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CEO Michael Happe maps new route for Winnebago

Patrick Kennedy, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Automotive News

MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Happe is leading a resurgence of one of the most famous names in the recreation vehicle industry.

When Happe became CEO of Winnebago Industries in January 2016 after a nearly 20-year career at Bloomington-based Toro Co., he said the board was receptive to establishing a new direction for the company.

In short order, Happe orchestrated the largest acquisition in the company's history, increasing Winnebago's stake in the biggest and fastest growing RV segment, towables. He also introduced several new products and built a new leadership team. "Seven of the nine direct reports that I have are either new to the company, or new in their positions," Happe said.

The company, based in Forest City, Iowa, also moved its executive offices to Minnesota, first in a small space in Burnsville and now in Eden Prairie where the company plans to have 100 employees by the end of 2018.

Analyst Craig Kennison of RW Baird said Happe is conducting "a leadership-driven transformation" of one of the most recognized brands in the recreational vehicle industry.

Happe "brings a fresh perspective and has a mandate to rethink what Winnebago can be," Kennison said.

Company's foundation

While Winnebago Industries was founded in 1958 to make travel trailers, it has become synonymous with gas- and diesel-powered motor homes.

The company produced its first motor home in 1966, a 19-foot model built on a Ford chassis called the F-19.

Later that year, the company -- and the industry -- was transformed when it introduced the D22, built on a Dodge chassis. The D22 design made RV travel more affordable and was a standard design for years.

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