Bob Martin

Yesterday’s (Jan. 31) news that Keystone RV Co. President Bob Martin, an 18-year industry veteran born and raised in the RV-building center of Elkhart, Ind., is stepping up Feb. 1 as RV group president of Thor Industries Inc. surely wasn’t a surprise to a lot of rank-and-file employees of Thor, the world’s largest RV manufacturer.

Nor was it probably a revelation to Thor’s competitors that Martin was named to the top job at publicly held Thor – a Jackson Center, Ohio, firm that posted $2.75 billion in fiscal 2011 sales. Those revenues are largely derived from six RV-building divisions, which, along with Keystone, include Airstream Inc., CrossRoads RV, Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC and Thor Motor Coach.

As part of the latest transition, Matt Zimmerman, a 13-year Keystone vet now serving as vice president of sales for the Goshen, Ind., unit, succeeds Martin as Keystone’s president. David Chupp, Keystone’s vice president of finance, moves up to COO. Martin will report to Peter Orthwein, Thor’s chairman, president and COO.

Although he hasn’t been all that visible outside Thor’s camp either before or after Ron Fenech vacated the group presidency on Sept. 30, Martin, 42, is a highly regarded individual within the industry who, most will tell you, has made more friends than enemies in his career.

He’s a 1988 Elkhart Central High School grad, a married father of two who played four years of football on scholarship at Purdue University, graduating in 1993. Shortly thereafter, he went to work as a sales trainee at the former Coachmen Industries Inc. in nearby Middlebury, Ind., where his first boss was none other than Fenech.

Martin worked his way up the ranks at Coachmen and went to work in 1998 for Fenech at Keystone, and eventually became national sales manager for Cougar fifth-wheels. “So, that’s how I started,” he added. “I was the original product manager for Keystone. Our model is based on that now. We have product managers for every one of our products who serve as sales managers.”

Then came Keystone jobs as general manager, vice president of sales, COO and president a little over two years ago. “It’s just been an incredible run for me, watching the company grow from about $70 million when I first joined up to where it is today,” said Martin, adding that Keystone’s current financial status — separate from the other divisions — is not public information.

In the big picture, Martin maintains that Keystone and its 900 dealers are in good hands with plenty of youth on the sales management side. And he says he’s going to maintain an office at Thor’s Goshen campus for six months or so to help ease the transition before moving up to Thor’s regional Elkhart office.

“My mission is to continue to grow Thor, not to just maintain the status quo, but to enhance its status as the strongest RV manufacturer in the nation,” Martin told RVBUSINESS.com. “It will be a different role, as I help coordinate things with people. I’ll be a sounding board for the other presidents. I’m not coming in to change peoples’ worlds. I’m coming in to help where I can, realizing the benefit I’ve had in terms of experience at Keystone.”

Bottom line, Martin, like his predecessor, plans to maintain a consistently independent approach with regard to its divisions.

“Yes, that’s what has made Thor what it is,” he explained. “You have these individual companies that, quite frankly, compete. And that’s healthy. That pushes them all to be better and stronger, and I’ll be there just to help with the major items and coordinate things such as the open house. But we have great companies. We have great managers, and I just want to be there to support them and help them grow. And when things in this industry cycle up and down, I want to be there for support.”