Eight months after being acquired by private equity investors, the Hobie Cat Company has parted ways with two of its longest-tenured executives. Senior Vice President of Sales Ruth Triglia and Senior Vice President for Finance Bill Baldwin will leave the company at the end of the month and their positions will be eliminated, according to an October 19 bulletin sent to dealers. Both had been with Hobie for 48 years.
The move comes as Hobie wrestles with supply chain issues and CEO Mike Suzuki takes a more hands-on role in sales and dealer relations.
“As a brand, we will continue to focus on innovation and customer experience. That starts with supporting our dealers as best as we possibly can,” Suzuki told Paddling Business from Europe, where he is meeting with dealers. In the coming weeks, Suzuki will lead a series of regional dealer meetings to gather feedback. He’ll also attend customer events such as the Hobie Bass Open Series to hear directly from consumers.
“As a brand, we will continue to focus on innovation and customer experience. That starts with supporting our dealers as best as we possibly can.”
“We will continue to deliver the highest quality products and the same service standards our dealers have experienced in the past,” said Suzuki, who is one of three principals in the investment group that acquired Hobie in February, together with Taso Sofikitis, now Hobie’s Chairman, and Aaron Stewardson who serves as CFO.
Reached on her second-to-last day at Hobie headquarters, Triglia reminisced about a company that had become a second family, and said supply chain difficulties had forced Hobie’s hand. “They’ve had to make some very tough decisions because the headwinds for all businesses right now are really challenging,” she said. “The sales couldn’t be stronger, but the expenses associated with those sales are just beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before.”
Product delivery has been a sore spot for dealers and consumers. Like other kayak manufacturers hamstrung by a faltering global supply chain, the company has struggled to make and deliver enough kayaks to meet demand. While Hobie molds boats in Oceanside, California, critical hardware and materials remain stuck on ships queued up off Long Beach and San Pedro, stockpiled in overseas warehouses, or waiting to be manufactured.
“The seats, the pedal drives, and most of the components that go on the boat come from China,” said one frustrated dealer, noting that even the raw plastic comes from overseas. “It can be made in America all day long, but if the components and the powder have to get here on a boat, they’re bound by the same constraints as companies who do all their manufacturing abroad.”
The new owners at Hobie have reiterated their commitment to the Hobie Way, shorthand for a spirit of innovation personified by the company’s late founder, Hobart ‘Hobie’ Alter. Having started with the company three months apart in 1973, Triglia and Baldwin personified that connection. Baldwin says it’s fitting that they leave their full-time positions at the same time too.
“Ruth and I have been with the company for almost the exact same amount of time, 48 years,” he said. “I compare it to being a pair of matched bookends. It’d be a shame to break up the set.”
In the dealer bulletin announcing their departure Suzuki wrote graciously of Baldwin and Triglia’s contributions to the company.
“There is no one else that can match Bill’s experience or track record of contributions. Bill officially held 13 different roles, and unofficially held at least 13 more,” Suzuki wrote. “If you want to know what was tried in the past, if it worked, or why it didn’t, Bill is your man.”
Baldwin will continue to serve as an all-around consultant to ownership and management. Day-to-day financial duties will fall to a new Director of Financial Planning and Analysis & Assistant Treasurer, reporting to Stewardson. The company is now recruiting for the role.
Suzuki also had kind words for Triglia, a protégé of Alter who rose through the ranks to lead the company’s sales team. Lauding her “thoughtful dedication to helping others,” Suzuki announced the establishment of the Ruth Triglia ‘Ignite Your Passion’ Scholarship, a $5,000 annual award available to Hobie employees and their dependents.
Triglia will join Hobie’s Advisory Board, established to help guide the new owners as they continue to refine and execute their business strategy. However that strategy evolves, Suzuki says Hobie will stick with the formula that has fueled the company’s success since Alter launched his first sailing cat through the California surf.
“Moving forward, our overall strategy of constant innovation, core product growth, and expansion into new categories, remains intact,” he said in a statement released to Paddling Business. “Our mission has, and will continue to be, to ignite the world’s passion for fun on the water.”
Photo Courtesy of Hobie