The pleasure boat industry is chock full of the most interesting of people -- hard working, dedicated individuals and families who have often put their life’s savings and full-time energies to fulfilling their dreams of creating the boats we know and love.
These are their stories.
Current Grady-White owner and CEO, Eddie Smith, was in high school in 1959 in Lexington, North Carolina, when Glen Grady and Don White founded Grady-White Boats in Greenville, North Carolina.
Greenville is located on the Tar River a few miles inland from Washington, North Carolina, where the Tar joins the Pamlico River draining into Pamlico Sound, a popular 80-mile long lagoon protected from the Atlantic ocean by the famous Outer Banks.
Glen Grady hailed from Wisconsin where he gained his knowledge of wooden boatbuilding and design, first with Thompson Boats and then for several years of increasing responsibility with Cruisers, Inc. of Oconto, Wisconsin.
Don White was a Cruisers, Inc. dealer in North Carolina. Together, they wanted to build their own boats targeted specifically to the East Coast boater. They set up shop in 1959 in a warehouse in downtown Greenville.
Grady and White relied on a plentiful supply of experienced local furniture craftsmen to form and construct the small coastal boats suited for the rough waters of the coast. Strong backbone ribs and keels of white oak were covered with lapstrake mahogany plywood planks in the clinker-built style utilizing labour intensive brass screws and sealant. Transoms were solid mahogany.
Grady-White designs featured high freeboards and a flared bow entry to handle the local sea conditions. The first three models in 1960, all outboard powered, were 16'6", 17'6", and 20' even. Sterndrive power was introduced for the larger models in 1961. The boats soon gained a solid reputation for quality and seaworthiness.
By 1962, inboard-powered models in 25 and 28 feet had been added to the lineup. In 1966, a 17-footer was built specifically to test the newfangled fiberglass market, while the lineup of wooden lapstrake runabouts, weekenders, and cruisers expanded to include a 33-foot Sea Skiff. Glen Grady believed the use of fiberglass in boatbuilding to be a fad.
While all this was going on, young Eddie Smith was going to school over a hundred miles away. He was also spending quality time with his father in the great outdoors. In 1960, Eddie enrolled at the University of North Carolina knowing full well that upon graduation he would join National Wholesale, his father’s very successful mail order hosiery and apparel business.
Upon graduation, Eddie did just that as well as marrying his college sweetheart. Even though his heart was not into pursuing his father’s business, he stayed for three years learning his father’s business principles which became engrained in him; unquestionable integrity in all aspects of business, appreciating and valuing both workers and customers, striving for the utmost in perfection and quality, and giving back to industry, employees, and the community.
By 1968, fiberglass-built boats had taken over the market, Glen Grady had just recently left the company, and Grady-White Boats with Don White at the helm was faltering and close to bankruptcy. It was still building wooden boats. Quite by coincidence, Eddie Smith, also a private pilot, as a favour had flown a friend to Greenville to meet with Don White.
Smith quickly assessed the Grady-White financial and market predicaments and recognized the opportunity that presented itself. Smith talked it over with his father and very quickly, the family purchased the company. At 26 years old, young entrepreneur Eddie Smith, with little to no experience, took charge of Grady-White Boats.
Eddie quickly put his father’s business principles into practice while getting the company on solid footing. He converted the production line and the product lineup to fiberglass while maintaining strict quality control. He also refocused the company towards the models the boating market most wanted. The 1968 lineup Smith inherited included 15 models from 16-22 feet, of which the four smallest models were also available in fiberglass.
Converting the production line from wood to fiberglass and convincing dealers and customers to come on board, meant a few lean years and a much reduced model lineup. By 1971, the fiberglass lineup had expanded to eight models from 16 to 21 feet, some outboard and some sterndrive powered. Smith and some of his top staff participated in as many offshore fishing tournaments as possible to learn their customer base and see how they used their boats.
Based on what they learned, Grady-White began to improve upon the center console design. They added rod holders and rod racks, non-skid decks, insulated and self-draining storage compartments, self-draining cockpits, and sufficient foam flotation that the boats became “unsinkable.”
Grady-White did not invent the walkaround cabin model, but its mid-1970’s Hatteras 204-C Overnighter Walkaround was among the first on the market and a big seller. It combined the needs of both fishermen and family cruising in a well-rounded package. With a strong focus on family fishing, in 1978 the company introduced the first saltwater Dual Console with a fiberglass inner liner. That same year, Grady-White offered 17 models from 17 to 25 feet. By 1985, the lineup had grown to 32 models from 19 to 25 feet.
One of the biggest announcements for Grady-White came in 1989 when it contracted with naval architects C. Raymond Hunt and Associates, originators of the deep-V hull design, to design a hull best suited to their customer base and the waters they were using. The result was the legendary SeaV²® variable deadrise design proprietary to Grady-White. The design is still in use today and has been adapted to every model in the lineup. It offers a soft ride while cruising, and stability at slow speeds or at rest. By 1989, the lineup had consolidated to 25 models from 19 feet all the way to the brand new Marlin 28 -- the first to incorporate Grady-White’s new SeaV²® hull design.
After a quarter century at the helm, Eddie had a knowledgeable and highly respected management team. Following the retirement of Wiley Corbett in 1993, who had been with Eddie since the beginning, first in design, engineering, and production and later as President, Eddie chose company veteran Kris Carroll to take over as President of Grady-White. She would be the first female elevated to such a position in the industry.
Kris had progressed in responsibilities and had a similar business mindset to Eddie. Both managed their responsibilities with the same principles since day one. As well as a strong customer focus and team building priorities, Kris also brought with strong belief in a motivated and happy work force.
She implemented an employee reading program, an on-site lending library, financial incentives for reading selective books for participation in educational programs, and incentives for achieving performance and attendance objectives.
2001 saw the introduction of Grady-White’s largest boat to date, the Express 330, which was outboard powered in a market traditionally powered by inboard engines.
The Express 330 not only took utilization of outboard power to new levels, it received wide market acceptance and was awarded Boating Magazine’s Boat of the Year. That year’s lineup offered 19 models from 18 to 34 feet.
That same year, J.D. Power and Associates conducted its first study of customer satisfaction in the marine industry. Grady-White Boats ranked highest in the Center Console category. In 2002, it won the J.D. Power award again, along with the first awarding of the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). Grady-White has since amassed every third-party customer satisfaction award ever given in the marine industry.
In 2003, Grady-White opened a new plant expansion and with it many updates and innovative additions to its models. A special focus was on smaller boats for inland use. The Tournament 225 was one of the first open dual consoles to feature an enclosed head compartment. Grady-White’s patented foldaway rear bench seat was also introduced. That same year, Eddie Smith was inducted into the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association Hall of Fame for his contributions to boating.
Other Grady-White firsts include the electronically controlled convertible lounge seat in 2006, unique patented reversible and self-stowing aft jump seats, the Captain Grady® iPad and iPhone owner’s information application in 2012, the AirView AV2® hardtop enclosure in 2013, the patented three-position sliding and tilting passenger seating in 2014, the shallower draft Coastal Explorer series for inland waters also in 2014, patented fold-down cockpit step in 2016, patented fold away bow backrests in 2017, and patented sliding rack rod storage in 2018.
2019 marked the company’s 60th anniversary, and in 2020 Grady-White President Kris Carroll became the first female ever to receive the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association Hall of Fame award. That same year, following on one of Eddie Smith’s business principles for giving back, Grady-White committed to the largest ever donation to East Carolina University resulting in the naming of the Grady-White Boats Athletic Campus.
Now in 2023, Grady-White offers 26 models in five series' from 18 to 45 feet. Eddie Smith’s business principles seem to have come full circle.
Don't forget to check out our full multi-part series covering all the Innovators in Boating.