Tributes to the late Wade F. B. Thompson, founder of Thor Industries Inc., started arriving right after the announcement today (Nov. 13) of his passing. Here are some of the comments received by RVBUSINESS.COM. We welcome additional input from industry people and will at times during the next few days update this posting. Direct e-mails to RVBUSINESS.COM Publisher Sherman Goldenberg at [email protected] and RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson at [email protected] Thank you. The RVBusiness staff.
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association:
RVIA joins those throughout the recreation vehicle industry in mourning the passing of Wade Thompson, co-founder, chairman, president and CEO of Thor Industries Inc.
“I am deeply saddened by today’s news,” said RVIA President Richard Coon. “Wade was a titan whose vision and leadership elevated the entire RV industry. But, more than that, he was a great man and good friend who I admired for his strong character, his passion and his resiliency. On behalf of all RVIA members, we extend heartfelt condolences to Wade’s family and friends as well as to everyone in the Thor organization.”
Thompson was a strong supporter of RVIA who generously encouraged many talented people throughout Thor Industries to be active on the association’s board of directors and standing committees. He was also a founder of Go RVing. His unflinching belief in a unified market expansion effort in the 1990s and his urgent call for manufacturers to unite in funding such an effort was key factor in the adoption and development of what would become the Go RVing national advertising campaign. In addition, he was a renowned benefactor and patron on many deserving causes, especially the fight against prostate cancer.
Mike Molino, president, Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association:
“This is a very sad day for everyone connected with the RV industry,” said RVDA President Mike Molino.
“Wade Thompson was a brilliant businessman who had tremendous vision and courage in both his personal and professional life. We send our condolences to Wade’s family, friends, and business associates while we recognize his outstanding contributions to our industry.
“Wade Thompson was an icon, not only in the RV industry, but throughout the business world. His approach to building a company was outside the model of other RV industry pioneers. He collected companies. This collection of companies was more efficient and certainly more profitable than they were on their own.
“Wade understood the military principle of ‘unity of command,’ which is characterized by centralized planning and decentralized execution. He allowed his company presidents to run their companies as they saw fit, as long as they achieved Thor’s goals.
“In dealing with industry issues, Wade was always frank about his position. He had the courage of his convictions, but the flexibility to change.”
Wilbur Bontrager, chairman, and Derald Bontrager, president, Jayco Inc.:
“The RV Industry has lost a true leader. Wade Thompson’s name has been synonymous with the growth of the RV industry for more than 20 years. As a competitor he was skillful and aggressive. As an industry spokesman he was enthusiastic and energetic. As a friend he was warm and engaging. His foresight and dedication are reflected in the ongoing success of his company and he leaves a permanent legacy of accomplishment for our industry.”
“On behalf of all the members of the Jayco family, we want to extend our thoughts and prayers to Wade’s wife, Angela, his children and his grandchildren.”
Richard Riegel, COO, Thor Industries; co-chairman, Go RVing Coalition:
Richard Riegel, Thor’s chief operating officer and Thompson’s son-in-law, worked beside Thompson for a dozen years. He said Thompson’s legacy is difficult to describe because of all it entails. He said Thompson’s talent and principles guided the company since its inception.
Riegel said Thompson ran the company “with an unbelievable balance of knowing every detail of the business, yet allowing the management team to own it.”
He said despite the sadness, another feeling was encompassing Thor Industries on Friday.
Riegel said, “I can sum it up in one word, pride.”
Tom Walworth, president, Statistical Surveys Inc.:
“This was quite a surprise to me . I have known Wade a long time; he was always a gentlemen and he called it like saw it. If you were wrong, he would let you know and take to task. If you did something well, he would offer you a complement. I always enjoyed working with Wade, myself and the RV industry will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
BJ Thompson, president, BJ Thompson Associates, chairman; RVIA Public Relations Committee:
“Like many others, I was very much impressed with Wade, certainly for his obvious business acumen. But what really impressed me was his outreach program to fight against prostate cancer. Here was a guy who had the means, as some other people do, but he coupled it with an unusual comitment and an outstanding character and in the process, he saved a lot of lives through early detection. Not only did they touch a lot of people and get a lot of guys tested, but there were many others who became more acutely aware of the possibilities of prostate cancer and had themselves tested, including myself That always stuck with me. A lot of people talk about giving back but this guy really did. We would all do well to be as caring as Wade was for one another.”
Gregg Fore, chairman, Dicor Corp.; first vice chairman, RVIA:
“We are saddened by the loss of a leader of the industry and a leader of the free enterprise system in our country as well as the loss to his family who are in our thoughts during this difficult time.
“Mr. Thompson embodied the strong spirit of the RV Industry through his entrepreneurial efforts to build and maintain an industry stalwart. He and his spirit will be missed, but he will always be part of the landscape of our Industry.”
Florida RV Trade Association:
“The board of directors, members and staff of the Florida RV Trade Association would like to pass along our condolences to the Thompson family on their loss. Wade Thompson was not only giant in the RV industry but he was a genuinely good human being. He will be missed by all of us that knew him but we will all be better off for having had the pleasure of working with him. He was a true gentlemam. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
John Draheim, president/COO, Fleetwood RV Inc.:
“I have had the pleasure of knowing Wade for many years and my heart is heavy with the weight of today’s news. The RV community, and the world as a whole, lost an icon today. His insights and understanding of the RV consumer helped turn Airstream and Thor into household names, but it was his kindness and generosity that impacted so many of us personally. all of us at Fleetwood RV send Wade’s family and friends our deepest condolences.”
Mike Schneider, president and CEO, Affinity Group Inc.:
“This is indeed a very sad day for the RV industry. All of us who knew Wade will remember him as the blending of the consummate businessman, gentleman and friend. He helped take the industry to the proverbial ‘next level,’ and he will be missed by all of us in the RV industry and at Affinity Group.”
Alan Wang, Chairman, CenTech Specialty Vehicles Co. Ltd., China
“We are saddened by the loss of Mr. Thompson, a great leader of the RV industry. In one of the RVIA annual shows, I met with Mr. Thompson and had a discussion about the future products for the industry. As a member of the industry, we extend condolences to Mr. Thompson’s family as well as to everyone in the Thor Industries.”
Craig Kennison, senior analyst, Robert W. Baird & Co.:
“I am saddened by the news. Wade was a giant in the RV industry and a good man. I knew him best in his role as CEO of Thor. I doubt whether he knew how well regarded he was in the investment community — not just because he was successful, but because of the way he went about his business. I am proud to have known him and will miss talking with him.
“My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues — especially his longtime friend and business partner, Peter Orthwein. Wade will be missed.”
Mark Beecher, senior vice president, Bank of the West:
“From all of the folks at Bank of the West, we want to send our thoughts and prayers to the family of Wade Thompson and all of the corporate family of Thor who have lost a dear family member as well as a mentor, a great leader and a man who helped frame our wonderful industry.”
Debbie Brunoforte, Little Dealer Little Prices; chairman, RVDA:
“Wade Thompson is respected and admired throughout the RV industry. This man that acquired a small-volume trailer company and became the world’s leading RV manufacturer is an inspiration to us all. Under Mr. Thompson’s leadership, his team proved resilient and innovative in their ability to operate profitably during perhaps the deepest recession our country has experienced. I hope that his family is comforted with the knowledge that Wade’s work in the RV industry has, and will continue to, benefit thousands of people throughout North America.”
“I’m especially touched with his great effort to help others. Surely there are men alive today due to Mr. Thompson’s free cancer screenings and heightened cancer awareness program. His legacy is deep, rich and that of leaving the world a better place. I wish his family peace and strength in this time of sadness.”
Tom Faludy, executive vice president, The Scott Fetzer Company; former chairman, Go RVing Coalition:
“Wade leaves an amazing legacy for the RV industry. He found, grew and empowered an exceptionally talented team. He built a famed, prosperous business. His considered and open endorsement of the Go RVing initiative turned the tide and made the difference that made it happen. Beyond it all, he was a gracious gentleman who genuinely cared about people and inspired all who knew him. I am sorry we have lost such a good man.”
Bob Olson, president and CEO, Winnebago Industries Inc.:
“Wade was definitely a formidable competitor, but was always a gentleman and very professional in running his business. He, along with his team, created a company that is well respected and his vision and leadership will surely be missed — not only by the Thor family, but by the rest of the industry. On behalf of Winnebago Industries, we extend our sympathies to the Thompson family and the employees of Thor Industries.”
Sherman Goldenberg, publisher, RVBusiness; vice president, Affinity Group Inc.:
“Although I’m a journalist by trade, there’s nothing I can say that would in any way ease the pain for the family of Wade Thompson. So, I’ll just add that I appreciated the chance to have known Wade — a truly likeable individual with an aristocratic air but a genuine down-to-earth appreciation for his fellow man … and that I, too, would like to extend my sincerest regrets upon his passing.”
Marcus Lemonis, president and chairman, Camping World Inc.:
“As you would imagine, putting this into words is too difficult. Wade was admired from a distance as a brilliant and prolific leader. I was blessed over the last eight years to have a chance to be both counseled and mentored by him. His personal relationships were both genuine and caring. I remember most of all his impromptu calls regarding ideas and research about the marketplace. A month ago I had dinner with Wade, and he always cared more about me as a person than business. Our industry will miss him, his family will miss him and his business team will miss him — but most of all, society will miss him. Say what you want about the competition and politics in this industry, he always advocated rising above it and staying focused on the task. That is my lesson learned.”
“May the Lord bless him and his family.”
Al Hesselbart, historian, RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc. (RV/MH Hall of Fame):
“Wade Thompson leaves a corporate legacy that has changed the face of the RV industry. Through his philanthropies he has positively affected all peoples — RVers and all other citizens alike. His management team, through efforts in industry associations national, state and local, assures that Thor Industries will advance the cause of the RV industry for all future generations.”
Tom Stinnett, principal, Tom Stinnett RV Freedom Center; co-chairman, Go RVing Coalition:
“Mr. Thompson was clearly a unique and extraordinary talent in our RV community. I have often benefited from his keen overview of our industry during numerous discussions of the Go RVing Coalition’s marketing efforts. He always expressed appreciation for all coalition members and was very interested in feedback at the dealer level. I am grateful personally and professionally to have made his acquaintance.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Thompson’s family and friends.”
Jim Sheldon, assistant to the president, Monaco RV LLC; chairman, RVIA:
“As much as he was an entrepreneur of enormous proportions, and as much as he was the fiercest of competitors, and as much as he possessed the necessary focus to grow his company to the heights it has achieved, the single most enduring quality that I admired in Wade was his compassion. I say this not only as one observing him from a distance. I witnessed his efforts first-hand to not only battle cancer but also to reach out to colleagues and strangers alike to communicate the importance of early cancer detection. One example that comes to mind is the following: Wade came up with the idea, funded the development, and built mobile units which provided critical examinations for prostate-cancer detection at no cost to recipients. This will forever be a legacy of the man who, indeed, stood very tall among his peers. This and a myriad of other examples of his compassion speak volumes of one who was, first and foremost, a giver. My heart goes out to you, his family, over your loss. No words can fill that vacuum, but please know that those of us who were touched in so many ways by Wade will cherish his memory and in our own small way will strive to give back to society, as well.”
Doug Gaeddert, general manager, Forest River Inc.; second vice chairman, RVIA:
“Wade was a unique and great person who will be sorely missed by many. His business accomplishments are well documented and significantly altered the terrain of our industry many times. His commitment to the battle against cancer — both for himself and selflessly for others — was applied with the same fierce intensity with which he competed every day. While walking through Central Park for the first time last month, my wife and I came across a plaque thanking Wade and his family for restoring and landscaping a large and beautiful section there. A message he left me last Monday hit me again with the passion and zeal with which he lived. A wonderful person has passed, but he touched many while he was here.”
Elden L. Smith, president and CEO, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.:
“Wade Thompson was an accomplished, disciplined business man and fierce competitor. He built a tremendously successful, industry-leading company through shrewd acquisitions and sound conservative financial principles. Within his company he encouraged internal competition, innovation, profit-focused management and a leveraged compensation system that rewarded managerial success. His legacy in our industry is his business model. In this very competitive, entrepreneurial industry where will will forever face the risks of periodic economic recessions and significant swings in fuel costs and availability, his business model is a template for success. Wade Thompson was an outstanding business leader, justifiably proud of his accomplishments.”
Derrick A. Crandall, president, American Recreation Coalition:
“I join so many in the RV and recreation community who mourn the loss of Wade Thompson. I came to know Wade shortly after the founding of the American Recreation Coalition. He supported our efforts, and an ongoing relationship with Airstream involvement in ARC activities began. Wade made it clear that he was a man with values from the start — telling me in no uncertain terms that our efforts to promote recreation broadly needed to stop short of any involvement in Second Amendment activities if his support was desired. We cheered his valiant battles against past illnesses and enjoyed hearing about his periodic sojourns in top Washington circles in support of top charities. And I so enjoyed being able to follow him at the June 2008 RVIA all-committee luncheon, where he offered support to a concerned gathering, urged industry unity and pledged commitment to industry promotion efforts.
“Wade brought vision, class and a keel to the RV industry. His leadership will continue through the efforts of those he inspired and guided.”
Kristine Zhang, president, United Recreational Vehicles LLC:
“We met Mr. Thompson several years ago at the Louisville show when our iCamp first debuted on the market. He checked our products and gave ‘thumbs up.’ “Well done,” he said. We had great conversations during the show and also at the airport afterward. He was the titan of the RV industry. It is a great loss, not only to the RV industry in the U.S., but also to the whole RV world.”
A celebration of the life of Wade F.B. Thompson will be held at the Park Avenue Armory at 66th Street on Friday, Dec. 18, at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Mr. Thompson’s memory to the Park Avenue Amory, 643 Park Ave. New York, NY 10065 or the Central Park Conservancy, 14 E. 60th St. New York, NY 10022.