Press release
12 Nov 2023 

Michael Happe of Winnebago Industries named Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 National Overall Award Winner


Palm Springs, CA, November 12, 2023 — Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) today announced that Michael Happe, President and CEO of Winnebago Industries, a manufacturer of outdoor lifestyle products, has been named the Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 National Overall Award winner. For nearly four decades, the program has honored and elevated the ambitious entrepreneurs who think big and act boldly to transform our world.

Happe was selected by an independent panel of judges from 224 Entrepreneur Of The Year regional winners from 197 companies across the US. He has transformed Winnebago from a single brand motorhome company to a leading North American manufacturer of outdoor lifestyle products. He has solidified Winnebago’s future by building trust with employees, creating a culture of ownership and making investments to support the company’s longevity. Happe is fortifying the company’s future as a competitor in the outdoor lifestyle products space through his strategic leadership choices, such as recently acquiring a lithium-ion battery solutions producer and 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.

“Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates ambitious leaders who disrupt markets, revolutionize industries and transform lives,” said Andrew (AJ) Jordan, EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year Director. “Michael redefined the iconic RV brand from a product-oriented manufacturer into a broader outdoor recreational lifestyle company while creating a sustainable business and thriving culture. Michael leads with focused ESG priorities, keeping employees and the community at the forefront. We are so excited to celebrate him as the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 National Overall Award winner.”

Founded in 1958, the company flourished until the 2008 financial crisis, when revenue plummeted. Winnebago, a name synonymous with recreational vehicles, was stuck in neutral. Revenue growth had stalled, and while employees were proud of the brand, they didn’t have a stake in the company’s future. Recognizing the Winnebago brand’s inherent value, Happe quickly set to work reenergizing employees and revitalizing the company from a product-oriented manufacturer to an enabler of outdoor experiences. Today, the company has nearly 7,000 employees and has had a 500% revenue growth since 2016.

In a competitive talent environment, Happe has put a focus on employee engagement. He has also implemented safety protocols that helped to decrease safety incidents by 70%. He established an employee stock ownership plan for employees to share in the company’s success. Since he took over as CEO, the results of employee surveys have elevated the company to the top quartile of employee engagement within the manufacturing industry. Happe has also led a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion at Winnebago from its board of directors all the way to its customers.

Winnebago Industries also has a commitment to volunteerism and giving. During Happe’s tenure, Winnebago’s community giving has increased 20-fold. The company has also implemented programs to support employees and their families during hardship. Michael has consistently championed corporate responsibility and planning for the long-term sustainability of Winnebago Industries across ESG priorities.

In addition to Michael, EY US recognized 11 additional Entrepreneur Of The Year National Award winners from nine companies in 2023, including:

Winners were selected by a panel of independent judges made up of entrepreneurs and other notable business leaders from across the US. The candidates were evaluated based on their demonstration of building long-term value through entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth and impact, among other core contributions and attributes.

“Business leaders everywhere are navigating a slew of macro-economic and geopolitical challenges. Still, this year’s National Award winners led their companies to new heights, showcasing indomitable spirits and commitments to their people and communities,” said Andrew (AJ) Jordan, EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year Director. “They embody the best of entrepreneurship and the ingenuity so necessary to drive markets and help societies the world over.”

The National Award finalists and winners were announced during a celebration held at the Strategic Growth Forum®, one of the nation’s most prestigious gatherings of high-growth, market-leading companies. They become lifetime members of the esteemed multi-industry community of award winners, with exclusive, continued access to the experience, insight and wisdom of fellow alumni and other ecosystem members in over 60 countries — all supported by a wide array of EY resources.

Videos and photos

Videos and photos of all Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winners will be available at Meet the winners and finalists

Sponsors

Founded and produced by Ernst & Young LLP, the Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards include presenting sponsors PNC Bank, SAP America and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

About Entrepreneur Of The Year®

Entrepreneur Of The Year® is the world’s most prestigious business awards program for unstoppable entrepreneurs. These visionary leaders deliver innovation, growth and prosperity that transform our world. The program engages entrepreneurs with insights and experiences that foster growth. It connects them with their peers to strengthen entrepreneurship around the world. Entrepreneur Of The Year is the first and only truly global awards program of its kind. It celebrates entrepreneurs through regional and national awards programs in more than 145 cities in over 60 countries. National Overall Award winners go on to compete for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year title. Visit ey.com/us/eoy.

About EY

EY exists to build a better working world, helping create long-term value for clients, people and society and build trust in the capital markets.

Enabled by data and technology, diverse EY teams in over 150 countries provide trust through assurance and help clients grow, transform and operate.

Working across assurance, consulting, law, strategy, tax and transactions, EY teams ask better questions to find new answers for the complex issues facing our world today.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. Information about how EY collects and uses personal data and a description of the rights individuals have under data protection legislation are available via ey.com/privacy. EY member firms do not practice law where prohibited by local laws. For more information about our organization, please visit ey.com.

Ernst & Young LLP is a client-serving member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited operating in the US.