By Annie Rhoades
The career of a trained engineer typically doesn’t involve having an expertise in business sales. But for alumnus John Ward (BE 80), president and CEO of Hatteras/Cabo Yachts in New Bern, North Carolina, that’s precisely what he needs to succeed.
“For some unknown reason I got lured into the marine industry,” Ward said. “I’ve spent 27 years in the industry and have had a fabulous career. I’m very blessed and honored.”
Born in New Jersey, Ward moved to Ohio then eventually landed in Florida where he grew up in Fort Lauderdale and New Smyrna Beach.
After graduating from Fort Lauderdale High School in 1974, Ward decided to stay close to home and pursue an engineering degree at the University of Florida.
“I originally went to the University of Florida and studied aerospace and mechanical engineering before transferring to Ole Miss in 1978 because of the bachelor of engineering program they offered,” Ward said. “Many members of my family went to Ole Miss starting with an uncle of mine who played football for Johnny Vaught, so I knew about the school. Once I saw the program, I said that’s the program for me. I knew it would give me the right education to do what I wanted to do, because I came to the realization that I really didn’t want to be a professional engineer. I loved science and math and the engineering curriculum, but I didn’t want to be an engineer.”
A member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, Ward focused on his studies and soon found a friend in Damon Wall, deceased assistant dean emeritus of the School of Engineering and associate professor emeritus of electrical engineering.
“Coming to Oxford I didn’t know anybody, and I met this fellow by the name of Damon Wall in the engineering school.” Ward recalled. “He became my mentor, and the guy that just kind of brought me in. When people talk about Ole Miss, especially the School of Engineering, they talk in terms of you’re not a number, you’re a person. That’s not only true today, but it was true 30 something years ago and Damon Wall was one that exemplified making me feel like a real person and wanting to help me with transitioning from the University of Florida to Ole Miss. He helped me decide what classes I needed and what my interests were.”
Ward quickly developed an interest in the business courses the university offered that complemented his engineering curriculum. The combination provided the perfect background to his 37-year career working for five different premium brand companies including a 10-year stint in the consumer electronics industry beginning with Texas Instruments in 1980, followed by Canon USA.
“I had several job offers when I graduated, and I went to work for Texas Instruments in customer service,” Ward said. “They were hiring engineers to be trained and groomed to go into technical sales, both on the consumer electronics side as well as the digital systems group side, so I went and spent five years with them before leaving to work with Canon USA in the reprographics division for the next five years.”
While visiting with his father in Fort Lauderdale in 1989, a family friend asked if he would be interested in pursuing a career in the marine industry. After contemplating the offer, Ward decided to take a chance and began working for Boston Whaler.
“I thought you know what, I’m going to do this,” said Ward. “I grew up around boats and liked and understood boats. That’s one of the things I share with students – if you can find a career and a company and an industry that’s something you really love, it’s amazing how much more energy and excitement you put into your work. My 10 years in the consumer electronics industry were great. I learned a lot and developed skills that helped me be successful after that, but it wasn’t fun for me because I wasn’t into consumer electronics. I’m into boats. I love boats and fishing and being on the water. I think that can make a huge difference in your outlook and commitment in all the things you do.”
Ward spent 22 years with Boston Whaler, working his way up to president and CEO. After a brief stint with Mercury Marine, he accepted a job with Hatteras/Cabo Yachts in 2011.
In 2016 he received the Engineer of Distinction Award from the Alumni Association and the School of Engineering. While he’s proud of his achievement, the thing he enjoys most is coming back to his alma mater and sharing his story with future engineers.
“I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to come back and lecture in Dean Cheng’s leadership class in the fall on Friday afternoons, which has always been very rewarding,” Ward said. “I feel like I can give back to the students and share with them my experiences and lessons I’ve learned. You get into the academic world and it can be kind of artificial with textbooks. I think it’s great for students to get exposure to what life is like after you leave college and start your career. I’ve been very fortunate with what I’ve done with my life and career, and I like to share that to help other people have those same successes.”