Entrepreneur Of The Year® US National Overall Award winner
Michael Happe | Winnebago Industries
The business world is rife with examples of iconic brands that failed to reinvent themselves, only to limp along toward an uncertain future or to file for bankruptcy.
When Michael Happe took the helm of Winnebago Industries in 2015, the company, with a name synonymous with recreational vehicles, was stuck in neutral following a near-collapse after the 2008 financial crisis. Revenue growth had stalled, and while employees were proud of the brand, they didn’t have a stake in the company’s future. Wanting to capitalize on the Winnebago brand’s inherent value, Happe quickly set to work re-energizing employees and revitalizing the company from a product-oriented manufacturer to a facilitator of outdoor experiences.
Recognizing that Winnebago had to put its more than 7,000 employees first before they could deliver top value to customers, Happe implemented safety protocols that helped to decrease safety incidents by 70%. He also established an employee stock ownership plan to cultivate an ownership mentality among employees. Since he took over as CEO, employee surveys have put the company in the top quartile of employee engagement within the manufacturing industry.
In addition to pursuing organic growth, Happe focused on acquiring businesses that shared a common entrepreneurial spirit and footprint in the outdoor lifestyle market. For example, in 2018, Winnebago expanded into the marine market with the acquisition of boat manufacturer Chris-Craft. Once a company joins the Winnebago family, Happe encourages its people to continue doing what made them successful, while also building competencies that accelerate growth for the entire organization. In that vein, Winnebago Industries has consolidated knowledge about order management and dealer networks, enabling businesses to optimize inventory and pricing.
Happe has also encouraged long-term innovation, establishing the Advanced Technology Group to focus on improving the company’s ability to identify, evaluate and deploy industry-changing products and services within each of its brands. In 2022, Winnebago announced the first all-electric, zero-emission motorhome by a US manufacturer, following it up in 2023 with the all-electric, zero-emission Chris-Craft boat.
Since Michael became CEO, Winnebago has acquired five new businesses, including a lithium battery producer, developed award-winning products and attracted talented leaders. His leadership has significantly long-term value and re-established Winnebago as a leader in outdoor lifestyle products in North America.
In the words of our judges
“Michael invested in Winnebago’s rich history by making strategic acquisitions and building an innovative culture. He transformed an iconic brand that has excited consumers and achieved significant long-term value.”