Chris-Craft, for decades America’s premier boatbuilder, has a new lease on life, thanks to a pair of risk-taking entrepreneurs.
Rising from the ashes of Outboard Marine Corporation's (OMC) bankruptcy, Chris-Craft is once again sailing what many yachting historians consider its proper course: Two entrepreneurs are risking their money and reputations to restore it to its former position as America's premier boatbuilder. Can they do it? Or, after more than 125 years of life, will Chris-Craft's legacy belong to the 20th century?
"You can buy businesses, but you can't buy history," says Stephen Julius, chairman and co-owner of the new Chris-Craft. "It is a privilege to relaunch a company [like Chris-Craft]." Julius feels that, in addition to history, quality will sell the new Chris-Crafts.
Those of us with a few years' experience in the boating industry have seen this before: Enthusiastic businessman buys dead boat company, stirs in lots of cash, talks up quality, sells a few boats, and goes bust. But Julius isn't your typical starry-eyed romantic. Along with Stephen Heese, now Chris-Craft's president, he spent two years in Italy resurrecting Riva, and today that company, under new ownership, is once again launching some of the world's finest boats. Julius plans to make Chris-Craft profitable within two years as well, but to enjoy his success for much longer than that. "I'm sorry I sold Riva," he says. "I plan to hold Chris-Craft for the long haul."
What's more, Julius and Heese are sufficiently financed to spend what it takes to achieve their goals for Chris-Craft. "Boatbuilding is all about detail and a willingness to spend money [to get those details right]," says Julius. "We believe that beautiful objects will pay for themselves." Yes, Chris-Craft boats sell at a premium compared to many other boats, but not at the heady level of semicustom yachts. "We would like to be the Mercedes-Benz of the boating industry, not the Aston Martin," he says. "We are selling to people interested in something different."
They aren't doing it alone. They've assembled a top team from both inside and outside the boating industry. Vice-president of manufacturing is Val Jenkins, who spent years at Cigarette in a similar capacity. What Jenkins doesn't know about building a top-quality boat isn't worth knowing. Giuseppe DiLorenzo, the VP of engineering, comes from executive engineering positions at Riva and Azimut. Responsibility for selling the public on the new Chris-Crafts belongs to Joseph P. Capocardo, VP of marketing; Capocardo spent eight years turning Harley Davidson from near-death into one of America's greatest business successes. Yacht-design guru Michael Peters is under contract to develop the new boats.
This article originally appeared in the November 2002 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.