Longtime Larson Boats president and CEO Al Kuebelbeck died Jan. 16 after suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of cancer that affects the body's ability to make platelets. He was 72.
Kuebelbeck retired in October after 42 years with 101-year-old Larson Boats. He had also served for a time at the helm of Crestliner Boats, another brand owned by the now-bankrupt Genmar Holdings, owned by Irwin Jacobs. Kuebelbeck continued with Larson Boats when Jacobs bought that company and several others out of bankruptcy in 2010.
Jacobs said he met Kuebelbeck on his first day in the boat business 39 years ago.
"Al, and I say this in a complimentary way, he was old-school. I'm old-school, too. I come from the same world," Jacobs told Trade Only Today.
"When I started with him, he was running the factory up at Larson," Jacobs said. "It was sometime after that we purchased Crestliner. He took that company from a $10 million to a $100 million company. He didn't do it himself, you understand, but he was a part of it and that was one of the companies we sold to Brunswick for $200 million."
After Genmar's sale of Crestliner, Lowe and Lund to Brunswick Corp. in 2004, Kuebelbeck returned to Larson Boats - the umbrella company for the Larson, Triumph and Seaswirl Striper brands - and continued through the 2009 bankruptcy, Jacobs said. "This was something that Al obviously relished. He was committed. He was either totally committed or not committed at all. And if he was not, you knew it."
Kuebelbeck had been with the company so long that he knew everyone there, and he garnered a lot of loyalty that he reciprocated, Jacobs said.
"He was totally loyal and passionate," Jacobs said. "He was loyal to employees, to the brand, to the city [of Little Falls, Minn.], to me, to the vendors. Al wore it on his shirtsleeve - almost to a fault. Being so loyal to so many people, it's hard to do sometimes."
In an October 2012 interview with Soundings Trade Only, Kuebelbeck reflected on the recession and the toll it had taken on him. "The past three years have probably been the toughest three years that I've participated in this business," he said at the time.
"We landed in bankruptcy in 2009 and we worked our way through and we've repositioned ourselves in the market. We didn't sit on our laurels. We worked hard on developing new product that we feel is apropos for the market we're dealing with and the generation we're dealing with."
True to Kuebelbeck's loyal style, he also defended Jacobs, who had been criticized by some after Genmar's bankruptcy, which resulted in subsequent "clawback" lawsuits seeking millions of dollars allegedly paid to insiders and Genmar subsidiaries prior to the company's 2009 bankruptcy.
"Working with him is very rewarding," Kuebelbeck told Trade Only. "I fully understand there are a lot of negatives out there, [but] most of the negatives out there - there isn't much substance to it."
After that story was published, Kuebelbeck called the reporter to extend thanks for giving him the opportunity to share his thoughts around the contentious situation and his boss.
Jacobs said Kuebelbeck had been ailing for the last two and a half years, but he never let on how sick he was. Finally they sat down one Sunday last fall, and Kuebelbeck confessed that he was having health challenges, but said he could push on with the company. Jacobs said he told Kuebelbeck that it was time for him to slow down and enjoy life, something his wife very much wanted him to do.
"It's kind of sad because here Al retired, and he never got to enjoy life after retirement. It was a matter of months before he passed away," Jacobs said. "He loved to garden, hunt, fish and be with his wife, kids and grandkids, and all of that went away. He never had the chance to do that. Less than 90 days later, he's gone."
Jacobs said he will attend Kuebelbeck's funeral Saturday.