Keystone RV's Cole Davis Named Entrepreneur of the Year

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H. Coleman Davis III, president and CEO of Keystone RV Company, was named Northern Indiana's Entrepreneur of the Year in the Large Manufacturing category, at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards dinner in June.

Davis' award came after a team of independent judges from across northern Indiana selected him from a group of finalists. Davis started Keystone RV in 1996 with 110 employees, posting first-year sales at $12 million. At the end of 1998, the company recorded $71 million in sales and expects to reach $140 million by the end of the year. Keystone now employs nearly 500 people.

The company started with one product line, the Sprinter, and now has seven, including the Springdale, the Cabana, the Montana, Cougar, Bobcat and Tail-Gator lines. Manufacturing facilities in Goshen, IN, have grown to eight buildings, with each product line having its own plant. Growth plans include an expansion to the west coast by the end of this year.

Following military service and management positions with Coachmen and Dutchman RV corporations, Davis used the skills he had honed and the experience he had gained to open Keystone RV. Davis says he took the important and different lessons he learned from both companies and combined it with his own personal philosophy to create the successful environment of Keystone RV.

In accepting his award, Davis credited his management team, composed of RV industry veterans. They are Kim Price, vice-president administration; Bill Fenech, vice-president, Spring-dale, Sprinter, Cabana, Tail-Gator; Ron Fenech, vice-president, Montana, Cougar, Bobcat; Jeff Stine, vice president of manufacturing; Bob Gaff, vice-president purchasing; and Tonja Lucchese, vice-president, finance. Davis also credited the relationships with Keystone's large dealer network across America with the company's breathtaking growth. In short, he said, the success of Keystone is due to "People, people, people."

He says he works to assemble the best people and put them in an environment where they can control their own destinies and success. His management team is built on the philosophy of people wanting and needing to be part of the process. Weekly meetings, flexible working arrangements, quick action, and a "can do" attitude are part of the corporate culture.

As the company grows, Davis and his team have created a new quality control process that has improved products, efficiency and processes. The improvements have also increased customer satisfaction and employee productivity

In addition to improving products and processes, Davis is evolving his role to be even more visionary. That visionary role is already evident as the company pioneers new products and contemplates implementing manufacturing operations on the West Coast, a major market area still to be served. Davis is also working to develop his motivational role within the corporation without losing contact with the company's personnel.

The awards, which have often been described as "the Academy Awards of the business world," were founded and have been produced nationally for the last 12 years by Ernst & Young LLP, business consultants. The Northern Indiana program is one of 48 similar events across the U.S.

Along with five other category winners, Davis will compete for one of twelve national awards. He will also be in the running for the title of National Entrepreneur of the Year.

Ron Kauffman, managing partner at Ernst & Young's Fort Wayne, IN, office, addressed the audience of 400 business owners and supporters at the awards dinner. He said, "This event is designed to honor nominees who demonstrate the courage, imagination and perseverance it takes to turn dreams into a successful business."

Kauffman asked that the audience join the sponsors in congratulating the finalists for "keeping the entrepreneurial flame burning bright and for their important contributions to the economic health of northern Indiana and the United States."

The award is cosponsored nationally by USA Today, CNNfn and CNN, the Nasdaq-Amex Market Group and the Kauffman Center of Entrepreneurial Leadership.


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