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While a SkillsUSA student officer 20 years ago, Rick Peterson set his sights on becoming a leader and all that entails. Throughout his career, he’s never let go of that vision.

By E. Thomas Hall

Take the lure of the open road, add the drive to be a leader and mix in ethics of steel, and you’ve got the career of Rick Peterson.

Peterson owns a business that leases recreational vehicles while, as a regional sales manager for a major motor-home manufacturer, he traverses the mid-Atlantic states. Between RV shows and making vacation dreams come true, he mentors students and is charter president of the Kiwanis Club in Michigan City, Ind.

He started his business last year after thinking about how people park their RVs in their yards when they’re not on vacation. Why not lease them for the rest of the year and make some money? The idea proved successful. “Vacations on Wheels” turned a profit in its first year. Sixty percent of each rental fee goes to the vehicle’s owner and the rest to the business.

Peterson leases the one RV he owns and needs to spend only a couple hours per week on the business. A friend who left the travel industry post-9/11 handles the reservations and marketing. “I make sure we have motor homes,” Peterson explains.

He’s worked in the business for 25 years, both in retail and in manufacturing. In high school, he was studying to be a mechanic when he got involved in SkillsUSA (then VICA) and was drawn to its leadership aspects. He competed in Extemporaneous Speaking and Prepared Speech. As a high school senior, he was elected chapter president and state president, then chosen as national postsecondary vice president in 1982.

“Basically, it’s what changed my whole career and what I wanted to do in life. It brought out the leadership ability in me that I didn’t know I had,” Peterson says. While an officer, he met “a lot of very inspirational people,” such as Mack Trucks executive Al Pelletier — a staunch supporter of the organization — and the chief executive of the United States, as he shared the stage at the 1983 national conference with President Ronald Reagan.

“The more I was in leadership, the more I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Peterson remembers. He considered a career in politics, but the possibility of compromising his ethics steered him down another path.

Recently, he applied his leadership skills toward starting a local Kiwanis Club, infusing the community organization with new blood. The first year, 32 members joined. Meanwhile, he’s mentored at a South Bend school, becoming a role model to one student in particular.

Behind his current position in motor home sales is a lesson in determination. After leaving a job managing an RV business over a clash of ethics with the owner, he applied for a position with Damon Motor Coach in Elkhart. Told he didn’t have the right experience for that particular job, Peterson was undeterred.

“I put my suit on, went back in and said I wasn’t leaving until the sales manager talked to me,” he says. They wound up talking for two hours. The result? An offer of a place for him somewhere within the company. “He said he liked my moxie.”

In his first month on the job, Peterson adds, he was fourth highest among nine salespeople in sales. The second month, he was third. “In other words, never give up if it’s something you really want.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Spring 2003 | Volume 37, No. 3
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