His philosophy of life has always been to seize the opportunities placed before him. “If I miss an opportunity,” he says, “the blame is mine for having failed in some manner or another; and then I try to live with it in the best way possible, yet always looking ahead.”
John K., as he has been known throughout his life, has missed few opportunities and has had little blame placed on his shoulders for having failed. Chairman of the quarter-century-old Winnebago Industries, Incorporated, John Hanson is considered by many to be the father of recreational vehicles and the driving force behind the success of an entire town – Forest City, Iowa.
Born in 1913 on a farm in Thor, Iowa, Hanson began working at age 10 in his father’s farm implements store. At 14 he had learned enough to manage the shop for three weeks while his father was out of town on business.
By 1955 Hanson’s experience extended to retail auto and furniture sales, the funeral business, and the marketing and sale of items as diverse as small appliances and tractors. John K. purchased these businesses from his father one by one. In 1954 he sold his International Harvester/Oldsmobile franchise, and the building lay vacant until a Forest City development group lured a California trailer manufacturer to town. When the firm went bankrupt, Hanson took command and began to manufacture hardtop trailers. From this beginning, Winnebago Industries was born.
Winnebago expanded to new plants, added different lines of travel vehicles, and outsold the two other top manufacturers through innovative construction and marketing techniques. Using foam rubber and sandwiched styrofoam, Hanson created a trailer that was lighter, stronger, and better insulated than the traditional wood-based vehicle.
John K. went into semiretirement in 1977, just before the gas crunch and the rise in interest rates. Two years later he returned to rescue his company by transforming an $18 million debt to an $18 million cash surplus. Today Winnebago is the world’s largest motor home manufacturer with production under one roof, and it is a major industrial force in the state of Iowa.