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Winning Plan? Four Winds

Rick Coates - April 5th, 2010
If you are looking for signs that the economy may be on the road to
recovery, look no further than the Four Winns operation in Cadillac.
Literally on life support just two months ago, as the recreational
boat manufacturer was in bankruptcy, they now find themselves in the
throes of becoming one of the largest employers in Northern Michigan
and possibly one of the catalysts to reviving the region’s economy.
In February of this year, California-based Platinum Equity purchased
Four Winns and several other leading boat brands previously under the
Genmar boat manufacturing umbrella.
Four Winns was established in 1962 as the Saf-T-Mate Boat Corporation
which was bought in 1975 by the Winn family (father and three sons) of
Cadillac. The Winn family operated Four Winns for 20 years, serving as
one of the anchors to a successful manufacturing community in Cadillac
that -- along with tourism -- contributed to a successful year-round
economy.

CLOSE CALL
Four Winns, as have other manufacturing operations in Michigan,
eventually became a victim to global competition and the economy.
There was speculation that they may not get out of bankruptcy and that
operations in Cadillac would close. That has all changed with Platinum
Equity now in the picture.
“We are thrilled with this outcome and are excited about the
opportunity that Platinum’s ownership presents for our employees,
dealers, suppliers and other business partners,” said Four Winns
President Jeff Olson. “It was clear to us that the group had done
their research and saw Four Winns as a true leader of the recreational
boating industry.”
Last week Governor Jennifer Granholm visited Cadillac and during a
meeting with Four Winn’s management, Platinum officials and current
employees of Four Winn’s she unveiled a $27.1 million tax credit over
eight years. The tax credit package that was assembled by the Michigan
Economic Development Corporation, the Cadillac Industrial Fund and the
Granholm administration, paves the way for Four Winns manufacturing
facilities to grow to accommodate the production of additional boat
manufacturing facilities  from recent acquisitions made by Platinum
Equity.
“We’re trying to build a new Michigan here—trying to hold on to the
fantastic workforce we have and to grow our industries,” said Governor
Granholm. “We have the potential to add up to 2,000 new jobs and to
make Cadillac the center of excellence for boat building.”

JOB GROWTH
Platinum Equity plans to invest $62 million in expanding operations in
Cadillac over the next eight years resulting in the possibility of
2,300 new jobs. Area leaders point to an economic spin off as a
result.
“We are seeing a lot of interest in the real estate market in the area
as a result of this,” said Sheila Richardson of Exit Realty of Greater
Cadillac and president of the Paul Bunyan Board of Realtors. “People
from outside the area are starting to inquire about homes and real
estate; there is a lot of speculation buying going on as a result.
There is no question this Four Winns deal is going to have a major
impact on several sectors of our business community.”
Platinum Equity has a track record of taking over ailing corporations
that are challenged with cash flow issues and turning them around.
According to company vice president Dan Whelan (his mom is from
Traverse City), “Platinum specializes in the merger, acquisition and
operation of companies that provide services and solutions to
customers in a broad range of business markets, including information
technology, telecommunications, logistics, metals services,
manufacturing and distribution. Since its founding in 1995 by Tom
Gores, Platinum Equity has completed nearly 100 acquisitions with more
than $27.5 billion in aggregate annual revenue at the time of
acquisition.”

KEEPING IT LOCAL
A big factor in the acquisition and the commitment to keep operations
in Cadillac was the workforce in the community.
“We are excited about the excellent workforce that resides here in
Cadillac,” said Platinum Equity representative Louis Samson. “By
producing these three great brands in one facility, we have the
potential to become the largest boating manufacturing location in the
United States. The founder of Platinum Equity, Tom Gores, and his
wife, are both Michigan natives. It was important to them to be part
of rebuilding Michigan; we hope this is just the first step.”
Those three brands include Four Winns, Wellcraft (production moved
from Florida to Cadillac two years ago) and Glastron that is currently
being manaufactured in Minnesota but will move to Cadillac this
summer.
Since Platinum’s acquisition, Four Winns has “recalled 100 laid-off
workers, expanded production from one to three production lines and
when the Glastron production moves this summer, several additional
laid off Four Winns employees will return to work, a spokesman said.
Platinum has built their success on in-depth research, and they see
several factors that suggest the demand for recreational marine craft
will be on the rise in the coming years. The company felt Four Winn’s
would position them best in that marketplace.
“The marine industry has enormous potential, and we’re very excited to
be part of it,” said Samson. “We are excited about Four Winns’
position as a leading provider of recreational boats and we are very
optimistic about the brand’s growth potential with its strong dealer
network, comprehensive product line and innovative culture.”

MADE AN IMPRESSION
Samson said he and his team from Platinum were “impressed with what
they saw in Cadillac at Four Winns,” and felt that the Platinum
formula would be a good fit.
 “Our goal is to bring out the best in each company we acquire by
giving them the tools and operational support they need to be
successful,” said Samson.  “We also recognize the importance of
personal relationships in this business and we look forward to working
closely with dealers and other business partners to create a
successful enterprise in which everyone can share.”
Four Winns President Jeff Olson says Platinum was quick to put any
uncertainties about their intentions to rest.
“Over the past few months, our team has developed a close working
relationship with the Platinum organization,” said Olson. “We have
gained significant respect for their commitment to our business, our
community and their goal of being successful in our industry.”
Governor Granholm echoed those sentiments.
“When met with Platinum CEO and Founder Tom Gores I found out that
both he and his wife were Michigan natives, that he grew up in Flint,
went to Michigan State University, and I could hear the sincerity in
his voice about how important his home state is to him,” said
Granholm. “He was very passionate about contributing to reviving
Michigan’s economy. He believes in this state, he believes in the
workforce here.”

 
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