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Name and title: Raymond M. Beebe, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary Age: 61 The company: With revenue of $828.4 million in 2002, Winnebago Industries Inc. is the largest manufacturer of motor homes in the United States. Founded in 1958 and headquartered in Forest City, Iowa, Winnebago employs almost 70% of Forest City’s population of 4,500. The company also has three smaller plants in Iowa with 525 employees. The long haul: Winnebago is managed by seven people: a chief executive officer and six vice presidents, including Beebe. Beebe said that with the exception of one vice president, the other six officers have worked at Winnebago for an average of 30 years, with Beebe himself approaching the average. As vice president, Beebe oversees product safety, code compliance and real estate purchasing. He also assists other departments when legal issues arise pertaining to franchise agreements, employee discrimination or wrongful termination. As general counsel, his main job is to oversee corporate litigation. “You have a house on top of a car, so it’s a complicated product,” he said. Because of this complex design, Beebe said, Winnebago faces numerous products liability cases every year, hitting a peak of 150 in the mid to late 1980s. Beebe said that when he started working for Winnebago in 1974, the company was facing six total lawsuits. An example of a recent case took place in the Louisiana Court of Appeal in New Orleans, where, in January 2002, Winnebago won an appeal that overturned a products liability verdict of $500,000. The plaintiff, who crashed into a tree, alleged that his Winnebago was not crashworthy and had poor steering capability. Under Louisiana law, in a products liability case, the plaintiff must not only prove wrongdoing, but also must provide a viable alternative design for the product that would not have failed under similar conditions. The court ruled that the plaintiff did not meet the second requirement of a products liability lawsuit. Beebe claims that some plaintiff’s attorneys are so concerned with generating fees that sometimes they are careless and sue the wrong manufacturer. “Sometimes we get lawsuits with Fleetwood, one of our competitors, listed as the defendant, instead of us,” he said. Winnebago, as a motor vehicle manufacturer, also faces “lemon law” litigation. Beebe tries to limit these cases by arguing that motor homes are different from regular motor vehicles, and, therefore, not all lemon laws should apply to motor homes. Beebe said that some lemon laws require a company to repurchase a motor vehicle if it is out of service for 30 days, but he argues that given the complexity of a motor home, companies such as Winnebago should be given more time to provide repairs. Pension litigation: In the 1980s, Winnebago developed a deferred compensation plan for its employees. However, in 1994, Winnebago decided that the plan was “too rich” and, subsequently, lowered the compensation some employees would receive at the time of their retirement. Winnebago is currently being sued by 51 current and former employees in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa for promoting the compensation plan and then altering the amount of money that employees would receive at the time of their retirement in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. In May 2003, the judge denied the employees’ motion to be certified as a class, but they have filed a motion to have that decision reconsidered. Dealmaker: Under founder John K. Hanson, Winnebago was a diversified company. But after his death in 1996, the company decided to focus on motor homes and related products. Beebe then went into dealmaker mode and helped to sell Cycled-Sat Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Winnebago, for $57 million. Cycled-Sat transmitted television ads via satellite. Beebe served as the general counsel for Cycled-Sat and was involved in all legal aspects of the transaction. corporate governance: With the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Winnebago created the charters and procedures required under the law. Beebe said, though, that they “never played games with financial statements. “We didn’t wake up one day and realize we needed to make changes,” he said. Beebe attributes the lack of major changes to the small-town atmosphere at Winnebago, which would not allow Winnebago to hide any wrongdoing. “There are no secrets at Winnebago,” according to Beebe. “Given our location and employees, I don’t think it would even be possible.” Legal staff: Beebe was the only attorney in the legal unit until 1994, which, he said, “was not smart,” because it required him to work 60 hours a week. In 1994, Terry Hagen, who was a cost accountant at Winnebago, joined Beebe as his assistant general counsel. Beebe oversees a staff of four, which includes Hagen, one paralegal, a code compliance and safety officer and a corporate real estate officer. Outside counsel: Beebe looks for law firms that have broken away from the “name brand firms” and who don’t charge as much. He finds that such a model has worked well for Winnebago. Beebe uses Chapman and Cutler of Chicago for Securities and Exchange Commission work; Sellar, Hazard, McNeely & Manning in San Francisco for products liability and lemon law cases; and Bartz & Bartz in Minneapolis for patent and trademark work. Rise to the top: Beebe received his J.D. from the University of Iowa in 1967. He then joined Iowa’s attorney general’s office as an assistant AG in 1968. Beebe moved into private practice at Forest City’s Cooper, Sinnard and Beebe in 1969 and remained there until 1981. In 1974, though, he began to work mainly for Winnebago as outside counsel, which facilitated his move to becoming its official general counsel in 1981. Family: Beebe is married to Joan and together they have five children, two biological and three foster. Blaine, 33, and Kristen, 31, are their biological children and William, 33, Jeffrey, 31, and Mike Tobin, 15, are their foster children. Last book and movie: John Adams, by David McCullough, and James Bond: Die Another Day. -Aaron Lauchheimer

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