May '19

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14 • RV PRO • May 2019 rv-pro.com R V M A N U F A C T U R E R S but at the end of the month, they had to be sold. You had the autonomy to do whatever you wanted." The business model proved so successful that other Thor companies would copy the plan long after Davis was gone and provide a blueprint for success across northern Indiana that continues today. "I thrive on growing organizations, expanding, looking for opportunities and expanding upon them," Davis says. "Ron and Bill are the same way." Success Beyond All Expectations Davis's business model exceeded all expectations. In 1997 – the company's first full year in business – sales reached $40 million. One year later, sales nearly doubled to $70 million. The plan from the start was never to make a load of money and then sell the business, according to Davis. He explains, "My plan was to make enough money to survive so everybody who worked for me could have a job. I never went out to conquer the world. That (goal) came after Bill and I got over the hump. After we brought Ron in and started Montana (fifth wheels), our manufacturing was clicking. We revolutionized the way some things are done. "I remember sitting with Bill Burton at 1st Source Bank, who was trying to lure our business away from Lake City Bank. I remember telling him, 'We are going to dominate the tow- able business!'" Burton laughed. "I am dead serious," Davis responded. "In 1998, I realized how weak the players were – compa- nies like Fleetwood and Coachmen. We were taking all their business away and there was nothing to stop us," Davis boasts. Keystone's growth rate subsequently accelerated dramatically, from $134 million in 1999 to $250 million in 2000 to nearly $500 million in 2001. Keystone's flagship brands, Montana and Cougar fifth wheels, had become the No. 1 and No. 2 brands, respectively, according to market data firm Statistical Surveys. Meanwhile, Keystone was ranked No. 2 in Inc. magazine's top 500 listing in 2001, based on its fiscal year 2000 performance. The growth spurt was too much for rival Thor Industries to overlook. In 2001, Thor approached Davis about a sale and Davis hesitantly provided financials to Thor execs Wade F.B. Thompson and Peter Orthwein right before the Sept. 11 ter- rorist attacks on the United States. "They didn't think we could make that much money," Davis recalls, somewhat gleefully. "When we agreed to a deal, Wade leaned back in his chair in his office in New York City and said, 'Cole, you're the most expensive personnel mistake I ever made in my life."' On Nov. 9, 2001, Thor announced its acquisition of Key- stone for $151 million. For a while after the sale, Davis served as Thor's chief oper- ating officer and board member, but after Thompson died in 2009 Davis left the RV business permanently. Davis contends that Keystone's overnight success "contrib- uted greatly to the demise of ... companies that could not adapt to Keystone's responsiveness to dealer product requirements, manufacturing flexibility and innovation." Bob Martin got his start with Coachmen in 1993 and later joined Keystone RV in 1998. At Keystone, Martin's leadership skills flourished and he went on to become national sales manager for the Cougar brand and then later COO before succeeding Ron Fenech as president of Keystone when Fenech took over the newly created position of RV president of Thor Industries. He subsequently was promoted to president of Thor Industries.

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