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Q&A with Bill McGill

INTERVIEWED BY JEFF HEMMEL, BOATING MAGAZINE

Peruse the extensive resume of MarineMax Chairman & CEO, Bill McGill and you'll find an impressive range of experience. An engineering degree from the University of Dayton. Early years spent working on both the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and, later, the Space Station. A corporate stint at Colgate Palmolive. Forty-five years ago, however, it was McGill's unbridled passion for boating that led him down his current path and, in many ways, changed the industry forever.

We caught up with Bill, now 74, and asked him to reflect on over four decades in the marine industry.

Bill, it's been 45 years since you took a gamble on the boating industry. Looking back, what stands out most?

I got in the business in 1973, just in time for the oil embargo. I had invested my life savings with my uncle to open up a dealership in Tampa Bay, and the next thing I saw were long gas lines, and I'm saying "what have I done, what does this mean?" I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from that is, hey, life goes on. People's passion for boating and the resilience they have is greater than I ever dreamed it would be. That is a lesson that I learned early on that I carried through the 45 years. There's ups and downs in our industry, but people still seek boating in a major way.

Why? What is it that is so powerful about boating?

I came to realize that boating truly changes people's lives. It connects the individual with the inner emotions they have, it connects them with their friends, with their family, and satisfies their own needs, creating memories of a lifetime.

How is it different from the many other activities vying for consumer's attention?

If you look at family recreation, the choices are pretty narrow. Golf is often just the husband, tennis maybe it's the husband and wife, perhaps the kids, but most of the sports that kids are involved in today the parents are sitting on the bench working their phone. In many cases they're not really connected with the kids until after the game or after practice. But with boating, people are together. The whole family is experiencing it. The greatest reward that I get is when I meet a family and the wife says 'thank you, I have my husband back,' or 'we now have something we can do together as a family.' Or the kids say 'wow, I enjoy doing things with my parents during those teenage years.' That's really rewarding and a validation of what boating truly does. That's really what it's about... what does boating do for you and your family. If we keep focused on that, we win.

Twenty years ago MarineMax forever changed the industry's approach to boat sales. How has this company thrived while others have failed?

If you look at what we do for our customers—help them select the right product, teach them how to use it, service them second to none, and get them involved in events and trips—we've never wavered from that commitment. At the end of the day it's about the people, and it's the relationships with our customers that mean everything. They've got to feel like they're part of our family. It's not about buying a boat, it's about buying a lifestyle and memories. We have an opportunity to change people's lives, and that's what drives us. We're selling a lifestyle, and making memories for people that can last a lifetime. We're not going to back off on that... it's too much fun doing it the way we're doing it.

Speaking of fun, you have a reputation in the industry for being quite the watersports enthusiast. Still getting out on the water?

I'm in the slalom course, trick skiing and barefooting every single weekend I'm home. I'm doing better in the slalom course than I've done in my life, and I used to compete. I'm enjoying life, I've got two young daughters at home, a lovely wife and nine grandkids. I wake up happy and excited every day.

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