Deborah Leigh Wood
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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