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'Sense of stewardship' drives efforts at Gage Marine

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
July 20, 2009
— It is hard not to feel trapped in time in Bill Gage's office.

Gage, president of Gage Marine in Williams Bay, runs a place that smells like tradition: The office's centerpiece is an antique meeting table. Adorning the office are a quarter-sawn oak desk that belonged to Gage's grandfather, a Gage family crest—"Courage with Honor," and an ancient clock from a long-gone steamer.


"We still have to crank it once a week," Gage said.


Gage and his family count on tradition and a sense of community value while running the business.


Founded in 1873, the company is the oldest of its kind in the area, perhaps one of the oldest in the country, Gage said.


"We have a sense of stewardship here," Gage said. "It's a part of the community."


The company has a boatyard, services and stores boats of all kinds, sells speedboats and builds custom wood boats.


Gage Marine's flagship brand is the Gage-Hacker, which dates back to the 1950s. Gage's predecessors, Russell and Bill Gage Sr., teamed up with naval architect John Hacker to build a boat specifically for Geneva Lake's waters.


They wanted to combine looks and performance, Gage said.


The business has been in the family for more than 135 years, with Gage's father and grandfather running the company before him. But Gage didn't take owning Gage Marine for granted.


"I chose to stay away from the business to get some other experiences," he said.


After working "every dirty job" at the company throughout his youth, Gage spent nine years working in commercial real estate and the insurance business and for Xerox after college. His path took him to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and London.


Eventually, his father decided it was time to see if the potential heir was "any good" at running the family business, Gage said, and he returned to Williams Bay.


"I thought, I hope this is the best pay cut I ever take," he said. "And it was."


Staying away from the business allowed Gage a different look at the place.


"Maybe you're spoiled; you don't get the right perspective," Gage said. "I wanted to do it because I wanted to do it, not because I fell into it."


Two years after Gage returned to the company, his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and eventually died.


"I can only aspire to be like him," Gage said.


Gage Marine is located at 4 Liechty Drive, Williams Bay. The company also runs public tours and private gatherings on the waters of Geneva Lake.



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