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Tom MacNairCollecting good friends, good times and great memories

By Andy Adams

It's about time that Boating Industry Canada shone the spotlight on Tom MacNair because he continues to build on a lifetime of volunteer generosity that has led him to a fabulous career as the Vice President of the Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group in Canada, the position as Chairman of NMMA Canada and also Chairman of the Discover Boating program in Canada, and that’s just a part of Tom’s commitment to boating.

I cornered Tom MacNair in the Exhibitors Lounge at the Toronto International Boat Show this past January and I asked him about his interest in the boat business, his personal history and how he came to be such an important part of our industry.

If you don't know Tom MacNair personally, he has a magnificent bass voice, a calm and unflappable personality and the kind of patience that only a true fisherman could develop.

He is very modest about his many accomplishments but this is a bit of what makes Tom MacNair such a pleasure to talk to. We began by talking about his early days - where he was born and raised and how he came to be in boating.

A true prairie gopher

Tom was born in Saskatchewan and lived in Saskatoon and Regina and then later Winnipeg, so he describes himself as a true prairie gopher! As to his background in the boat business, Tom told me that this year he is 62 years of age and he has been in the boat business for 56 years!

It's actually true. Tom's father started what was probably the first fiberglass boat plant in Western Canada, (and perhaps in all of Canada) in Saskatoon. He called it Fibrolite Industries and his father was an entrepreneur. It was a startup business and somewhere between the ages of four and six years, he began taking Tom to the shop to sweep the floors, clean the washroom and later to do things like grinding the flashing off. He said it was great to be the boss' son!

But, the boat business and also fishing, have always been an important part of Tom’s life so, later in his career when the opportunity to join Lund Boats Canada came up, he left his job as a CEO in the finance industry and committed to boating full-time. Before the finance industry he taught high school for five years and although he loved it, volunteering to coach many of the sports teams and becoming an avid curler, Tom was living in communities like Selkirk and Dauphin Manitoba where there wasn’t much else to do. He even taught curling and loves the sport

The sport seems to love him too. Through a combination of curling and also fishing, many people have gotten to know him, like him and have recruited Tom to join their companies.

Connecting with people through sport

One story he told me was that he had moved on to teaching subjects like business and marketing. While he was at the rink, a friend he curled with said, “Now tell me about your experience and your work in the marketing field.”

Tom answered that he had not actually worked in marketing and his friend teased him that therefore he didn’t actually know about marketing! Tom can take a joke and in reality, his friend Marv was a Vice President with Molson's in Manitoba.

His goal was to convince Tom to join him as a beer rep for Molson’s.

Tom commented to me that it seemed like a logical progression to go from teaching to beer!

He made the leap, enjoyed it thoroughly and certainly learned a lot about sales and marketing by being with a top-flight firm like Molson's.

Tom the “Loans Officer Trainee”

Then came the next step on his career progression, again through curling. Tom had a friend who was a Vice President at the Royal Bank and Tom was recruited into the financial services industry starting off as a “Loans Officer Trainee”, even though he was by then 35 years of age.

Tom added that his hair had turned gray when he was only 17 and his boss at the branch he started at would pretend Tom was the manager when sales people or donation solicitors came looking to speak with someone.

Tom progressed in the financial services industry and rapidly rose to be the CEO of a credit union in Manitoba. At that point, his volunteer experience again changed the course of his life.

Fish Futures changed everything

In his spare time, Tom’s love for boating, and also for fishing, had prompted him to volunteer with a conservation and environmental group called Fish Futures. Like every organization, Fish Futures needed money and Tom joined the fundraising banquet committee to help out and give something back for a year or two…which quickly turned into 10 years as the chair of the committee.   

To say this was a success is quite an understatement. Over the years the banquet grew, and when he left Winnipeg to move to southern Ontario, the Fish Futures  banquet was the “see and be seen” event of the year, grossing between $90 and $100,000 in one night!  Tom is proud of that, but, even more proud of the next generation banquet, co-chaired by two friends of his, that eclipses that dollar amount time and time again. 

 One of the biggest sponsors of Fish Futures was Lund Boats Canada and Tom jokes that they got tired of him having his hand in their pocket, so they made him an offer to join the company and in March 2001 he joined Lund Boats Canada as Director of Sales for Canada.

At that time he lived in Winnipeg and drove daily to the Lund Canadian facility in Steinbach MB, 55km’s door to door, not too bad a commute and all highway.  A promotion to the position of Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Lund Boats overall, brought a little more windshield time…the weekly commute was now from Winnipeg to the Lund boat plant in New York Mills, Minnesota, driving 5 1/2 hours down on Monday and 5 1/2 hours back on Thursday for the next 3 1/2 years. Somehow Tom's personality makes a grueling schedule look manageable and he was absolutely loving what he was doing.

Brunswick buys Lund from Genmar

In 2003/2004 Brunswick bought Lund from the Genmar group and they got Tom in the bargain. Later, Brunswick began a strategic restructuring and streamlining of their sales structure, part of which was a realignment to create what is now called the Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group and in the course of this, they asked Tom if he would like to be the Vice President of Sales in Canada for all of those brands.

"Let me think about it for a minute – yes!" was Tom's reaction. From Brunswick’s standpoint it was much smarter to have a group representing several lines rather than an individual sales team handling each one, so Tom wound up with all the aluminum brands except Princecraft…Lund, Lowe, Crestliner, Harris, Cypress Cay, and their newest addition, Thunder Jet.

More detail on the Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group in a bit. That gives you an overview of Tom MacNair’s life but I knew I had to probe for more information about the boat business!

Boat building with his dad

Going back to his childhood, when his father had first established Fibrolite Industries and the company was still fairly new, an accident involving solvents burned the shop to the ground. His father was out of the boat business almost before he had started. The family relocated and Tom's father put his composites knowledge to work at Regina Monumental building fiberglass grave covers.

Just as Tom has attracted wonderful friends and supporters over the years, his father was friends with Jim Ashdown of the Manitoba-based Ashdown Hardware company and he and Tom's father got back into the boat business building boats they named Bluewater and Surf Tamer. Then a teenager, Tom was back into boating as well, delivering boats, working in the shop and doing it all (still sweeping the floors and cleaning the toilets!).

"I loved it all!" Tom told me. He and his father also continued to enjoy fishing together but they weren’t building fishing boats. It was the late 60s and early 70s when fiberglass runabouts sported tailfins and lots of chrome.

Tom told me that as a child their best friends had a cottage on Wakaw Lake, northwest of Saskatoon, and it caused quite a stir when his father showed up with a brand-new Fibrolite equipped with an 18 hp Gale engine!

This memory led to a bittersweet anecdote. Later in life, Tom had a cottage on Lake of the Woods and he made a point of always listening to the Kenora radio station that broadcast a Saturday show called "Swap and Shop".

One day one of his father's Bluewater boats came up for sale. The present owner was asking $1500 including a 35 hp Evinrude and a trailer. Tom immediately called the person selling the boat, explained the situation and said he really wanted to buy it and would be over as quickly as he could get there.

When Tom arrived, the boat had been sold. There hasn’t been another one since. He would still love to have one of those boats so if any of our readers have a Bluewater or a Surf Tamer from the late 60s or early 70s, Tom would love to hear from you.

Although it was disappointing not to get the boat advertised on the radio, Tom still has a boat that is very special to him. It's a 12 foot Bluewater car topper and Tom actually built it. It was his high school graduation present and it's all polished up, with a 7 1/2 hp Mercury engine that Tom tells me purrs like a kitten.

True fish stories

It reminds Tom of the wonderful times fishing with his father and he shared a favourite memory. He was very young, out with his father and holding his children’s fishing rod with the black Dacron line when all of a sudden he hooked into a Pickerel [what some now call a Walleye].

It was a great big fish (and least then it was…must have been all of 2lbs tops in reality), and a fabulous memory. As Tom said "That hooked me for life".

Another story he shared was when he was with the credit union; Tom attended a golf tournament and he confesses that he was not much of a golfer (and still isn’t). He was out on the course with a realtor friend and commenting on his own play, Tom said “We should be out fishing!”

The next day they did go out, had a wonderful time and began fishing together more and more. By then, Tom had a 1995 Crestliner with 90 horsepower Mercury with a tiller handle. You have to be a real man to grab 90 horsepower by the handle!

He and his friend wound up getting into tournaments and fishing even more. Since Tom had gotten his real Crestliner fishing boat, another friend had a Lund 1775 Pro V that was also equipped with a 90 tiller and they used to have friendly jousts back and forth about Crestliner versus Lund. Then came the day when they decided to enter a real fishing tournament in Northwestern Ontario. Tom sent in the entry paperwork and the fee and came away with the biggest fish of the tournament and an overall second-place.

He had his friend from Winnipeg to thank for it, Chris Blayden. He has done it ever after, and still flies back to Winnipeg every fall to fish the Pine Falls MB tournament with Chris.

Always asking himself, "What can I do to make it better," is the kind of guy Tom is. For example, as previously noted, he had joined the Fish Futures group and volunteered to be the Chairman for one year or so, but wound up staying for 10 years. Tom was also deeply involved early on with the Angler\Young Angler kids fishing tournament series that started in Manitoba and has grown to run in different places. Tom is still a Director of Angler\Young Angler, run by Teresa Kehler-Falk at Lund, with able individual volunteers and directors across Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and hopefully returning soon to Quebec.  This kind of series really helps bring young people into fishing because it puts an experienced tournament angler with a young angler to fish together and share the skills.

Steve MacInnis of Adventures North Television filmed several shows including the Angler\Young Angler National Championships and did an annual special as well. A highlight for Tom was doing the voiceover narration for three or four years of the television show.

His fondness and obvious skill at fishing is a great fit with Lund and now the entire Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group. Tom started with Lund at age 46 and in his mind, he had planned to stay for 12 years, but time just rolls on and as he points out, if you're doing something you love it's not a job. He's now been with Lund\Brunswick for 16 years.

Importance and value of volunteering

Continuing to volunteer his time, Tom has been Chairman of Discover Boating since 2014 and this past year he became the Chairman of NMMA Canada.

"It's a passion" Tom said. It's hard to know where he finds the time. He shoulders a lot of responsibility at work and spends a tremendous amount of time traveling, but he has always done this. Tom was actually on the CMMA board back when the decision was made to change to NMMA Canada. He was there when Sara Anghel joined.

"These are great people," Tom said "and so many of us are in the business because we love it. We sell fun and we need to be enjoying it ourselves. Recreational boating is the experience of a lifetime and I see it is a privilege to be able to share it with so many people."

Tom was so busy with a full schedule of volunteer activities, travel for business and getting out fishing and boating as often as possible that it was a surprise at this point in the conversation when he casually mentioned that he has a Harley-Davidson he loves to ride.

We innocently asked him if he had been riding for long.

That took Tom back to a childhood experience. He was only 14 years old but he went out and bought a 1950 Plymouth Deluxe sedan and drove it home. When his father came home from work that day he asked Tom, "What's that?"

"It's my car", Tom told him.

"You can't have a car,” his father told him, “you don't even have a license. You should sell that and buy a motorcycle."

Tom told me that his father's mouth was barely closed when he realized what he said, but Tom follows instructions well. He sold the car, bought a motorcycle and he's been riding ever since.

He shared with me that he and his wife had a wonderful trip this past summer doing a Cabot Trail ride. The group of friends they travelled with had two motorhomes, two trailers, three motorcycles, one Mini, three dogs and six adults. It was a great trip that lasted 15 days and although it rained for four days, by coincidence, rain was always on a motorhome day traveling from point-to-point. They went to Nova Scotia to visit Lunenburg, Halifax and Cape Breton by bike.

“The Collector”

As Tom told me, he's always been involved with other people. He really loves other people and he shared with me the story from a trip where he and his best friend had gone to Hawaii. They were walking along when someone behind them yelled “Hey Tom!”

You guessed it – it was a friend who recognized him, even that far from home. Tom admitted to me that his friend calls him "The Collector" because he has collected so many friends throughout his life.

Those friendships, often based on Tom’s volunteer activities, have brought offers of employment, recreational fun and travel.

But, how has this worked for him at the Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group?

Well, for starters, it has helped Tom to build a small and tight team of people who deliver solid performance for both their dealers and Brunswick. Ever humble, Tom commented on how fortunate he was to have been brought into Lund Boats Canada, and subsequently Brunswick Corporation.  He feels it was Dusty McCoy’s foresight and skilled management that kept the Freshwater Group boat brands, and indeed Brunswick itself afloat through 2009 and 2010.

Tom has always been a big supporter of Discover Boating and the NMMA. We spoke to both NMMA Canada VP, Sara Anghel and Discover Boating Canada’s Tracey Hart. They simply could not say enough about the great support they receive from Tom. He is the warm, confident and steady hand behind both organizations at present and will probably continue in some capacity far into the future.

The pleasure of business

The structure of the Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group is clearly something Tom is proud of. As he explained, “Canada is a huge country with a small population and you need to have a basket of goodies to best support your dealers, and you need to be ready in both official languages.”

Tom’s team is organized around four District Business Managers and one administrative professional.   Karina Paquin in Quebec, was from Southland Pontoons and knows Quebec and the aluminum boat business extremely well.  Karina, and her dealers, as well as the Brands she represents are ably assisted by RoxAnne Michaud who is fluently bilingual and translates and coordinates all of the FWG communications back and forth between the boat companies and the dealers in Karina’s territory.

Bud McLeod in Kenora was a camp owner and a retail boat salesperson previously, and has now been a Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group sales rep for 15 years. He does all the camp shows as well and really knows that business.

Western Canada is now covered by Cam Stefanato out of Calgary, who grew up in the family dealership, North Country Cycle in Thunder Bay. Tom recruited Cam when his former west rep retired.  Tom felt Cam was the best guy during the downturn.  Cam recently completed his MBA, and that disciplined approach to problem solving is definitely Cam’s strength.

The move of long time rep Angelo Lombardo to the position of the Executive Director of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters saw Jeff Gienow join Tom’s team.   Jeff is the only previously non-marine guy but a team member with a strong sales and corporate background who brought fresh ideas and new thinking with him.  Plus, Jeff’s an avid fisherman and outdoorsman and shares that passion with his family.

So with that, Tom has now recruited everyone on his team. He is plainly very pleased.

The Freshwater Group’s newest baby, Thunder Jet is a heavy gauge aluminum boat sold in Canada, so it falls under Tom’s umbrella as well.  He explained that they build superior quality with very smooth surfaces and welds. Thunder Jet are top-end boats that are a great fit with the other Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group brands. Thunder Jet is ideally suited to the Pacific North West and initially, Tom went to the Vancouver Boat Show to learn more about them.

They are now excited to be a part of Brunswick where they gain access to all the Brunswick people, resources and the Lean Six Sigma system for process improvement.

So with that addition, Tom has a very complete line of fishing, pontoon and family boats from entry level to high-end and he is excited about the prospects for 2017.

As he told me at the Toronto International Boat Show, things are pointing to another great year. It will certainly be a busy one because Tom tries to see as many dealers in person, at their businesses as he can, each year. And, that personal attention from “The Collector” is certain to lead to new friendships and continued business success.