Tartan, Steve Malbasa
Steve Malbasa had never been on a sailboat until three years ago. Then the first time on board, the freedom of sailing swept away his retirement plans.
“I fell in love with sailing,” he said. “Sailing is about taking the headwinds and turning it into something that will propel you forward as opposed to taking you backwards,” Malbasa said. “It’s a great metaphor for life if you think about it.”
When he bought the 52-year-old company, long-known for superior craftsmanship, in July 2010 it was still recovering from a dramatic downtown. In 2009, the company was forced to lay off all but five of its more than 100 employees.
“If you don’t reach for something, you’re never going to get anywhere,” said Malbasa, 60. “But sometimes when you reach you stumble and fall. That’s business and that’s life. That’s not my plan. We’re building a world class product.”
Malbasa, who ran an investment company for 32 years, said his friends thought he was insane when he said he was buying a boat building company. In fact, his best friend, an attorney and accountant who grew up with him in Steubenville, refused to represent him in the transaction.
“When you’re buying a distressed company in a distressed industry, nobody is going to think it’s a good idea,” Malbasa said. “But I kept researching the brand and it’s outstanding. It’s iconic.” Now the company has 68 employees.
“When the market crashed in 2008 the entire industry suffered,” said, Malbasa, 60. “This industry was probably hurt more than any other industry.”
Other boat-building companies experienced similar issues, including Hunter Marine in Florida that lasted 40 years as one of the world’s largest sailboat manufacturers but nearly went out of business in 2012. It is now rebounding as Marlow-Hunter after being bought out of bankruptcy.
Part of the comeback for Tartan stems from building on a rich history that includes a merger in the 90s with C&C, a former Canadian company. The focus of both brands is performance, designed with the best technology available. For instance, company representatives say Tartan is the only sailboat manufacturer that offers carbon fiber masts as standard on all models. The light but strong material, made in Fairport Harbor, is used in high-end race cars and military planes.
Steve Malbasa, owner of Fairport Harbor-based Tartan and C&C Yachts is proud to see the company that he bought two years ago back at the Cleveland Mid-America Boat Show at the I-X Center, for the first time in several years. Following a difficult economic environment for the sailing industry, Malbasa is optimistic about the company’s future.
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