May '19

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10 • RV PRO • May 2019 rv-pro.com R V M A N U F A C T U R E R S Editor's note: The CEOs of the two largest RV manufacturers in the U.S. – Thor's Bob Martin and Forest River's Pete Liegl – got their start at Coachmen Industries. Meanwhile, at least 10 future presidents of RV companies worked at Keystone RV. These pillars of the RV industry from these two vital companies inspired the title of this series: The Leadership Factories. This month's article focuses on Keystone RV as a cultivator of industry leaders; last month's issue highlighted Coachmen. K eystone RV is in no way a clone of Coachmen RV – the company that Keystone founder Cole Davis worked for in his formative years in the 1980s and that trained so many future Keystone executives. Quite the opposite. "We built Keystone as a negative image of what Coachmen was," says Davis, now age 70, retired and living in Arizona. Davis does not dispute that Coachmen hired and groomed quality employees in its early years – as other industry leaders shared in Part 1 of this series – but he says things changed as the company matured. "In the early days, when Tom (Corson) and his brothers ran the company, they treated dealers as friends and devel- oped relationships with dealers," he says, adding, "Over time, that changed." Davis had his own share of ups and downs along the way. When the top management position opened at Coachmen's manufacturing facility in Perris, Calif., in 1987, Davis got that assignment, which provided valuable experience in running a factory. He says he appreciated the opportunity he'd been given to excel in a new endeavor. On the flip side, Davis says he had frequent run-ins with Corson's daughter, Claire Corson Skinner, who had returned to the family's business in 1983 and three years later was named president of the company's largest subsidiary, the flagship Coachmen RV unit. When Davis told Skinner that it would take several years before the Perris plant would be profitable, she was not pleased. He says he was subsequently fired for his candor. When Coachmen dealers protested Davis's dismissal, Davis says that Skinner asked him to come back to work and head the West Coast sales operation. He refused. Cole Davis (pictured with wife Jeannie) rose through the ranks at Coachmen and endured some setbacks before finding success in a big way when he founded Keystone RV. Davis credits his success in part to the idea he put into place at Keystone that "the dealer should drive the product development process. Manufacturing and engineering needed to respond to dealer- driven product innovation – and not be roadblocks." The Leadership Factories, Part 2 From its start, Keystone RV offered a new approach to building and selling RVs – and a different take on cultivating the next generation of RV industry leadership. By Steve Bibler

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