Sparks fly as high-tech RV-maker parts ways with CEO

  • Comments
  • Print

A crowd gathered in Speedway on March 6 to see the unveiling of startup Global Caravan Technologies’ carbon-fiber RV, which is half the weight of conventional RVs and thus can be towed on highways using far less fuel.

“I think the excitement is building,” Lt. Gov. Sue Elspermann said during the ceremony at the Dallara IndyCar factory, which sits next door to Global Caravan’s headquarters and helped develop the 35-foot RV prototype.

Little did she know how right she was.

A new lawsuit filed by one of the speakers that night, then-CEO Charles Hoefer Jr., reveals he was ousted one month later—a dismissal he claims followed a conspiracy by other company insiders to defraud him of “rightful majority ownership” and “to steal GCT” for themselves.

The turmoil comes at a critical time for Global’s founders, who told IBJ last year they planned to revolutionize the recreational vehicle industry, in part by selling super-high-end RVs to the growing class of wealthy executives in China.

Stepping in as interim CEO is one of the company’s founders, Christopher Douglas of the investment advisory firm C.H. Douglas & Gray. Remaining president is another founder, Harrison Ding, a Chinese native who formerly was an executive with IBM.

The suit accuses both men of a long list of misrepresentations aimed at shortchanging Hoefer, who alleges the snubs came as the company’s efforts to raise as much as $25 million ran aground.

Hoefer is only 28, but his surname is storied. His father, David Hoefer Sr., helped launch such major RV brands as Dutchmen and Four Winds, and David Jr. says he learned the industry’s ropes working by his side. “Frankly, from early grade school, I was working in sales and developing products and you name it, ever since before I had a driver’s license,” he told IBJ last year.

In his suit, Hoefer said Ding and Douglas undermined his credibility, telling employees he was “brilliant but immature and couldn’t be worked with.”

In an emailed statement, Global Caravan Technologies cast the allegations in the suit as nonsense and accused Hoefer of “using the court system to disparage the leadership of GCT and to undermine GCT’s opportunity for success.”

The statement said Hoefer is merely a minority owner and said “claims that he is the rightful majority owner … and that the company’s assets are being stolen from him are patently false.”

It continues: “His lawsuit, which reads as sensationalistic, defamatory and error-ridden, demonstrates the same emotional, irrational and dangerous behavior that led to his necessary separation from the company.”

Hoefer, Douglas and Ding were all smiles at the prototype unveiling, a video posted on the Internet shows. But according to the lawsuit, behind the scenes Hoefer already was being cast aside.

In fact, the suit says, just hours before the launch, “Ding played his hardest sabotage against [Hoefer], insulting GCT’s electrical contractors and calling them unqualified,” which prompted them to walk off the job.

Hoefer said Ding did so to undermine his credibility as CEO. Hoefer said he was able to get the contractors back to work by apologizing for Ding and attributing the dust-up to a cultural mistake.

This isn’t the first time others have criticized Hoefer’s business practices. IBJ reported in September that earlier in 2013 he closed an RV company he led in Marion, leaving a trail of unpaid bills and angry city officials.

Hoefer said in that story that “the challenges were so great” when he came aboard in 2011 that he was unable to turn things around. Back then, Douglas came to his defense, playing up his qualifications in a letter to the editor.

Now that Hoefer is out of the picture at Global Caravan Technologies, Douglas and Ding are getting back to business. Douglas said in an email that, despite Hoefer’s assertions to the contrary, fundraising and the company’s strategy are on track.

Without being specific, he said the amount raised to develop the prototype exceeded plans. And now that Global Caravan has a prototype to show prospective investors or partners, he said, it is well-positioned to raise more.

Douglas said the firm has about a dozen employees—in addition to working with a team of contractors, consultants and other partners—and is still pursuing its goal of manufacturing RVs in the United States.•

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.