July '18

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M y dad started Starcraft RV in Topeka, Ind., in 1964, when I was 7 years old, for another family. I vaguely remember mom loading us kids in the car and going up to see him because he was working long hours at that time. He did that for four years, and in 1968 they started Jayco. My first job was when I was 12 or 13, getting paid to sweep floors in the shop when we still had the operation on the family farm. Of course, in high school, during the summers, I was employed full time. I loaded RVs onto the back of trucks for delivery to dealers. I went away to a small Mennonite college in Kansas that had a wonderful aviation program (still does). I was going to be a pilot and I put in my hours flying single-engine planes. My final year, when I got home from college, I started working at the business and at that time, in my mind, it was temporary with a career in aviation on my mind. I also flew the company plane during that time. It was probably my late 20s, once I had met my wife, Cindy, and we started a family that I realized I probably wasn't going to fly for a living, so I settled into management at the company. In my mid-30s I gained a passion for the industry. We started the Jayco Dealer Trips in the mid-'70s, which was great getting to know the dealers and make friends. At other events, I started to get to know our competitors, as well as our suppliers. At that point we had about 200 employees and we were a small family business. During the mid-2000s was a pretty good time for the industry. We had a pretty good growth spurt in where we went from 1,000 to 2,500 employees. We were the largest privately held RV company. We realized this had grown into a sizable company. It grew to more than just a small family-owned busi- ness and we had a dialog about professionalizing and bringing in professional management beyond the family, though we have always prided ourselves on growing our own people. One of the things I am most proud of is that with all the years of travel and nights away from home that my wife, Cindy, and I have maintained a strong marriage and have raised three wonderful children. It's also been great to see growth in the company since 2001, when I became president and we were also one of the companies that was able to survive the Great Recession in 2009. It tested us all. We had a great team of people and a loyal dealer body. I also made a lot of friends during my time with RVIA. Long- time president of RVIA, Richard Coon, retired on my watch as chairman of RVIA and I helped lead a search which led to the hiring of Frank Hugelmeyer as president. The longer I observe the association and Frank, I take satisfaction in being a part of hiring him. Over the decades, as a family, we have worked hard to provide a wholesome working environment for our employees and try to make it fun to come to work. We talk a lot about the Jayco family, which includes employees, dealers, retail customers and suppliers. I hope the industry never loses its unity – that unique relationship that competitors have with each other where we compete fiercely during the day, but then at night and during weekends, we see each other at restaurants, golf courses, lakes, etc. Many of us are part of the same community and respect each other. This is one reason my career in the RV industry has been so much fun. 50 • RV PRO • July 2018 RV PRO: Origins J U LY S P E C I A L S E C T I O N ✪ Derald Bontrager, President and CEO, Jayco

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