Kay Toolson

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an article authored by freelancer Ty Adams profiling former Monaco RV executive Kay Toolson that ran in the March issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine.

If you ask Kay Toolson, he’ll joke that if he were smarter he would have retired in 2005 before the American economy ruptured. “I would have retired with a lot more money,” he said chuckling. “No, I’m obviously fine. I’ve had a great life and a great career, but I’d be lying if I said the last few years were a breeze.”

Toolson retired on June 30, 2011 after 40 years in the RV industry and 25 years as CEO for Monaco Coach Corp. The company was severely affected by the U.S. banking implosion and hit hard times in 2008, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Toolson and his leadership team negotiated the sales of certain Monaco Coach assets to Navistar International Corp. and helped give jobs back to some of the people who lost them in the bankruptcy. After the sale, estimated at $47 million, the company became Monaco RV LLC.

“One of my greatest thrills was being able to retire and save the brands and give jobs back to so many wonderful Monaco employees,” he said.

Toolson, a native of Smithfield, Utah, entered into several business ventures – including minority owner and executive vice president of Los Angeles-based high-line motorhome builder Executive Industries – before receiving a proposal to purchase Monaco, then based in Eugene, Ore.

He and his wife, Judy, had talked about leaving Los Angeles, so they flew to Oregon to investigate. Ironically, their initial reaction was not positive.

“I just had this hollow feeling, and we decided we weren’t going to do it,” Toolson said,

However, a bank in Portland promised to provide financing for the purchase and eventually swayed them. Toolson resigned, but during a retirement party he received a call from his attorney.

“He said that the bank wasn’t going to back the deal. And, honest to God, the phone went dead,” he recalled. “Judy and I got in the car and drove up there, and it was the longest drive of my life.”

Obviously, the deal went through in the end but it was a scramble to find financial backers. Toolson eventually brokered a deal with long-time Indiana investor Bill Warrick and they purchased the company from Eugene Mayor Brian Obie. Toolson became president and Warrick was chairman. It was 1987.

Over the next 18 years, the company’s annual sales grew from $17 million to more than $1.4 billion. In 1993, Toolson, the leadership team and a small number of outside investors bought out Warrick and later that year took the company public, which allowed them to pay off the other investors.

When asked to name the highlights of his time at Monaco, Toolson replied, “Just watching people grow, playing a part in helping them achieve their dreams.

These days, Toolson indulges in his favorite hobbies of fly fishing and golf, and most importantly spending more time with Judy.

“We have a house on the Oregon coast, so we spend a lot of time there walking the beach,” Toolson said. “It’s so neat, because when I’m there, I’m just another ‘old man’ in town. It’s kind of fun to be anonymous.”

Kay and Judy also have time to return to an old love – RVing. They have belonged to FMCA since 1986.

“We’ve already been to 48 of the 50 states, but we’ll do more of that,” he said. “We used to have so much fun RVing, but then I got too busy running the company, so it will be great to get back to it.

When he looks back at his career, what’s the main lesson Toolson has taken from the experience? “Every day, you just keep trying and you keep getting up after you get your teeth knocked out. You only fail if you quit.”