Last week, Joi Scientific announced it has granted its first technology license to MarineMax, the world’s largest boat and yacht retailer. (You can read our press release here). Today, we are honored to speak with Bill McGill, Founder and CEO of MarineMax, who shares his view on the transformative potential of Hydrogen 2.0 in the marine industry.
An Interview with Bill McGill, Founder and CEO of MarineMax
Bill McGill is not your average water ski enthusiast. What began as a weekend reward for hard work at his family’s Nashville farm when he was growing up turned into a life-long passion for water skiing that led him to build the largest pleasure boat and yacht retailer in the world. Surprisingly, he set out to build his multi-billion-dollar boating empire following a successful engineering career that included work for NASA’s International Space Station (ISS).
In today’s interview, we explore the exciting rise of MarineMax (which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary on the NYSE); how Bill began with a singular focus that continues to guide his company today―using watercraft to bring people together; and of course, Hydrogen 2.0.
Here are the highlights of our interview:
Tell us the story behind the creation of MarineMax.
MarineMax is the culmination of my passion for water activities. Ever since I was a young boy, I have been an avid skier. My passion began when my parents would reward our work on the farm with weekends of skiing near our home in Nashville, Tennessee. I loved the contrast between my farm life during the weekdays and the freedom and the connection to family that I felt when I was in the water. You could say that my life’s journey led me to eventually dedicate myself entirely to matters related to my love for water recreation because it was a passion that followed me all through my career as an engineer.
In fact, my professional life working in the field could not have taken me further from water. I wanted to be an astronaut and began my career designing systems for the Space Program―specifically what is now the International Space Station (ISS), which took NASA decades to complete. NASA slowed down their astronaut and manned space program in the early 1970s, and I became restless and left to work in the manufacturing world. It did not take long to detect an unmet market need related to my passion: making watercraft accessible for more people. In 1973, I left the manufacturing world and started my own boat dealership, which eventually became one of the largest in the country. Then in 1998, I led the formation of MarineMax, making it an active community where regular people like you and I could easily find the right boats and yachts, get them serviced, and enjoy them by participating in our many events, which we call Getaways.
What drove the rise of MarineMax to become the world’s largest retailer of pleasure boats?
In my mind it is very simple: we’re here to take care of our customers and expand boating because we love it. Boating is an activity that changes people’s lives. Unlike other activities, take golf, for example, boating brings families together. There is nothing more pleasurable for a family who lives near water than boarding a craft and having a fun weekend together, dog included. After we saw the success we were having to achieve exactly this goal, we decided to take the company public and bring the industry together in a more solidified way. At the end of the day, we are all having fun and taking care of people; we are now just doing it on a larger scale.
What is the role that conservation plays in your vision of taking care of people and bringing them together through watercraft?
Water―lakes, rivers, and oceans―is a precious and fragile resource we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy with the same pleasure and beauty that we were fortunate to have enjoyed. People who have boats and spend quality time on the water know this. You cannot afford to pollute the environment you play in. Conserving the environment has been a core value and top priority for our company since our founding. We are quick to bring to market sustainable new technologies that can help our customers conserve as soon as they become available from manufacturers. These technological improvements in watercraft take many forms, ranging from more efficient engines to cleaner electricity generators for onboard power. We want our customers to be able to have it all―state-of-the-art boats and watercrafts along with pristine environments on which to enjoy them.
What part of this have-it-all goal to sustainable boating do you envision covering with your license for Hydrogen 2.0 technology?
Our family became a champion of electric vehicles (EV) ever since the first Tesla Roadster came out a decade ago. It was an easy choice; they are beautifully designed, powerful machines that are good to the environment. These cars run green and run silent, which are two key characteristics, in my mind, that we need to apply to the boating industry. However, they do have a caveat: Teslas don’t run totally green. If the electric grid to which you plug them in gets say 60% of its power from coal, then 60% of your EV’s full-charge results in the emission of greenhouse gases. Hydrogen 2.0 can change all that in the marine industry, and that is why we chose to license this innovative technology from Joi Scientific.
What I ultimately see is boats floating in their own fuel. The ability to generate your power from the water that surrounds you is simply transformative. As the largest retailer in the industry, the impact that MarineMax can have by bringing this technology to the marine market is quite significant. To say I am excited is a true understatement.
How do you plan to make Hydrogen 2.0 applications available to your customers, and how will it evolve over time?
Boats need electricity for things like lighting, cooling, heating, cooking, and the proper functioning of instruments. Many boaters run their generator engines at night while they sleep. Without proper maintenance, the generators could create risks to the passengers or vessel, not to mention the noise and the vibration.
Hydrogen 2.0 promises to bring a vast departure from today’s scenario. From the hydrogen of the water surrounding your vessel, you will be able to operate reciprocating engines or fuel cells while you sleep to produce electricity, silently, with no emissions. Our first Hydrogen 2.0 application will be in this area.
Thereafter, the sky is the limit. Hydrogen 2.0 is a truly independent energy source, and water vessels, in my view, is the perfect application of it. My skepticism of this technology ended years ago after one of my managers introduced me to the Joi Scientific team, whose CEO he had met on a business trip. As a science and engineering guy, I know that the only thing constant about science is that our long-cherished assumptions can be turned upside down by a transformative discovery or invention. Think of how Einstein’s relativity, which defies common sense, changed the game for the classical Newtonian view of the world. Or think of how doctors once believed that draining your blood was a way to cure common illnesses and how modern medicine has made that belief obsolete.
For me, Hydrogen 2.0 is an equivalent of these transformative changes from a scientific perspective. There is a way to harvest the plentiful hydrogen energy that water contains in an economically viable way, and Joi Scientific is well on their way to making it a commercial reality for the marine industry and other sectors.
What is it about the Joi Scientific team that stands out?
We are a multi-billion-dollar company for a reason: we don’t make stupid bets. For us, licensing Hydrogen 2.0 is a necessary investment in the future we want to bring about with the industry muscle that we have. Ever since we came across Joi Scientific, I have been following the company closely, meeting their scientists and engineers, and ultimately, problem-solving with them to apply the real-world experience that a company like ours can bring.
However, when it comes to sustainable energy, their transformative value equation doesn’t stop there. We also don’t make bets on teams we don’t like and admire. I have been collaborating with them for several years now and my admiration for their technological prowess, their scientific rigor, and their commitment to use it to change the world, has only grown.
Now that we have licensed Joi Scientific’s Hydrogen 2.0 technology, I am excited to have MarineMax embark on the next chapter in our history and our mission―to take care of people and be the first retailer in the industry to bring the promise of clean, affordable, and always-available energy to the world of boating.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.