PALM SPRINGS, California., November 12, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) today announced that Michael Happepresident and CEO of Winnebago Industries, an outdoor products manufacturer, has been named Entrepreneur of the year® 2023 National Overall Award Winner. For nearly four decades, the program has honored and elevated ambitious entrepreneurs who think big and act boldly to transform our world.
Happe was selected by an independent jury comprised of 224 regional Entrepreneur of the Year honorees from 197 companies across the United States. He transformed Winnebago from a single-brand RV company into a major North American manufacturer of outdoor products. He solidified Winnebago’s future by building trust with employees, creating a culture of ownership, and making investments to support the longevity of the company. Happe strengthens the company’s future as a competitor in the outdoor products sector through its strategic leadership choices, such as the recent acquisition of a lithium-ion battery solutions producer and the creation of the Advanced Technology Group to focus on enhancing the company’s ability to identify, evaluate and deploy game-changing products and services within each of its brands.
“Entrepreneur of the Year recognizes ambitious leaders who disrupt markets, revolutionize industries and transform lives,” said Andrew (AJ) Jordan, director of EY Americas Entrepreneur of the Year. “Michael redefined the iconic RV brand from a product-focused manufacturer to a broader outdoor recreation company, while creating a sustainable business and thriving culture. Michael leads with focused ESG priorities, keeping employees and community at the forefront. We are very excited to celebrate him as the winner of the 2023 National Entrepreneur of the Year Award.”
Founded in 1958, the company thrived until the 2008 financial crisis, when revenues plummeted. Winnebago, a name synonymous with recreational vehicles, was stuck at a standstill. Revenue growth had stalled, and although employees were proud of the brand, they had no stake in the company’s future. Recognizing the inherent value of the Winnebago brand, Happe quickly set to work to re-energize employees and revitalize the company from a product-focused manufacturer to a facilitator of outdoor experiences. Today, the company has nearly 7,000 employees and has seen revenue growth of 500% since 2016.
In a competitive talent environment, Happe has placed emphasis on employee engagement. It also implemented security protocols that helped reduce security incidents by 70%. He implemented an employee shareholding plan allowing employees to share in the success of the company. Since he took over as CEO, employee survey results have elevated the company to the top quartile for employee engagement within the manufacturing industry. Happe has also focused on diversity, equity and inclusion at Winnebago, from its board of directors to its customers.
Winnebago Industries is also committed to volunteering and giving. During Happe’s tenure, Winnebago’s community giving increased 20-fold. The company also established programs to support employees and their families during times of hardship. Michael has consistently championed Winnebago Industries’ corporate responsibility and long-term sustainability planning as part of ESG priorities.
In addition to Michael, EY US recognized 11 other national Entrepreneur of the Year award winners from nine companies in 2023, including:
- Cheri BeranekPresident and CEO, Free field, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Jason McGowanco-founder and CEO, Crumbl Cookies, Lindon, UT
- Felipe HasselmannPresident and CEO, Cuisine Solutions, Sterling, Virginia
- Wemimo Abbeyco-founder, co-CEO and Samir Goelco-founder, co-CEO, Esusu, New York, New York
- Dr. Sohail MassoudCEO, KabaFusion, Cerritos, California
- RJ Melman, President, Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, Chicago, IL
- Tom BrennanCEO and CTO, Sol-Ark, Plano, TX
- Dr. Gaurab Chakrabartico-founder and CEO and Dr. Sean Huntco-founder and technical director, Solugen, Houston, TX
- Josh Meyerowitzfounder and CEO, SupplyHouse, Melville, New York
Winners were selected by a panel of independent judges comprised of entrepreneurs and other notable business leaders from across the United States. Candidates were evaluated based on their ability to create long-term value through entrepreneurship, purpose, growth and impact, among other core contributions and attributes.
“Business leaders around the world face a multitude of macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges. Yet this year’s national award winners have led their businesses to new heights, demonstrating an indomitable spirit and “a commitment to their people and their communities,” said Andrew (AJ). Jordan, director of EY Americas Entrepreneur of the Year. “They embody the best of entrepreneurship and the ingenuity so necessary to drive markets and help societies around the world.”
National Award finalists and winners were announced at a celebration held at the Strategic Growth Forum®, one of the most prestigious gatherings in the country bringing together leading companies in their high-growth markets. They become lifetime members of the prestigious multi-industry community of Laureates, with exclusive and ongoing access to the experience, knowledge and wisdom of other alumni and other ecosystem members in more than 60 countries, all supported by a wide range of EY resources.
Videos and photos
Videos and photos of all Entrepreneur of the Year award winners will be available on Meet the winners and finalists | EY – United States.
Founded and produced by Ernst & Young LLP, the Entrepreneur of the Year awards include presenting sponsors PNC Bank, SAP America and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
About Entrepreneur of the Year®
Entrepreneur of the year® is the world’s most prestigious business awards program for invincible entrepreneurs. These visionary leaders bring the innovation, growth and prosperity that transform our world. The program engages entrepreneurs with ideas and experiences that promote growth. It connects them with their peers to strengthen entrepreneurship around the world. Entrepreneur Of The Year is the first and only truly global awards program of its kind. It celebrates entrepreneurs through regional and national awards programs in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries. National Global Award winners then compete for the title of Global Entrepreneur of the Year. Visit ey.com/us/eoy.
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