Heather Steinberger: Marine Editor Published March 2018
Most of us have a particular image in mind when we think about who, and what, a CEO is. That image generally involves a suit and tie, a silver-spoon background and more interest in boardrooms and numbers than in whatever the company makes.
That image will be blown apart when you get to know Rob Parmentier. The president and CEO of the Marquis-Larson Boat Group is the real deal, and his vision and leadership are blazing a new course for Carver Yachts.
Rob was a Great Lakes kid, born and raised in Michigan. He grew up on boats, fishing with his father, grandfather and brother aboard a 14-foot aluminum Crestliner, and later a Thompson, a Lund and then a Sea Ray. As he points out, Michigan was just the right place for spending time on the water, with access to two Great Lakes, countless inland lakes and 3,000-plus miles of shoreline (more than any other state except Alaska).
After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, however, Rob decided to leave the greater Detroit area behind.
“There was a bumper sticker at the time that said, ‘Last person to leave Detroit, turn the lights off,’” he remembers. “It was a horrible time to graduate. Recession, no jobs, 18-percent interest rates. It was a mess. There was a mass exodus, with most people headed for Texas and Florida.”
Rob chose Florida, where he could stay with relatives and had several job offers on the table before he knew it. He took a management position at a Holiday Inn and figured his career was on its way… until he drove past the Sea Ray plant at Merritt Island.
“I knew boats, and I could work with my hands,” he says. “I was hired on the spot. My old boss at the hotel was really cool about it. He said, ‘If this is your passion, give it a whirl.’”
Rob had indeed found his passion, and he never looked back. He started on the assembly line, involved in every aspect of boatbuilding—from lamination, to building cabinets, to testing. He says he loved building the boats; determined to work his way up, however, he soon became a supervisor and eventually moved into management.
“I think I kept moving up because I never said no,” he reflects. “I was willing to try, to learn everything inside the company. If you’re not afraid of change, you’ll be valuable. Not a lot of people are willing to do what’s hard or uncomfortable. If you are, you’ll find you’re never bored, you’ll expand your knowledge, and you’ll understand others much better.”
Rob was with Sea Ray for more than 30 years. Then opportunity came knocking, bringing with it a return to his native Midwest. He became president of the Little Falls, Minnesota-based Larson Boat Group, and just a few years later, he took the reins of the entire Marquis-Larson Boat Group as president and CEO, overseeing the consolidation of all six brands under one manufacturing roof in Pulaski, Wisconsin.
He says he saw tremendous opportunity with Marquis-Larson, and particularly with Carver Yachts.
“Our engineering department is unbelievable, and the hulls were good,” he explains. “There were huge bright spots. We just needed to get the gingerbread straight, and transparency was key. I’m an extremely transparent person, and I tell people here every day that no one is going to be defensive. We’re here to listen, and to make corrections where needed in a timely fashion.”
With a laugh, he added, “That’s why we have two ears and one mouth.”
With honest feedback from dealers and customers, as well as from employees, Carver was able to make important improvements to the model lineup. Customers responded, and sales went through the roof.
“We needed a vision and strategy,” Rob says. “We needed a breadth of product that would have a similar look and similar features, everything from higher-end appointment such as flooring, fabrics and appliances, to design features like larger steps and our signature windows, to safety features like our railings. When you look at our 2019 model lineup, you’re seeing changes that came directly from owners.
“The truth is, when you take care of 1,000 little things, the rest takes care of itself,” he continues. “And then you’ll become great.”
With the big move to Pulaski and all the new models in production, Rob admits he doesn’t have as much time for recreational boating as he would like.
“Fortunately, I run our new products every chance I get, and I have a new home on the Fox River (in Green Bay, Wisconsin),” he says. “I’ve always lived on water.”
He also enjoys sharing is lifelong love of boats with the next generation, spending time on the water with his son, 22.
“He loves it as much as I do,” Rob says with a smile.
In the end, that’s what matters—an abiding passion for boats and for making memories on the water. And when that passion and hands-on experience land at the helm of a boat company, the future is very bright indeed.