Viking Yachts Co-Founder Robert T. Healey Sr. (1929-2021)
Robert T. Healey Sr., the co-founder of the Viking Yacht Company who helped build the company into an industry leader and led the fight that repealed the Federal Luxury Tax on yachts in the early 1990s, passed away last week at the age of 92.
“My father was a true leader, and his vision will always guide us,” said his son, Robert Healey Jr. “He believed that the people around him – his family, friends and employees – lifted him to success and it was his obligation to leave the world a better place.”
Bob Healey Sr. and his brother Bill established Viking Yachts in 1964, and the company went on to become the largest manufacturer of sportfishing yachts in the world. But that success may have never been achieved without the determination and perseverance of Bob Healey. When a federal 10 percent luxury tax was imposed on yachts in 1991, thousands of people were laid off and hundreds of companies went out of business. Viking nearly went bankrupt, closed a plant in Florida and laid off all but 65 of its 1,500 boatbuilders.
Bob was instrumental in organizing a national, grass-roots campaign to fight the tax. He took the industry lead, organizing busloads of out-of-work boatbuilders to converge on Capitol Hill for demonstrations, and setting fire to a boat on a barge in Narragansett Bay as a highly effective symbol of protest. The tax was repealed 20 months later in 1993.
“My uncle’s efforts to repeal the Federal Luxury Tax on yachts will never be forgotten,” said Bill’s son and Viking Yachts President and CEO Pat Healey. “He saved not only Viking but the entire marine industry. He was the catalyst and leader, and he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He was a brilliant lawyer and savvy businessman who was able to convince the politicians in Washington that this was very much a JOBS ISSUE. It was about good hardworking people losing their ability to provide for their families.
Bob’s 11th-hour lobbying efforts with Congressman Bill Hughes, who represented N.J.’s Second District, helped secure the votes needed to repeal the Luxury Tax in 1993. “It was a great victory for our family-owned-and-operated boatbuilding company, the people of New Jersey and everyone in the marine industry,” said Pat.
With Bill’s help, Bob privately funded the company out of his own savings, allowing Viking to tool up new models. The company came out of the gate running when the tax was finally repealed – and they never looked back.