Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  S.K. (Funk) McGarvey '74
  Oyvind Solvang '86
  Joe Shacter '87
  Troy Anderson '98
  David Jehn '90
  Eleni Rossides '01

Ferry tale

by Deborah Leigh Wood

It doesn't take an MBA to know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But the degree helps when you're deciding if a venture based on that theorem will succeed.

So far it has, says Oyvind Solvang '86, who in June 2004 launched Lake Express, a high-speed ferry that carries passengers across Lake Michigan between Milwaukee, Wis., and Muskegon, Mich.

"The first season was an overwhelming success with the summer fully booked," says Solvang, who formed Lake Express with the brother of his wife, Susan Lubar '86. "We also were awarded Ferry of the Year by Marine Log magazine for outstanding performance as a start-up operation and high level of customer service."

Solvang says more than three years of planning, research and "pulling out the old Kotler books" went into creating Lake Express, an $18 million, 192-foot-long catamaran that operates May through December. The ferry offers movies, deli food and headphones for sale to pass the time on the 2 1/2 hour trip, which runs three times a day during peak season and twice during the off-season.

Business is good in both directions, Solvang says, because "people want to avoid the 5 1/2-to-seven-hour drive south to Chicago and around the lake."

Those boarding on the Milwaukee side head to Michigan for beach vacations. Those on the Michigan side head to Milwaukee for Summerfest, the museums and restaurants, and to see the Brewers play ball at Miller Park. An additional market is Harley-Davidson riders, who Solvang says are always looking for new routes.

Lake Express replaces the Milwaukee Clipper, a 100-year-old ship that made the route from 1940 to 1970. The Express' closest competition, geographically speaking, is the Badger, which has ferried riders and their cars between Manitowoc, Wis., and Ludington, Mich., for more than 50 years.

Although not a "water person," despite spending summers by the ocean in his native Norway, Solvang says he'd be the first to leave the driving to Lake Express rather than navigate Chicago traffic.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University