By Bruce Niederer — Retired GBI Technical Advisor
I thought a lot about my career here at Gougeon Brothers, Inc. as my time for retirement drew near. I’ve been working every day, more or less, from the time I was 16 years old. I’ve had a lot of different jobs. But for the last 22 years and change I’ve been with GBI and—without sounding too hyperbolic—it has been life-changing. Soon it will all be over and I can reap the rewards I’ve earned in retirement.
I couldn’t be more excited… I couldn’t be more apprehensive.
My Journey to Walking with Giants
I went to college fairly late in life. When I graduated I was 38 with a wife and three young children. By the way, my advice for a budding collegiate is—to paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger—Don’t do dat!
One beautiful afternoon in 1996, I was eating lunch with my Dad, rest his soul, down at our boat dock. Our old friend (and GBI’s first Tech Advisor, now retired) J.R. Watson stopped by and said “Give me your resume. We’re looking for a chemist.”
I generally didn’t travel about with my resume in hand, so I gave him a copy ASAP and the rest, as they say, is history. But what a history!
I finished my career at GBI in the excellent new Technical Center. It’s quite a change from when I started here in 1996. Tom Pawlak and I made the move into the new digs as the only remaining Senior Tech Advisor to do so. Tom retired in May 2018, and my retirement will be in September 2018. The current staff of Technical Advisors will continue transitioning forward with the company as it grows.
All the old guys who taught me the ropes are now retired. We watch from the sidelines with pride as GBI succeeds. Once GBI gets in your blood, it never goes away completely.
Meet Gougeon’s Technical Advisors
GBI’s staff of technical advisors is made up of individuals younger than I am. So much younger, I barely remember what I was doing at their age. But they bring mighty skills and energy of their own to the job. It has been my pleasure to work with each of them: Don Gutzmer, now our most senior Technical Advisor by years of service, is in his early 30s; Rachael Geerts, newly hired with a recent degree in composites engineering: Terry Monville, an experienced sailor and former manager at West Marine; and Greg Bull, another sailor who worked many years helping Jan Gougeon build his winning race boats. All are skillfully led by Jeff Wright, Vice President of Technical Services.
The role of GBI’s Technical Advisors has changed dramatically over my 22 years here, and for the better. I know the current group of smart, dedicated Technical Advisors will set a high standard for service and expertise. If I have provided even a fraction of the mentorship to these people as my old mentors provided to me, I will consider my time here well spent.
Professional and Personal Growth at Gougeon
One of the best aspects of working for GBI is that the job has stayed interesting for 22 years. This may be the most important aspect. I was encouraged to develop as a person and as a professional to a point where I felt the confidence that came from being at the top of my game. I’ve developed relationships with customers because they value my advice and opinions. I’ve developed a writing style that others I work with appreciate. I’ve even been trusted to tackle some controversial topics in print and online as a result. A work environment like this generates the satisfaction of a job well done. This translates into a level of personal satisfaction and happiness that I think is fairly rare in the world today—but common at GBI!
J.R. Watson and I knew each other 22 years ago because we both raced sailboats. Boat building and sailboat racing played a big role in the birth of this company and in my getting that first job interview. Historically speaking, I occupy a unique place in the GBI story as I prepare to leave. I am the last Tech Advisor that began learning the ropes in the old building from a group of people I am proud to call my friends and mentors; people who will forever be giants in my mind. I am grateful to each of them for giving me the foundation and expertise to take their place as, one by one, they each retired or passed away.
If my story is to be told, let it be said that I learned from the best. If my story is to be told, let it be said that I called Meade and Jan Gougeon friends. Let it be said that I am considered a comrade by the likes of former GBI Technical Advisors J.R. Watson, Tom Pawlak, Jim Derck, and Brian Knight. I thank these gentlemen for the privilege of their friendship and company.
Building a Camper, Sailing Triple Threat and Restoring a 1954 Cadillac
I won’t be resting on my laurels though. I will begin building a CLC teardrop camper this winter and put it to good use traveling to see the USA. Riding my Valkyrie to Sturgis is on my bucket list. I’ll be sailing my beloved ’81 Pearson Flyer, Triple Threat, to the North Channel and Georgian Bay. I’ll be showing off the 1954 Cadillac outboard runabout my brother and I are restoring. We may even end up in Mystic, Connecticut to show it off at the WoodenBoat Show. Mostly, I plan to enjoy myself and only work when it suits me—or if I need a few extra bucks for beer!
I am a lucky man, the first in my family to retire with benefits. I humbly thank all the men and women I’ve worked with over my 22 years at GBI. It has been my pleasure and distinct honor.