Fountain CEO strives for excellence

Published 1:06 pm Sunday, December 19, 2010

Staff Writer

Fountain Powerboats has a newly appointed president and chief executive officer that looks forward to the future of the direction he wants the company to go in.
John E. Walker is the new president and CEO of Fountain and three other boat companies — Pro-Line, Donzi and Baja.
However, Walker said he knows he will never be able to replace Reggie Fountain, former president and CEO of Fountain.
“The man is an icon,” he said. “He’s been with the company since its inception, and I can well appreciate how difficult it is to see someone else have control over parts or pieces of something you worked so hard to create. Reggie’s always been the guy in control over every aspect of this company.”
Walker added with the transition by bringing Donzi to Washington, Fountain did not agree with certain things and decided to step down as the president.
“It’s hard to take and unfortunate, as we would’ve liked him to stay,” he said. “Boat shows, boating venues and boat races are something that Reggie does better than anybody.”
Walker is constantly out on the floor with the employees of Fountain Powerboats, making sure things are in a constant state of progression.
“When we moved the product up here from Florida was no real problem,” Walker said, who has been with Pro-Line for 20 years.
Walker, who said he is no more than just a boat builder who loves what he does, said he will continue to implement the hard work and determination to be No. 1 that Fountain is known for.
“I started in the boating industry as a boat builder, turning wrenches,” he said. “So I know what needs to be done from the ground up.”
According to Walker, rather than as a manager that runs a business, he started from the bottom and worked his way up, knowing exactly what needed to be done on the building side of things as well as the customer relations portion of business.
“I’ve been in the business for almost 30 years, beginning in 1982 in Rhode Island,” he said. “I spent 10 years with Sea Ray and 20 years with Pro-Line.”
As he has been the president of three other boat manufacturing companies, Walker has worn many hats and has been in charge of many divisions, such as sales, marketing, engineering, accounting and more.
“I have good people,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that has been overlooked. And with a company like Fountain there’s so much potential. And with what Reggie has accomplished is amazing. He’s an icon for what he’s established and is very impressive.
“What we don’t want to forget is that majority of the people that work here have been here for 15 to 20 years. We have a lot of experience right here building boats and they really haven’t received proper recognition for their abilities.”
Walker added that Fountain had so much respect for all of the employees, but that they were the group seldom heard from.
“I’m more of the frame of mind that it’s about the brand,” he said. “But these are difficult economic times. And these are especially difficult times in the marine industry. In fact, they’re the worst we’ve ever seen.”
After taking the reins of the company as president, Walker is focusing on the future and where to take the company by closing the Superstore and signing new dealers by rebuilding Fountain’s dealer network.
“We don’t sell direct anymore from the factory,” he said. “We’re going to sell our product through the dealer network where our clients can see the products themselves and actually get a feel for it.”
Being very careful about who Fountain signs as dealers, Walker said he will look at every opportunity whether he thinks the dealer has something to offer and contribute.
“In fact, we look everywhere,” he said. “We have a large following in the Great Lakes. There is a lot of performance boat market in the Lake of the Ozarks, Grand Lake … and very large lakes like Lake Havasu. We have performance boats and fishing boats, so we have something for everybody.”
Walker, who is looking on the positive, says he is excited and enthusiastic about the employees on the floor as they are very receptive and know what they’re doing.
“They’re very competent and are very happy to be back working full time,” he said. “So that attests to how loyal our employees are. They’re a great bunch of people and are very qualified and are very skilled in what they do. I feel very good about that.”
As there are “peaks and valleys” in every industry, Walker said he is positive they will have just as many as the next company and they will thrive on and continue to work hard and diligently.
“Different products sell at different times,” he said, as the company is implementing 40 new designs to begin building. “I believe with the people we have and the diversity of talents we have, all we can do is keep moving forward.”