In his 17 years as an employee of a finance company, Tom Corson had risen to the rank of assistant vice president and regional supervisor. He also endured 11 transfers.
So in 1964, Corson and his brothers Keith and Claude pooled $700 in seed money and began building travel trailers in Middlebury, Ind. Corson Car and Coach Co., if it proved to be successful, might allow Tom Corson to quit the finance business and return home to northern Indiana.
The new company, renamed Coachmen Industries Inc. during its first months, went on to become one of the largest makers of RVs in the industry. On Aug. 1, Tom Corson, 69, will retire as chairman and CEO.
'It's been a great career, and very stimulating and challenging,' he said. 'And I leave this place in very good hands.'
In their first year, the Corsons built 13 travel trailers, sold 11, and recorded total revenue of $24,000. They worked out of a 4,700-square-foot plant in Middlebury, which they rented for $80 per month. The brothers sold their first trailer, a 14-foot Coachmen Cadet, to an Elkhart mobile home dealer, who promptly sent it back for design changes.
In 1996, Cachmen built 24,500 RVs, including 2,700 conversion vehicles.
The company, which makes both RVs and manufactured housing, reported net income of $29.6 million on sales of $606.5 million last year. RVs accounted for $507.7 million, or 84 percent of sales.
In announcing Corson's retirement, Coachmen also named Vice Chairman Claire Skinner chairwoman-elect. The company said she will assume the titles of chairwoman and CEO on Aug. 1.
Skinner, 42, joined Coachmen in 1983, and four years later was named president of Coachmen Recreational Vehicle Co., the firm's largest division. Previously, she was also general manager of the company's plants in Middlebury and in Fitzgerald, Ga.
She is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, and, before joining the company, was a civil-litigation lawyer for a Chicago law firm.
Keith Corson remains president and COO. Claude Corson, who did much of the early design and prototype work, left the company in 1969.