Brian Hazelton spent the past five years learning everything he could about the RV industry. Friday he officially launches a new learning expedition.
Hazelton, who oversaw Winnebago Industries’ motorhomes and towables, will take over as Newmar Corp. president at the end of the week after Matt Miller announced his retirement.
Hazelton was hired in August 2016 to oversee Winnebago’s motorhome business and was promoted to senior vice president, Winnebago-brand RVs in September 2020. The promotion provided him responsibility for customer-facing areas related to Winnebago motorhomes and towables.
“I am really excited,” Hazelton said Tuesday afternoon after Miller’s announcement was made public in the morning. “The Newmar brand is such a great brand. To have the chance to follow in Matt’s footsteps, and his whole family, with this premium brand in the motorhome segment, is exciting.”
Miller and Hazelton made the rounds to personally meet Newmar staff Tuesday and continued Wednesday. Hazelton said by the end of today he will have met with all the hourly and salaried employees.
He said Miller was able to say some goodbyes, providing words to people he has known for a long time. Miller started at Newmar in 1991, was promoted to president in 2006 and will retire officially Sept. 3.
Meanwhile, Hazelton said it was important to let employees know who he is and talk about the future. Importantly, he maintained he was stepping into a successful company.
“There is nothing for me to come here and fix,” he said. “I can step back and let the executive team tell me where I can lean in, and let me know where that is.”
Winnebago announced the Newmar leadership team would remain in place after Miller’s retirement. Hazelton said having that experience around him will be important.
“There is a lot of experience in that team and that helps me a lot,” he said. “The first X number of weeks, I will be listening and learning. I do not know the culture here; I do not know all the products. This is a business that knows their customer really, really well. The strength of this team lets me go out and learn all that without worrying about who is watching the store. There is a lot of trust there.”
The succession process has been in the works for weeks, Hazelton said, referencing his close relationship with Miller in knowing what was to come. Winnebago President and CEO Michael Happe talked with Hazelton about the change, citing the company’s bench strength in being able to continue Hazelton’s work with the Winnebago brands.
“I really enjoyed my time with Winnebago,” Hazelton said. “I love this industry. It has been a blast. Forest City, Iowa, is a company town with a lot of pride in Winnebago there. We have turned the Class B division into a very nice business, with a different kind of consumer we are targeting. There has been a lot of effort put into the Class A division to increase our market share.
“But who wouldn’t love to work on the Newmar product?” he said.
Hazelton said he would be a very transparent leader at Newmar. He cited the help he received since joining Winnebago from Miller and Grand Design RV’s Don Clark as crucial in helping him transition to the industry.
His next transition will come at Elkhart Extravaganza, where Hazelton will meet with Newmar dealers, some for the first time.
“Selfishly I am looking forward to it,” he said. “The dealers I cannot see in the next few weeks hopefully will there and we can have some time for me to know them and them to get to know me. Everybody is excited to get back. The virtual format last year was pretty cool but it will be good to be out and see everybody again.”
Hazelton got a jump on signaling his new team. Rather than wearing his typical Winnebago shirt, Hazelton met Newmar staff and reporters wearing a blue shirt with a small Newmar logo on his chest.
“I got a new shirt today and I am going to have to redo my wardrobe a little,” Hazelton said. “But I will be doing a lot of listening for now. This is not a business that is broken. So how do we grow, where else do we go? The timing of the transition is pretty good. I will have my feet wet enough by September to be really in good talks with dealers in Elkhart.”