The history and story of Grady-White Boats is more than documentation of 50-plus years of boat building excellence at Greenville, North Carolina. It’s about leadership, teamwork, and the Grady Family.
Employees at Grady-White have a legendary reputation for designing and producing award-winning coastal and offshore boats. Be it for the center console or dual console models, express cabin or the walk-around cabin which the company pioneered in 1974, employees share the distinction of receiving every highest customer satisfaction rating in their category for coastal boat builders. Year after year.
Being a Grady-White employee means more than showing up and putting in the hours. There are rules. There are expectations. The standards are high. The Lifelong Learning cultural program, which includes reading, is mandatory.
Kris Carroll, president of Grady-White Boats, implemented the reading program more than 20 years ago and with input from employees and colleagues, built an impressive on-site lending library. Educational programs provide learning opportunities in effective communications, technical and life skills.
Start Right … Stay Right and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are required reading for each new hire. These books are a common thread among all Grady-White employees. Leaders have additional reading requirements while associates earn financial incentives for voluntarily reading the same books. As part of the Lifelong Learning program, employees earn upwards of $250 for reading selected books on communication, self-development and motivation.
“These reference materials provide a way for all of us at Grady-White to have a common language, a common vision,” said Carroll.” Armed with the same information, we will reach the same conclusions.”
Glenn Grady and Don White founded Grady-White Boats in 1959. The founders believed if they crafted boats “tougher than they had to be,” their smaller boats would stand up to coastal waves and weather. Grady and White got it right from the onset.
The tradition continued when Eddie Smith Jr. purchased Grady-White Boats in 1968. At the age of 26, Smith recognized the opportunity to exercise his entrepreneurial instincts and engage the business principles he observed in his father, while working in the family-owned mail-order hosiery and apparel business.
Smith went to work for his father at National Wholesale after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, realizing “early on that this type of business was not where my passion was.” He continued to work and learn there for three years.
Father instilled in son the fundamental idea that “success in business derives from dedication to unquestionable integrity, valuing and treating co-workers exceptionally well, truly appreciating and valuing customers, and striving for perfection in quality.” By example, Smith Sr. proved it was good business to give back to his industry, to employees, to community and to the important passions in his life.
Grady-White owner and CEO, Smith sticks with his employees and they stick with him. During the early transition years, the company persevered because of its employees. Smith is said to be a tough taskmaster, but one who truly appreciates his co-workers.
Smith’s loyalty to employees was termed ‘gutsy’ when, in 1993, he selected Kris Carroll, a “feisty Yankee from Massachusetts” as the new president of Grady-White Boats. Smith wanted someone who understood his focus on the customer and his desire to take that focus to a new level. The decision for the coveted position ‘astonished the industry’ as, at the time, Carroll was the first woman to hold the top post in the boat manufacturing business.
Carroll came up through the ranks, starting as a production control clerk in 1975 then promoted to vice–president of engineering and manufacturing. She earned a reputation for having the “ability to assemble and inspire the best managers,” and demonstrates natural tendencies toward team building and team integration. Her steadfast beliefs, commitment and hard work continue to set an example industry-wide.
Tenure for senior managers ranges from 16 to 31 years. Many employees boast decades while others are quick to announce their double-digit years with the company. Continuity is one of the company traditions.
Grady-White is known to hire people with limited technical skills and then train and educate them to harness and direct their talents, according to Shelley Tubaugh, Vice President of Marketing and head of Human Resources.
“People have limitless abilities and we help employees discover and develop them,” she said.” Part of this includes acquiring new skills which help at work and in their personal lives. Our employees have to want to work every day and be on time.”
Tubaugh, a 25-year employee, explained Grady-White has a performance and attendance incentive program where employees receive an extra day of pay for each 12 month span of perfect attendance. One man, who achieved twelve days of extra pay, missed work to get married. He told her it was well worth starting the process over again.
Part of the Grady-White success story is developing and maintaining close relationships with its customers and dealers; asking questions and incorporating features requested by boat owners.
In the 2012 model year, customer demand prompted Grady-White to bring back colored hulls, an option not available since the early 1970s. Seen from afar, the sand-colored gel coat option and painted blue and green hulls do not alter the distinctive raised sheer line, a Grady-White product trademark.
The company is a long-time and steadfast advocate of fisheries conservation, education and waterways management. In 2003, Eddie Smith was named to the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s (NMMA) Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, he said, “We need to do everything we can to keep boating in a leadership position in recreation in America. We have an awesome product to sell: we provide leisure, fun, and maybe best of all, a wonderful family activity—something our country desperately needs more of! We also have a huge obligation to future generations, to do all that we can to ensure them a great environment, clean waterways, and healthy and abundant fishery resources.”
Following Smith’s example, the Center for Coastal Conservation honored Carroll with its inaugural Eddie Smith Manufacturer of the Year Award in 2012, in recognition of her conservation leadership.
“’Together’ is the most important part of the Grady-White Vision, Together, delivering the ultimate boating experience,” said Carroll. “Every single role here is important; it takes the team to make it all work, together with our customers, dealers, employees, vendors, community and government.” Carroll’s management style reflects this quest for being the ultimate in boating satisfaction. “Build the people and you will build your business.” said Carroll.
Kathy Enzerink is a free lance writer who lives in Oriental, N.C. and is a frequent contributor to ALL AT SEA publications. You may contact her at [email protected]