy has a great working knowledge of the company and its operations, having worked in senior management positions within Winnebago Industries for over a decade,” said Olson. “Under his leadership, he directed the company’s recent diversification efforts, culminating in the announcement on Dec. 29 of the new Winnebago of Indiana LLC subsidiary, which will build SunnyBrook and Winnebago brand towable products. I have the utmost confidence that he will continue to help the company grow for the future.”
Potts is a graduate of Hawkeye Institute of Technology in Waterloo, Iowa.