Lemonis credits a whim and instincts for his success
Marcus Lemonis, Arts ’99, jokes that his typical business philosophy is to “wing it.” Fortunately, he has good instincts. The Miami native chose to attend Marquette on a whim after losing a bet with a relative in Chicago, and he believes that decision was the foundation of his success (and perhaps built his tolerance for Midwestern winters).
“Marquette was without a doubt the single biggest influence on my life,” says Lemonis, who is chair and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam, the world’s largest organization for RV owners. “I really felt like I cut my teeth at Marquette.”
Lemonis was an average student and political science major. He threw the javelin on the track team; interned for U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) through Marquette’s Les Aspin Center in Washington, D.C.; and twice ran unsuccessfully for student body president. He found other outlets for his “boisterous” personality, including going with then-president Rev. Albert DiUlio, S.J., to Milwaukee’s Common Council to advocate for shutting a portion of Wisconsin Avenue to traffic. The council voted down the proposal.
At 22, Lemonis ran unsuccessfully for an open state representative seat in Florida and then decided to branch out on his own instead of returning to the family’s automobile business.
Lemonis’ foray into the RV industry was very intentional: He was looking for a niche that didn’t have a lot of barriers to entry and where there was a lot of potential for growth and longevity.
“People are always going to go outdoors, they’re always going to spend time with their families,” Lemonis says. “I wanted something like being a barber — people are always going to need to cut their hair.”
He started acquiring independent dealerships and soon became the No. 1 RV dealer in the country.
Lemonis, who does not have children, says he feels paternal toward the more than 5,000 people who work for him. “I like the responsibility, and it’s a daunting one, of having other people achieve success based on the decisions I make,” he says. — NSE