The last few years haven’t exactly been smooth sailing for Chris-Craft, the boat-building company founded more than a century ago and long revered for its quality and craftmanship. In 2000, its parent company, Outboard Marine Corporation, filed for bankruptcy. The following year, private-equity group Stellican bought Chris-Craft and hired CFO Mark Poncin to help grow it to its previous glory.
“When I first got here we had 10 employees,” Poncin says. “We started from nothing. We had no workers in the factory, and no human resources systems or accounting systems. We had ideas for what our boats were going to look like and a business plan, and that’s it. My role was to build an organization, and we did.”
Chris-Craft met with success, growing to nearly 500 employees. Then the recession hit. Revenue plummeted 80 percent, and the company dropped to about 25 employees. It was also forced to repay a chunk of money to the state of North Carolina, which had given the boat-builder the funding as an incentive to create new jobs.
“We had to start again,” Poncin says. “And this time I took everything I learned [after the bankruptcy] and I said ‘okay, not too often in life do you get a chance to do it twice, but we can do it better.’”
Chris-Craft had some help in that task. Its regional bank, Regions Bank, worked with the company to change the terms of its loan package, and the boat-builder’s remaining employees worked extra hours to keep the company from shutting down. CFO recently spoke with Poncin about how the company navigated the recession — and how it is looking to grow going forward.
How is the company doing, post-recession?
Chris-Craft isn’t the company it used to be. The recession just about wiped us off the map. When we hit bottom, we started building from there. We were very fortunate that our bank cooperated with us. We’d been up front and honest with them from the beginning. They restructured our loan package so we wouldn’t go into default. We held onto a core group of employees, and we brought back many of the same people. But we hired very slowly, because we wanted to make sure that anybody we brought on board knew they had job security. Since we hired slowly, sometimes when people ordered boats in the spring, we told them they couldn’t have them until August or September. Orders got canceled. But we didn’t ever want to get into a situation where people were worried about getting laid off. Today we only have about 180 employees, but we have two-thirds of the revenue that we used to have. We do a lot more with fewer people.