Victor Porter grew up observing entrepreneurs, including his father, owner of a tire recapping business during the Great Depression. Early in life Porter says he learned that the American free enterprise system gives one the freedom to build a business and the freedom to succeed or fail at it.
“I love owning and running a business, and I’m the first to acknowledge that it takes time and effort to create successful businesses,” says Porter, who today serves as Chairman of Porter, Inc., dba Thunderbird/Formula Boats.
Porter’s entrepreneurial business ventures started after college coursework at Purdue University and Indiana Institute of Technology. The first was operating a frozen food locker plant and also manufacturing ice cream. Through it, Porter learned he liked both producing and selling a quality product.
That business, located in Decatur, Indiana, went well for several years, then supermarket pricing and popularity took its toll. So in 1958, in the same building, Porter chose an entirely different course and built his first boat, the Volare. It was a catamaran utilizing two outboard motors. Two friends joined Porter in the venture, and the company was called Duo, Incorporated.
“I always had a love for boats, and after the right product mix became evident, Duo, Inc. grew steadily. A year later, we built our 100th boat and added a trimaran model,” Porter says. “Our first million-dollar year in sales was 1964, and that success was accomplished by our strong people at all levels and the cooperative support of our suppliers.”
When the opportunity arose in 1966, Porter sold Duo, Inc. to Starcraft and remained to oversee its Duo operations. However, Porter continued to feel the tug of entrepreneurship. In 1970, he and five business associates founded Signa Corporation. With Porter as president, they manufactured a quality line of tri-hull boats and marketed them across the Midwest and East. In 1973, they sold this successful company to Fuqua Industries, and Porter was named President of Fuqua’s small-boat division.
Three years later, Porter was again afforded the opportunity to gain ownership in the boating industry, and he purchased Thunderbird/Formula. Over time, the company’s multiple locations were consolidated into one expanded state-of-the-art facility in Decatur. Today the company offers four distinctive types of boats to satisfy different interests. They are designed for day boating, cruising, yachting and offshore high performance.
“There have been successes and there have been many road bumps along the way with these businesses,” Porter acknowledges. “We’ve managed the downturns by working with our financial partners, and I’ve learned along the way by watching other leaders, gaining the best pointers from all of them.”
Whatever the business challenge or success, Porter says it is important to “rebound as others encourage you forward. Ultimately, my satisfaction comes from starting with the most basic elements and creating a successful high-end product people want.”
Porter says success comes by building a strong team and rewarding them appropriately while also keeping a close eye on costs and always being aware of customer behavior and economic realities.
“I believe in asking people to develop a project and then letting them run with that idea,” Porter says. “I provide the encouragement and support that allows them to be successful. I love to work with and bring on shining stars.”
With his support, many employees and management team members have been with the company for years. Family members are also active, with five of Porter’s children operating and managing the company, and several grandchildren actively involved in various areas.
“The ongoing family involvement was a natural for us, as a family of boaters from the beginning,” Porter says. “Boating is family-oriented, and so is our company. We appreciate our employees, as they are very important to success for themselves, their families and the business. In that sense, we are all like family.”
Porter acknowledges he has had “many mentors over the years, including competitors. It takes lots of communication, including those in the same industry or marketplace, to move forward and grow your own success.”
Within the northeast Indiana Decatur community where Porter has maintained his various businesses over the years, he has been an active leader. He has served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and on the Adams Memorial Hospital Board, and given strong support to his church and community affairs.
“We all need to be involved in our community, because we each have something to offer,” Porter says. “We also need to help our young people become entrepreneurs – inspiring them as we have been inspired by others along the way. Opportunities exist, and with commitment, sacrifice and passion, we can accomplish much.”