Rallee Chupich, director of service and restaurant operations at Gordy’s Lakefront Marine in Wisconsin, was named the 28th recipient of the Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year award at the 2013 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, held November 17-20 in Orlando, Fla. The award is presented annually to an outstanding woman who is actively involved in the marine industry at any level and recognizes long and devoted service, untiring commitment and the advancement of women in the marine business.
As part of the second generation of a family business operating since 1955, Chupich and her three siblings grew up on the water, helping their parents and working on the piers. She officially joined the business as a teenager 30 years ago, and the family is now grooming its third generation to take over the business some day in the future.
Chupich is the smiling face of one of the country’s most successful marine operations that has evolved significantly since adding boat sales to the roster more than 15 years ago. With an insatiable drive, never-ending sense of urgency and background as an educator, she has become one of the industry’s most powerful women and a role model for anybody looking to get ahead by hard work and force of character.
Below is an excerpt from her interview with Boating Industry.
Has it ever been a challenge to work so close with your family?
CHUPICH: I think every business has its challenges and every management team has its challenges, but we know each other so well and our personalities are similar in some ways but [also] offer enough different ways to compliment each other.
With a family business in waiting, did you ever wish you had done something else?
CHUPICH: I have my undergraduate degree in Spanish and geography from UC Santa Barbara, where I was also Phi Beta Kappa, swam and played water polo, so we traveled extensively around the country and world. Our parents gave us a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things. After I graduated from college I [got] my master’s degree up in La Crosse in Wisconsin for education, and got my certification to teach both Spanish and geography for 6-12 and I actually did teach in the off-season before we took on Cobalt boats.
With so much already under your belt, what’s next on the horizon?
CHUPICH: As I look forward, I do see my role to encourage, coach, hire and train more young women in the marine industry and even more throughout our company in all roles. As far as what I can help with locally and nationally, I am up for any challenge and would like to continue to develop seasonal wakesurfing nights, boat driving lesson hours, etc. for women. I look to help MRAA and Boating Industry however I can to be a great steward of the Darlene Briggs Award and continue providing excellent customer service in all I do.
With many achievements in athletics, education and business, what are you proudest of in your career?
CHUPICH: That is a hard question because I’m such a humble person. It’s so hard to put any of my priorities or any of my stuff first, because it’s like taking care of our family — not only the immediate family but also our Gordy’s employees family full-time year round — it’s super important to me, especially nowadays. Life is just too short, every day making sure that I’m happy, my family’s happy, the employees are happy and customers are happy, and really it’s all about [treating] others how we would like to be treated, making every day count and doing the best you can to say yes to every reasonable request. It’s sort of that simple: take every day and see if you can make a difference.
Do you have any advice for young women starting their career in the marine industry?
CHUPICH: Follow your heart and follow what you know is right. Don’t apologize for being driven, for coming with energy and really getting stuff done, because sometimes you can ruffle feathers. When you’re young sometimes you’re more direct … a little bit of sugar and a little bit of humor can go further than salt. I think some of that also comes with growth and age, but our dad was always he didn’t care if it was my brothers and I, we were ski school instructors and going out there, we were putting gas in the boats, we were driving the 52-foot charter boat, there was nothing that he would ask my brothers to do that he wouldn’t ask me to do and that’s where I think a lot of this comes from is just confidence in yourself and determination and if it’s something you really enjoy and love every day then go for it.
Is there somebody you consider a mentor?
CHUPICH: Well, obviously my parents. They both have really high expectations for themselves. My dad was in the Navy, he has a great sense of humor, he is a very well-rounded liberal arts kind of guy, very well read, very organized, efficient and that’s where it sort of comes from, this drive, sort of an insatiable drive in me of enthusiasm and energy for perfection. And like Vince Lombardi said, perfection’s not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can get excellence and I feel like every year as I, and that’s what’s great about the marine industry, it’s so dynamic, with every season brings some new customers, new boats, new challenges, even with the recession and with the Top 100 boating industry questions, it’s a dynamic business so it keeps you alive, energized, enthusiastic, changing, looking for ways to give better service, to help your employees do their jobs more easily or be happier at work or do it better and helping the company be a profitable company that can stay here for the long haul. I mean, we’re a third-generation family business, which you know those statistics for the likelihood of survival, and we really want to beat those odds and really want to set it up for the next generation and set it up to be a business that can be successful into the future, and that’s really what our goals are.
What are you hoping to achieve in the next few years?
CHUPICH: I have sacrificed a lot of time with my family when my kids were little and now I do take advantage of days off to spend with them on the boats and enjoying us having fun together.
Do you feel women are playing a larger role in our industry?
CHUPICH: Women are buying more boats in our industry [and] women are participating… I see in a day in and day out basis there are a lot more women going out in boats when maybe depending on their day off schedule and stuff, you know, it isn’t always the whole family, maybe it’s mom with the kids one day or maybe it’s dad maybe it is family going out. I do see a lot more women boaters now than we did 10 years ago, it’s great to see.
With such an expanding family, what is in store for the next generation?
CHUPICH: We set up what we call a family council, so the family still does have input into the company in a very organized way with quarterly meetings and annual input for donations and anything else that may impact the company, but as we grow there are over 13 grandchildren coming in so we want to make sure that it is methodical and what’s in the best interest of the company and what’s in the best interest of the family. There are two venues there to help give some historical perspective and help coach and train and teach and let the children all follow their hearts and follow their strengths. Both sides are represented.
You’re very young to receive such an award…
CHUPICH: How can I say I worked in this industry for 30 years [when] I’m only 29? You’re going to age me quickly! I truly feel that every woman in the industry really aspires to receive the Darlene Briggs Award, and I’m so proud. It is hard for me to receive it individually when I know how hard everybody works around me. None of this would be possible without everybody’s hard work, teamwork and everybody working together. I feel like it’s a reflection of the quality of service that our whole team does and for me to receive this award was definitely on that bucket list or wish list for a lifetime achievement. I really, really appreciate it.