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Volvo Penta’s Susan Bonivich named 2016 Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year

By Brianna Liestman

Susan Bonivich, dealer/OEM sales manager at Volvo Penta of the Americas, was named the 2016 Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year at an industry breakfast during the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in Orlando on Dec. 8.

The Darlene Briggs award, which was created to honor the late Darlene Briggs of Wayzata Marine in Wayzata, Minn., is presented annually by Boating Industry and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas to an outstanding woman who is actively involved in the marine industry at any level. It recognizes long and devoted service, untiring commitment and the advancement of women in the marine business. 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the award’s inception.

Bonivich came to the marine industry in 1998, having previously worked in purchasing. After holding the title of parts and accessories buyer, Bonivich moved into a dealer development manager position and to her present role working with top Volvo Penta dealers and OEMs.

Though she did not grow up as a boater, Bonivich has developed an undeniable passion for the recreation.

“Susan Bonivich represents the spirit of what is great about this industry,” said Ron Huibers, president, Volvo Penta of the Americas. “She develops and nurtures relationships that are time and event tested. Whether it is with the top builder OEMs or dealers, she is respected for her tenacity and courage to be the best business partner in the industry and an exemplary role model inside and outside of Volvo Penta.”

We sat down with Bonivich to discuss her career and how the industry can attract more women like her.

What are your responsibilities in your current role at Volvo Penta?

“On the dealer side, I take care of our top 80 percent of our dealers that are our fast movers who [sell] a lot of Volvo Penta product. … I’m kind of like the advocate for our dealers if there’s an issue or an advocate for them when they need to learn how to sell a product or if there’s new products that they’re introducing and they need to learn about it and they need to know how to sell it. … On the OEM side, I help them with pricing, delivery issues, I make sales calls to them, train their sales guys on how to train their dealers on how to sell our product. I attend dealer meetings for that OEM that I represent. [I also handle] accounting issues, overall liaison between myself and top management with the OEM between the OEM and our company.”

What impact has traveling for your position made on your marine industry career and your knowledge base?

“I think the interesting thing about it is you cannot look at the boating industry as a whole; you have to look at it regionally, because what works for one region doesn’t necessarily work for another region. Just like dealerships, what works at one dealership doesn’t necessarily work at another dealership. So you kind of have to go in, learn and understand that particular region or OEM or dealer. You have to get to know the people that are there and understand the dynamics of how they sell or what their area is like.”

What do you think we can do to attract more women to work in the marine industry?

“I think we need to stop looking at it as a ‘boating’ industry [job]. I’m looking for an accountant. I’m looking for a salesperson. If a person has sales skills, they can learn how to sell a boat. If a person has accounting skills, they can learn how to do accounting in the boating industry. If a person has technical skills and can turn a wrench, you can teach them how to [work on boats]. If they have the basic skills and understanding of the end task, I think we need to understand that they can learn our [industry].”

What can we do to get more women into boating in general?

“I don’t think we advertise to women enough. Like the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). I don’t think we advertise enough with them [and] reach out to those ladies. We don’t reach out to groups like that we should reach out to.”

Right, you think of all the men out there who are golfers and also boaters. Why not advertise to golfer women as well?

“Right, why don’t we have a sponsorship of an event for the ladies? Why don’t we encourage ladies to go out and [boat]? Marcia Kull, years back when she was at Gen-Mar, she started a program called Women Making Waves that I think helped a whole lot. We need to maybe bring back something similar to that. I know a lot of the dealers do that, but I think the industry as a whole we don’t push that enough either. I think there’s some good dealerships out there that do take advantage of that, but I think we should embrace that more.”

What advice do you have for young women starting their career in the marine industry?

“Look at every day as a learning experience. Understand different parts of the business. Understand some of the technical parts. Understand the trials and tribulations of the technician or a salesperson or an accountant. Get out of your own little world and see what others are doing and see how your job affects their job. And don’t be afraid to go out and introduce yourself. Put yourself our there and meet people. And don’t be afraid to ask how or why.”

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