The agenda outlining activities during Lippert Components Inc.’s 50th Anniversary Weekend promoted a sailboat cruise and a golf tournament on a course designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
But the main draw at the gathering – held July 29-Aug. 1 at the Grand Traverse Resort in Northwest Michigan – was a celebration of family. Around 75 present and former workers, including the three members of the Lippert clan who have guided the firm over the years, were afforded a unique perspective into the company’s heritage.
“It was a very uplifting event,” said Jason Lippert, president of the Goshen, Ind.-based recreational vehicle and manufactured housing supplier, who took over for his father, Douglas, in 1998. “My grandfather, Larry, who is 81-years-old, started the company in 1956 after returning from World War II and working for a manufactured housing builder. Several of the workers that were around back then were at the anniversary.
“It was interesting to see the interaction among the workers from different generations. There were a lot of great stories, and a lot of camaraderie. The weekend was really about the family of people who have helped build this company.”
Lippert said it was an especially “grounding” experience for the present workforce.
“They got to hear all the things the people did before them that got us to where we are today,” said Lippert, who started with the firm in 1993 after graduating from college. “I think sometimes we take what we have for granted. But there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that made it all possible.”
One of the most notable accomplishments, according to Lippert, was that the company not only kept its doors open for 50 years, it was able to continually expand and increase market share.
“My grandfather took the company to $10 million in sales, my dad took it to $100 million, and last year we had $460 million in sales,” he said. “The fact that the company has continued to grow over the 50 years says a lot about our ability to persevere when things got tough, and adapt when the markets changed.
“My grandfather had us into all kinds of different segments. When he retired in 1979, my father consolidated into our two core product groups, especially manufactured housing. Since I took over, we have really expanded the RV side.”
In recent years, Lippert has become one of the industry’s main suppliers of towable RV frames along with a variety of components, including trailer axles, levelers and motorhome slideout systems.
According to Lippert, parent company Drew Industries Inc. is a key factor behind that incremental growth in the RV sector, generated, in part, through acquisitions of several smaller supply firms that broadened the company’s presence in its core markets.
Lippert noted that White Plains, N.Y.-based Drew, which acquired the business in 1997, adopted a hands-off policy with regard to day-to-day operations while also maintaining the family-oriented culture. Drew, however, did provide financial backing, allowing Lippert to expand operations, including gaining a foothold in the lucrative West Coast market.
“It has been a great relationship,” Lippert said. “We wouldn’t have been able to grow like we have without Drew.”
Leigh Abrams, president and CEO of Drew, attended a special reception on July 31 at the Grand Traverse Resort, hosted by sports commentator Roy Firestone. The evening was highlighted by the presentation of crystal plaques to Douglas and Larry Lippert.
“All of us gave a speech,” Lippert noted. “It was pretty emotional at times, but the thing we emphasized was that the weekend was for everyone involved with the company who had worked so hard over the years. We have never had any turnover problems, and it’s because we really stress a family atmosphere and take care of our people.
“That philosophy also translates to our customers. They know that we will stand by our word and do whatever it takes. That’s one of the main things my father and grandfather taught me, and it’s still the cornerstone for our business.”