RV PRO

April '19

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14 • RV PRO • April 2019 rv-pro.com R V M A N U F A C T U R E R S some degree, competed against. It made all of us stronger and better." He says the best book he ever read on how to run a busi- ness was "Lead Like Jesus", which makes the case that leaders should not lead based on pride or fear. Unlike most of the people cited in this series, Terlep has stayed on with Coachmen throughout his adult life. Why? "Dedication, commitment and loyalty," he says. "Loyalty is a two-way street and over the years I felt a strong commit- ment – not only to the company and the brand – but to the people who make up the company and the brand. It has always been about the people and it always will be about the people." Don Clark: Three Employers, Three Great Results Decades later, Don Clark still remembers the interview process that propelled him into the RV industry. The interview, which occurred in 1983 at the Coachmen Industries offices in Middlebury, lasted six-and-a-half hours and involved meeting with several department heads. The extent that the company went to find young talent made a lasting impression on the 23-year-old Clark, who had not yet gradu- ated from college. He ultimately joined the company at a starting annual salary of $12,490. Coincidently, in that same year, Coachmen's annual sales soared to $450 million, earning it a spot on the Fortune 500. "Back in the day, Coachmen was a very well-respected com- pany that was transitioning from an old line, old guard com- pany," Clark recalls. "One of the things Coachmen did very well was recruit. They would recruit young people and teach you the ABCs," adds Clark, who did not grow up in Elkhart County and so was not very familiar with the RV industry. "They were recruiting a lot of young guns and developing a young bench. Back then, they had hired people like Mike Terlep, Ron Fenech, Bill Fenech and myself all about the same time. "They had a good training program. Oftentimes, compa- nies will invite you to the team, put you in the pool and say, 'Swim.' Coachmen was good at teaching me how to swim," he says. "It was a company that gave me the tools to succeed, but didn't succeed for me. I had to take initiative if I wanted to succeed at Coachmen." Clark remembers that CEO Tom Corson would take time to discuss his views on business with young staffers such as Clark, who found the opportunities insightful. Even though Coachmen lost money two years straight fol- lowing the 1979 gas crunch, the RV maker survived the down- turn and returned to profitability in 1981. It was in this post-recession period that Clark joined the com- pany. Even at an early age, Clark fashioned himself somewhat of an entrepreneur, so sessions with Corson and other Coachmen Don Clark started as a trainee with Coachmen in 1983. "(Company CEO) Tom Corson was just inspiring – he was an originator, an entrepreneur, so I naturally gravitated toward that side of the business," Clark says, adding that it inspired his own entrepreneurial spirit. PHOTO COURTESY OF GRAND DESIGN

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