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Back row, from left: Alex Slikkers, Tom Slikkers, Tim Slikkers, Bob Slikkers. Front row, from left: Kelly Slikkers, Leon Slikkers, David Slikkers Back row, from left: Alex Slikkers, Tom Slikkers, Tim Slikkers, Bob Slikkers. Front row, from left: Kelly Slikkers, Leon Slikkers, David Slikkers COURTESY PHOTO

Tiara Yachts founder retires as new generations enter the family business

BY Sunday, September 12, 2021 05:10pm

HOLLAND — Leon Slikkers’ recent retirement as chairman of Tiara Yachts Inc. marks a new chapter for the family business, which has seen a boom in recent years as younger generations consider joining the company.

Slikkers, the 93-year-old marine industry fixture whose boat-building career dates back to the 1940s, announced his retirement from the Holland-based manufacturer last week. Since 2012, the company’s day-to-day operations have been handled by his son, President and CEO Tom Slikkers.

However, the Tiara Yachts organization involves multiple generations of Slikkers in varying roles as the company eyes new investments to leverage revenue growth in recent years.

“The third generation is stepping up and is starting to take on some significant roles,” Tom Slikkers told MiBiz.

Now in his 40th year with the family business, Tom Slikkers works alongside Director of Government Relations David Slikkers, who’s been with the company since its inception in 1974.

In that time, the company has experienced significant shifts involving manufacturing technology, the labor force and consumer behavior.

“The shape, size, propulsion and how we execute that in what our customers want on the water — there’s been a natural progression that’s followed customers’ wants and desires,” Tom Slikkers said. “We try to be stewards of what the customer wants. Today, we’re pretty happy and pleased with our success in being able to interpret that.”

Boating pioneer

Leon Slikkers’ formal retirement from the company caps a decades-long, trailblazing career in boating. He was among the first to build boats out of fiberglass instead of wood, and founded S2 Yachts Inc. — Tiara Yachts’ parent company — in 1974.

Tiara Yachts specializes in mid-sized luxury yachts and employs more than 600 people at its 800,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Holland.

Leon Slikkers began his career as a carpenter at Chris-Craft in 1946. By the mid 1950s, Slikkers had sold his home to start building mahogany runabout boats under Slickcraft Boat Co. He would soon experiment with fiberglass and composite materials before selling Slickcraft in 1969 to focus on S2 Yachts. The company began manufacturing sports boats and sport fishing models by the late 1970s.

In recent years, Tiara Yachts began responding to consumer demand for more high-quality, luxury outboard-powered models. In 2017, Tiara Yachts developed a suite of outboard-powered boats that led to the February 2021 launch of its 48 LS model, the flagship of the company’s LS Series. 

Next year, the company plans to launch a 55-foot inboard yacht and its “most personalized and technically advanced product” to date, according to company officials.

Growth, family ahead

Tiara Yachts felt the brunt of the Great Recession nearly 15 years ago as consumer demand for luxury yachts tanked. The company pursued diversification in the following years, including with a subsidiary that manufactured a line of wind turbine blades that was later closed in 2015.

However, the company has realized steady revenue growth over the past four years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic when company officials saw customers eager to pursue outdoor activities amid widespread closures.

Tom Slikkers said the company’s growth strategy is “pretty simple.”

“We want to grow our business, and we want to remain somewhat pure to who we are,” he said. “Growing our business means we want to capture more customers and have more customers who appreciate our quality and what we’re delivering to the marketplace.”

While the company’s diversification strategy under Energetx Composites was phased out within a few years after the Great Recession, Slikkers said “we certainly continue to have conversations as a family” about new business opportunities.

“There were a lot of lessons learned through (the Great Recession). Some were painful lessons, and that’s not completely on us,” Slikkers said. “My brothers and myself do have ongoing conversations as opportunities arise. We just have to be mindful of laying those opportunities on the table as it relates to what’s best for our company.”

With the company’s recent growth, however, Slikkers added that in most cases those opportunities would be a “distraction,” given the current backlog and strong order pipeline.

Meanwhile, Leon Slikkers’ retirement comes as a strong pipeline of family members is in place to continue running the business. The third generation includes Director of Manufacturing and Quality Kelly Slikkers and Director of Engineering Tim Slikkers, who are sons of Senior Vice President of Operations Bob Slikkers. A fourth generation family member is finishing college and has “expressed an interest” in the company, Tom Slikkers said.

He added that the company’s succession plan is not “extremely well orchestrated,” and follows Leon Slikkers philosophy when he started the company.

“Dad said, ‘If you want to work for me, great.’ We just had to get a college degree of some kind,” Tom Slikkers said. “Today, we extend that same invitation to his grandsons — our kids — and the next generation beyond that.”

“The opportunity is there. Relative to what happens once they’re here, we’re not trying to program that,” he added. “We take the responsibility of protecting (my father’s) legacy very strongly. We feel, as the second generation, that it’s our responsibility to make sure — whether it’s our senior team or family — that legacy is preserved. We’re trying to be guardians and stewards of that.”

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