Viking Life, by Kevin Koenig (continued)
Viking was founded on the banks of the Bass River in southeastern New Jersey in 1964 by Bob Healey, a lawyer by schooling, and his brother Bill, a Marine who served in the Pacific during World War II. (Call him an ex-Marine at your own peril). The pair bought a marina that housed a builder of wooden boats called Peterson-Viking, and sort of just fell into the boatbuilding business. In retrospect, it was the happiest of accidents.
The company thrived throughout the ’70s and ’80s, but soon a double whammy of serious financial obstacles would truly put Viking, and the Healeys, to the test. First the recession hit in 1990, and shortly thereafter in 1991, the notorious Luxury Tax was imposed, adding a ten-percent surcharge to every boat sold over $100,000. The recession and the tax quickly set to choking the life out of the marine industry. Many companies folded. For its part, Viking shrank from about 1,500 employees down to just 65. It was a tough thing to do for both brothers to be sure, but Bob took it particularly hard. His famous saying around the company is “Take my money, just don’t take my people.” And now he was losing his people.