Navico’s New Co-Pilot Hails From Electronics Greatness

SILICON VALLEY, Calif.— Steve Jobs paced the floors of his Cupertino office. The newly re-minted Apple CEO was racking his brain, laying the groundwork for the company’s rise from the consumer electronics graveyard to the top of the business world. The year was 1997, and in another part of the building, a young Marc Jourlait was learning from California’s greatest school of product development.

“Products run Apple,” says Jourlait, the American, French and Canadian national who will be taking over the reigns of Navico from living legend and infamous workaholic Leif Ottosson. “Apple is world class in that area.”

Jourlait, now in his second year as the Deputy CEO of Navico, knows a thing or two about world class. After an eight year run at Apple through the ’80s and ’90s under electronics icons like Jobs and John Sculley, Jourlait honed his business acumen at Hewlett Packard, Seagate, Bose and Technicolor. His hands have dipped into the digital revolution and touched products from iMacs to high resolution stadium cameras and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where his stint at Technicolor sent him into the special effects realm. Now, in the muggle-bound world of marine electronics, lessons from Jourlait’s past are beginning to make a mark at Navico, working their way into operations at radar and sonar giants Lowrance, Simrad and B&G, as well as upstart connectivity company GoFree.

“HP is an incredible, operational discipline machine,” Jourlait recounts. “In the high volume PC and printer businesses, HP was all about the supply chain and operational excellence. In the PC industry, they have it down to no more than two weeks worth of inventory sitting across the entire supply chain. Here in the marine electronics industry, we still have three or four months of inventory in the pipe. One of the keys to delighting customers while making money for everybody — for manufacturers and partners — is product life-cycle management,” he says. “I’m talking about planning, anticipating, executing and reacting to product launches, if necessary. That’s when you make money or lose money. We want to work hand-in-hand with our partners and our dealers. We want to open the kimono, so to speak, and be open with you guys.”

The kimono meaning Navico; you guys, meaning retailers. Though Jourlait refuses to call you that. He prefers the word “partners,” and he wants to work more closely with you in creating point of sale materials, training your staff on products and teaching you how to flawlessly execute on promotions.

“We need to help you know when to unload stuff, when to load up and how to execute in lock step with us. You don’t want to do last minute Hail Mary’s. You want to be planful in product lifecycle management and transitions.”

“We’ve screwed up product launches sometimes on our side,” he admits. “That responsibility is on our shoulders.”

““We need to help you know when to unload stuff, when to load up and how to execute in lock step with us.”- Marc Jourlait

A global clock

Part of shouldering that responsibility is bringing Navico’s streamlined internal operations to the retailers.

In the U.S., Navico’s offices are most synonymous with the hills of eastern Oklahoma, where Lowrance operates a Tulsa-based office. But when the sun goes down in Tulsa, the Norway-based company’s wheels don’t stop spinning. In Italy, Navico engineers busy themselves working on radar. In Scandinavia, it’s sonar. New Zealand focuses on recreational; sailing research takes place in the United Kingdom. And much of it comes together at a manufacturing center in Ensenada, Mexico. In all, Jourlait says the company operates seven main R&D centers around the world, allowing them to work on projects around the global clock.

Tying all of the facilities and all of the brands together is a single, integrated software platform. “When we innovate once, it proliferates across the brands. We focus on fishing in Tulsa and sailing in Southampton, UK,” he says, “but all around the world you get people who are passionate about their one segment and their one usage, and they all work together on the same platform. That’s one of our secret ingredients … our secret sauce. We hire the best talent from around the world. We don’t care where they are based. We just want the best engineer, whether they are an Oklahoman or a Kiwi.”

But operations weren’t always so smooth. Jourlait credits company president Leif Ottosson for combining all of Navico’s factories into the single, 125,000-square foot operation in Mexico in 2007. “Bringing all of the factories into a single operation, combining all of our platforms into a single hardware/software stack … those decisions are a little tough to swallow in the beginning, but boy do they pay dividends.”

Parisian determination and American spirit

While Navico has busied itself breaking sales records for the past twelve months — figures are up across the board — Jourlait was breaking personal travel records, visiting the company’s 1,500 employees around the globe. And while the Deputy CEO says he enjoys life on the road and loves meeting and learning from employees, his personal life at home in Paris has presented its own challenges in the wake of terrorism.

“We’re not going to let that change our life. Paris is the City of Light. It’s mythical, it’s historical, it has the best food on Earth. We go to more concerts and cafes now than ever before. We doubled down. Otherwise the bad guys win.”

Doubling down. Jourlait says that’s a Parisian determination — one that’s not so different from the American spirit he’s seen in years spent across the Atlantic. In fact, it’s not so different from the determination that pulled Apple back from the brink of financial ruin all those years ago in Cupertino. That company was helmed by an innovator, focused on connectivity and underwent a supply chain transformation to become one of the leading consumer electronics brands in the world.

And Jourlait was there at the start of it.

“There’s no question,” he says. “Apple and Bose success inspire me … they motivate me. In the marine industry, we need to get to that level of execution. We want to make sure that everything from point-of-sale materials to training and promotions are executed flawlessly and on time. If we can manage that, we can all make money and delight customers at the same time. That’s what I’ve learned from consumer electronics.”

Now, Jourlait finds himself at the beginning of another turnaround, as Navico points its bow towards an eventual era after Ottosson.