Richard Coon will retire from his position as president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), effective Oct. 1. The announcement was delivered Wednesday (March 11) to around 100 attendees during the RVIA Annual Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Sarasota, Fla.
He began his tenure in 2005 following the retirement of David Humphreys, who had been RVIA president for three decades (1979-2006). Coon, who said he chose Oct. 1 as a retirement date because it’s the end of the fiscal year, wasn’t expecting to stay on past six or seven years when he first accepted the position at age 60.
“Getting to 70 years old is enough for me. I have a fairly large family, a lot of grandkids, a sweet wife and it’s time for the two of us to get back together again and get reacquainted,” he said. “I’d love to work another 10 years. I wish I were younger, especially with all the technology that’s coming at us. It’s really going to be exciting. I’d love to be involved in that effort, but I have to be a realist and say it’s time for somebody younger to take over the helm and drive that charge.”
An accomplished and articulate industry advocate, Coon has been an RVIA member for three decades and was involved in several association leadership positions prior to his tenure as president, having occupied a seat on RVIA’s Executive Committee as part of the board of directors. He also held the offices of treasurer as well as first and second vice chairman and chaired RVIA’s Strategic Planning Committee.
Prior to his RVIA service, Coon was director of RV business for Cummins Power Generation, Onan Products, where he directed every aspect of design, sales, marketing and distribution during his 30-year affiliation with the Fridley, Minn.-based company.
At the time he left Cummins to become RVIA president, Coon had led his division to four record-breaking years in a row and had told his wife, Susan, he “wanted to go out on a high note.” Plus, they were living in Minnesota at the time and the “cold was getting to us.”
“It was absolutely the best decision I ever made to retire from Cummins when I did because this job is such a great job. It’s been a fun job, a really fun job,” he said, adding the relationships he’s made with others in the industry will be one of the things he will miss the most. “Anybody who works in this industry knows this, but most people are just great. Is everybody perfect? No. But the chairmen I have worked with are great guys and really good mentors for me. They’re good business people and just fun to be around and be with. This whole industry, it’s not boring. The products are a lot of fun and I love to camp myself, so it’s perfect for me.”
Coon chartered the association through “some interesting challenges” in his tenure, he said. He preferred to wait until Committee Week before going into greater detail, although he did say the Great Recession was not as difficult a hurdle as the formaldehyde issue. “That was tough, you know, with the threat of the products being lethal to live in. That was a big battle that was difficult to get through.”
Coon said he feels as if he’s leaving RVIA in good shape for his successor.
“Surely, financially we’re better off than when I started despite the Great Recession,” he said, noting that the $6 million in RVIA equity has grown to $21 million. “I feel like financially we’re sound and the relationships between our association and other associations have gotten a lot better – not all because of me by any means, but surely it is better. And the unity within the industry as a whole is a lot better. We’re all working more closely together and we respect one another’s positions. We’re not so nit-picky as we used to be.”
The healthy financial statement is key, Coon added, because you never know when “you have to throw money at a problem” to keep the industry vibrant, stable and safe.
While finances and industry unity have improved on his watch, membership levels have decreased. Coon pointed out that the industry has shrunk, primarily due to the recession and, more recently, consolidation.
“But we have, as a percentage, the highest number of people participating in the association as we ever had, and it might be even higher,” Coon said. “I feel very good. The industry hasn’t missed a beat and the association is still as good as it’s ever been.”
RV industry executives all mentioned Coon’s ability to unite the industry as being one of his strengths.
RVIA Chairman Derald Bontrager, president and CEO of Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc., said Coon was instrumental in keeping the association healthy both financially and in terms of unity during the Great Recession.
“During his tenure we’ve made great strides with industry unity, bringing dealers and manufacturers and all segments closer together. He was instrumental in starting the campground committee and recognizing the need for a broader industry, and strengthening that segment and improving relations with that association and that group,” Bontrager said.
“Richard has commented that he’s had more fun in the last 10 years than he’s ever had,” he continued. “He hates to leave but it feels like it’s just time to move on – not for himself personally but to turn the reigns over to someone, in his words, who’s younger and has more energy.”
Gregg Fore, president of Dicor Corp., said Coon has been “a great leader for our association for the last 10 years.”
“His experience prior to this job as an executive for an important supplier put him in a very good position to understand the association and how it reacts and mixes with its members,” Fore said. “He’s done that very well and he’s accomplished some pretty exciting things if you took the time to look back on all that he’s done since he’s been here.”
Doug Gaeddert, a general manager with Forest River Inc. who was RVIA chairman for two years prior to Bontrager, said Coon had a “refreshing impact” on the RV industry, referring to Coon’s “continued push toward more unity between the RVIA and RVDA.”
“Richard, as we’ve all seen, is a blast to work with. What you see is what you get. There are no pretenses with Richard. In this era of politics and trying to cut through all the crap, Richard frankly cuts through all that immediately. He’d be Chris Berman’s portion of SportsCenter where it’s ‘rumbling, bumbling and stumbling.’ Richard’s just easy to love,” Gaeddert said, adding that he’s as happy for Susan as much as he is happy for Coon.
Gaeddert said Coon’s legacy is that he “knocked down more walls, more fences, between different sectors of the industry. Part of it is consolidation, but part of it is Richard being Richard. He makes people comfortable,” Gaeddert said. “The walls between the associations have really come down. If you have to pin one thing for Richard’s legacy, I think it’s he knocked down a lot more walls.”
RVDA Chairman John McCluskey, president of Florida Outdoor RV Center, said Coon has “certainly earned the right to enjoy a happy retirement” and also praised him for bringing the two industry associations closer together.
“He leaves the RVIA stronger than when he received it, and he leaves our relationship between the RVIA and the RVDA stronger, too,” McCluskey said. “He’s been an extremely strong leader in bringing the two groups closer together, advancing the industry and making it a better environment for both manufacturers and dealers.”