Donald T. Govan inspires his staff from the time he arrives at Spurs until he packs up his iPad and heads off to exercise after work. The 80 year-old tried to retire about three decades ago, but instead invented a patented system to prevent line, weed and net entanglement in boat propellers. His manufacturing facility in Ft. Lauderdale sells about 8,000 of the cutters a year for almost every size boat and ship.
The staff is motivated by the energy and enthusiasm they see in Govan. He works six days a week at his company, plus exercises at his home gym, complex gym or L.A. Fitness, each morning and many nights. He and his wife, Val Golden, are positive and healthy and it’s infectious said some of the staff.
“They don’t preach, but they’re inspiring,” Daniel Beal, salesman at Spurs, said.
When Govan hired Beal about five years ago, the 28 year-old had medical problems.
“I was in bad shape,” Beal said, “The doctor prescribed meds and Don said, “You don’t need those, and handed me this,” Beal said, pointing to a worn catalog for vitamin supplements.
Beal said Golden recommended a list of foods and he took the advice to change his diet.
“Now I’ve lost weight, I ride my bike to work,” Beal said. “And I’ve lowered my blood pressure.”
Susan Correa, marketing manager at Spurs for nearly five years has also been influenced.
“He’s an example of health, they eat salad, chicken, fish,” Correa said. ” He’s very disciplined.”
“I’ve lost a total of 55 pounds,” she said. “He’s passionate and makes everybody else passionate.”
Lead machinist Scooter Nauman said Govan is easy to work for and Spurs is a good environment to work in.
“Don lets you make or break yourself,” Nauman said. “There are hundreds of ways to machine a part, but he lets you do the job without breathing down your neck.”
“You want to do what’s expected,” Nauman said. “He makes you want to do it because you watch him.”
Tan and fit, with an infectious smile, Govan said he’s always been active. Born in 1932, Govan said he had more than 100 jobs growing up in Dearborn, Mich.
“Started with a paper route,” Govan said, “And I built my first bike.”
His father died when he was 2 years old so he was raised by his mother and grandmother.
“I had no one that taught me,” he said. “If we needed to fix something, we just fixed it.”
“I had a 1932 Ford and had to take the carburetor apart, that’s how we learned,” he said. “There is a satisfaction; you see something you made and say, “Wow, I did that, I made that.”
“My dad built his first house when he was 16,” said his son, Craig Govan, 51, a real estate developer in Florida.
Ten years old when his father put him to work at his construction sites, the younger Govan said his dad worked in both residential and commercial construction. And he innovated something new when he built apartments in Clearwater, Fla. with elaborate pool areas and recreation centers.
“Dad maintained ownership of the rec center,” the younger Govan said. “That was brilliant, he’s an excellent businessman.
“I’ve adapted from his playbook for modern use,” he said.
Govan explains that the idea for Spurs came to him when he retired at 40 years old and bought a yacht.
“I was sitting on my boat thinking this is stupid, I was so bored,” he said recounting what came next.
“Val was on the bow as we navigated through lobster pots in Boothbay, Maine” he said.
“It was a Monday morning, they were pulling boats with bent shafts, engines flipped,” he said of seeing damaged propellers wrapped with trap lines.
That was enough to spur Govan out of his ennui. He envisioned a line caught by a propeller, being moved by rotating cutter blades, around the shaft to a stationary blade which would cut it away.
In 1981 Govan created the company which manufactures his patented technology to mount on boat shafts and ships to prevent entanglement.
“He laid out buoys and lines and ran over them to see how his inventions worked,” J.C. Milton said. Milton was a 25-year veteran boat captain when Govan hired him to do installations in 1991.
Milton said Govan talked his boss into putting Spurs on their sportfish in the early days of the invention.
“It didn’t work out too well,” Milton said. “After it failed it became apparent what happened, the blades need to pass close, but cannot pass a certain point or it will stop.”
“An idea don’t mean it’s gonna work, it’s the little things that don’t come to mind until they fail,” Milton said. “You fix that then continue on until that fails and then you fix that. Don mastered the problems.”
So, after fixing that, Govan got a new patent; one of more than seven he holds today.
Milton worked at Spurs until a few years ago. He began by installing on small inboard type boats. But for inboard/outboard you couldn’t just buy the part and install it, he said, it needed machine work. So Govan continued to expand the business.
“We dropped that line of products and Don took the time he spent there to work on big ships,” Milton said. Now Spurs supplies 540 boatyards in a dozen countries. The parts are installed on more than 600 ships including U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Canadian Coast Guard, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution vessels as well as thousands of pleasure and commercial vessels.
With Spurs on boats around the world, Govan is not slowing down. He continues to inspire the next generations.
Les Fairchild, a machinist at Spurs for the last six years said he’s grateful to Govan.
“Don hired me, I was desperate and had no clue, but I’ve benefitted a lot,” Fairchild said.
“I like it because I’m still learning.”
“Don has a willingness to teach,” Correa said.
“If you want to do it, he lets you pick his mind,” she said. “He’s my mentor.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com.