The heart of Formula Boats, Victor Porter, passed away late yesterday afternoon, the company reported.
The news was especially disheartening leading into the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
A lifelong resident of Decatur, IN, Porter was a true entrepreneur. His early career ventures included mobile homes sales, real estate, and his own frozen food and ice cream business. Feeling the urge to start down a new path in 1958, he started a boat company, Duo, Inc., to manufacture fiberglass boats in his converted ice cream plant with three employees. Porter served as both president and sales manager. His first model, the Volare, was a catamaran equipped with two outboard motors. By 1959, the 100th boat was built, and the Hepcat, a trimaran, was introduced.
The following three years, Porter developed the Catfish and monohull runabout design X-Series and F-Series boats. By 1962, Duo Inc. was booming. He now had 30 employees who built 20 boats per week. Business continued to expand in a new 18,000-square-foot facility with plans to double capacity. In 1962, he developed a vee-hull boat series for a better ride. 1964 marked Porter’s first million-dollar year, and in 1965 the plant grew to 100,000 square feet and employed 185 people. 1966 was a whirlwind year: Porter traveled nonstop for a month, visiting 21 cities and numerous dealers to promote and sell his product. Duo, Inc. caught the eye of Starcraft Corporation, a larger, regional boat company, and in 1966 Porter sold Duo, remaining for a time as President. His entrepreneurial urge surfaced again, and he decided to captain a new ship in 1970.
Signa Corporation was the next step in Porter’s developing career. Manufacturing tri-hull boats in a 20,000-square-foot facility with 50 employees, it wasn’t long before his second successful boat company attracted the attention of investors. In 1973, Fuqua Industries purchased Signa Corporation. Fuqua had previously purchased Thunderbird Products and Formula Boats in 1969. Porter was named chairman of the small boat group, with $3 million in sales reported that year. Fuqua Industries manufactured the three small boat lines, including both Signa tri-hulls and Formula deep-V hull boats, through 1975.
Once again, Porter felt the need to head up a company all his own, and took advantage of the opportunity created by an energy crisis. In 1976, he purchased the small boat group from Fuqua Industries. He continued the company as Thunderbird Products, manufacturing the Signa and Formula boat lines. In 1979, Signa tri-hull production was ended, as market advancement indicated heavy preference for the deep-V hull Formula boats. The same year marked Thunderbird Products’ introduction of the Formula 302, a special edition offshore performance style boat. In every direction, Porter led the company, creativity prevailed and successful innovation followed.
In 1980, integrated, continuous cockpit liners improved both structure and design flow. In 1984, as an industry first, Thunderbird Products innovated and installed curved, tempered glass windshields. In 1988, a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility was built—345,000 square feet to manufacture the highest-quality powerboats possible with a dedicated workforce of 600 employees. From facility additions to the development of new boat lines, Sun Sports in 1994, Fas³Techs in 1997, Super Sports in 1999, Yachts in 2002 and Crossovers in 2012, Porter led the company with imagination and integrity into a model business manufacturing today’s prestigious Formula Boats. His entrepreneurial spirit took him, his family and his business to places he only imagined.
He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Kristine Porter, their six children (five of whom are actively involved in the Formula Boats business) and 17 grandchildren. Victor’s son Scott Porter serves as President of Formula, while Executive Vice President Grant Porter directs all product development and manufacturing. Chairman Wayne Porter is Vice President of Sales, Jean Porter Brune is Vice President of Marketing and Ted Porter is Vice President of Human Resources. The eldest son, John Porter, also a company shareholder, is a medical doctor not involved in daily business activities.
“I will remember Vic as the man who hired a 25-year-old English Education major who decided not to teach and wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do with his life,” said Formula Marketing Manager Scott Smith. “A week after I was hired here as a mold room assistant to the supervisor, this old guy (younger at the time than I am now), Vic Porter, came up to me on the factory floor and started a personal conversation with me. I felt special, but I wasn’t. There are probably hundreds of people who could tell you the same thing; that’s the kind of person he was. Now, 33 years later, I have to wonder how my life would have turned out if there had been no Vic Porter, and again, I’m sure hundreds of people could say the same.”