Interview with Bill Yeargin, CEO of Correct Craft
Bill Yeargin is the refreshingly down-to-earth President and CEO of Correct Craft, an 84 year old company that manufactures and sells the Nautique line of inboard wakeboard and water ski boats. He has been at the helm for just under three years, but is a well-known figure in the marine industry, having served on the executive team at Rybovich Yachts and on both national and international industry boards. Yeargin is the author of two books, Yeargin on Management and What Would Dad Say? and has published more than 200 management and leadership columns. He shares his practical advice in person at management conferences throughout the world. At home in Orlando, Florida, he boldly combines faith, service and work. Yeargin talked to TheHighCalling,org about how he does this and about leading his company with integrity in these challenging times.
My first question may be a silly one to ask a native Floridian, but here it goes: Do you and your family enjoy boating?
Totally! I wake skate and wake surf . . . and my family and friends all enjoy boating. My daughters are seventeen and eighteen. I truly believe one of the reasons we have a close family is because of boating. It is a great way to spend time with each other and one that everyone loves!
The Correct Craft mission statement is "Building boats to the glory of God." How do you glorify God in this type of business?
By loving God and others. Also, I believe we better demonstrate our faith when we show it through our actions, rather than our words. We are not afraid to be bold about our faith, but we are much more interested in living out our faith than sharing it through bravado.
What unique faith challenges do you face as a manufacturer of luxury goods?
We struggle with the same things as everyone else. I am not sure we have any unique challenges, even though they may feel unique when we are experiencing them.
We take our responsibility to develop and build good products very seriously. Our faith is one of the reasons that we do not cut corners. That shows up in the awards we have won; yet we don't do the right thing for the awards. We do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Tangible examples would be the modesty of our models and the lack of alcohol at our marketing events. I think it is fair to say that our models are the most modest dressers in the boating industry, for which we have been criticized some in the past. Our faith definitely impacts us in this area. We are not caught up in the "sex sells" mentality.
We also put a Bible verse in our brochure, but I would one hundred times prefer people know our faith is important through our actions and how we treat people rather than know it because we wear it on our sleeve.
You also told New Man eMagazine that it's more difficult to separate business and Christian principles than to integrate them, but that you, like all of us, fall short of your own ideals. How do you walk out failure, particularly in relationship with customers, peers, and coworkers who don't share your faith?
I stumble in my faith walk so often that I have a lot of experience walking out failure! First, I know that I will inevitably fall, so I don't try to hold myself up as an example. I try to communicate in our events that I am not any different than anyone else, and if you watch me long enough, I will let you down. (I don't mean to; it just happens because I am human.) Second, I try to be quick to confess when I mess up and never try to cover up anything. I think it is important that leaders don't set themselves up as super-human, because they will eventually just hurt someone by letting them down.
On a related note, you instituted voluntary Bible studies, community-service projects, and mission trips when you came to Correct Craft. Was there resistance to these changes?
None. We have done all of our faith-related activities on a voluntary basis, and we respect an employee's right not to participate. Shortly after arriving at Correct Craft, I implemented a weekly Bible study and soon thereafter the mission trips. We have taken employees on two trips to Mexico to build houses for the needy and one trip to Nicaragua to work at a shelter for homeless teenage mothers. The employees who went on these trips loved the opportunity to serve and were incredibly blessed.
Does Correct Craft pay for employees to do community service or mission trips?
Most times not. However, we have on a couple of occasions taken training days and used them for community service. In those cases, the employees were paid. Employees are not paid to go on mission trips, but we do subsidize the cost of the trip to make it easier for more employees to participate. I write a CEO blog, Nautique Insider, and have written a few times there about the trips and community service in which our company has been involved.
Do you have any suggestions for others who might want to offer voluntary faith-based activities in the workplace?
Don't hesitate; just do it. The key is to offer the opportunity, but also to make sure that there is no recrimination against those who choose not to participate. We go out of our way to make sure there are no negative consequences to not participating in our faith related activities. We love people to join us, but if they choose not to do it, that is their right.
It's been a challenging season for business. Instead of laying off employees, you initiated a program that combined scaled down boat building with training and community service. Can you tell me more about that?
At the start of 2009, we were beginning to experience a significant slowdown in the boating industry caused by the global macro-economic downturn and exacerbated by the severe credit crunch, both in our retail and wholesale operations. We knew we may have to make employment cuts, but we also wanted to obtain a clearer picture as to how long these environmental issues would impact us before making those decisions. For the first three months of this year, instead of sending our employees home when we did not have production work for them, we implemented a significant employee development program. This program provided training to our employees in many different areas such as teamwork, communication, production, Lean Six Sigma, and others. Our goal was to provide them with skills that would help them not only at our company but for a lifetime.
In addition to the training, we also dedicated some of these nonproduction days to the community service I mentioned earlier. We took over 100 employees to serve in various areas, which is consistent with our company philosophy of trying to be servants in our community. Over the past year, we have served in a local homeless shelter, at an organization that serves children with life-threatening diseases, and with Habitat for Humanity.
Since then, have you had to lay off any employees?
The boating market has continued to deteriorate, and I was very disappointed to have to let some employees go who we invested in heavily as part of the program mentioned above. However, we feel good about the fact that these employees were given training that will help them for a lifetime wherever they work.
The hardest part occurs when an occasional employee questions our Christian values because we are terminating them. As a business, our Christian values do not exempt us from global economic forces, and sometimes we have to make tough decisions. However, when we have to make the tough decisions, we try to do it in a way that is respectful to the employee and consistent with our "high care" values.
How do you keep the weight of responsibility for your employees' lives from weighing you down, especially in a difficult business climate?
Believe me, it is tough because I want to make things right for everyone, and I have a strong desire to help everyone I can. But I have to focus on what I can control. I also know that God loves the people even more than I do; I have to depend on him to take care of them.
You yourself have only been at Correct Craft for two-and-a-half years. With so many people in transition, what advice can you give them about making a career move in uncertain times?
My advice would be three-fold.
First, focus on the things you can control. So many people get caught up in things they cannot control (like the general economy and what Washington is doing), and it is a huge waste of their time and energy. If I put my faith where it should be (which I often have trouble doing), I can more easily focus on what I can do and not worry about what I cannot control.
Second, see change as an opportunity.
Third, remember that God has an eternal perspective, and we don't. The Bible says in Isaiah 55 that his ways are not our ways. When we try to see things from an eternal perspective, many times it will change the way we feel about our current circumstances.
Correct Craft has weathered tough times before. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1959 after a government contract for 300 boats was pulled, forcing the layoff of most of its 500 workers. The company refused to play ball with a corrupt official and spent 25 years paying back 100 percent of its debt. How does this story demonstrate the company's values?
The company felt that God had directed them to pay back the money that was discharged in bankruptcy. They believed they could glorify God by doing that, and I have spoken to many people over the past couple years who have been touched by that story.
I can see why! Well, that's it. Thanks for your willingness to speak to us. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of TheHighCalling.org?
Thank you for being interested in us! While I don't want to seem like I am in sales mode, we would love for your readers to check us out at Nautiques.com . We have some great product and we try to build it in accordance with our company mission statement of "Building Boats to the Glory of God!"