Margaret Podlich, president of BoatUS, was named the 2014 Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year award winner at the Marine Dealer Conference and Expo, held on November 16-19, 2014. Podlich is the 29th recipient of the award, which is presented annually to an outstanding woman who is actively involved in the marine industry.
Podlich was named president of Boat US in 2011. She began her career in the marine industry with BoatUS in 1994 as the director for the former BoatUS Clean Water Trust and was promoted to vice president of government affairs in 2005. Prior to 1994, Podlich worked on boating issues from an environmental capacity, developing many of the first clean marina and clean boating initiatives throughout the country.
The award flatters Podlich, particularly because of the award’s namesake, though she never met Darlene Briggs herself.
“When I look at who she was, what she represents and what the award represents, and also the other people who have won it, those are rock solid superstars in the industry,” said Podlich, “and I’m just so flattered to be included. I’m really taken aback by it.”
Boating isn’t just how Podlich makes her living: Her family always lived around water while her dad was in the Navy and her parents began to learn how to sail when she was born. It was a key part of her immediate family’s recreation and all of her family members have taken home a paycheck from a marine-focused job at some point in their adult life.
Podlich is also active in sailing competitions. After racing in college while attending Tulane University, she has competed in a wide range of national and international events. She is currently participating in races using a Laser Olympic-class boat in a Masters circuit for ages 35 and over and competes in a variety of team-based races with multiple boats. She was named the top woman in both the U.S. Laser Masters Championships in Rochester, N.Y. and the Laser Masters Atlantic Coast Championships in Deltaville, N.Y.
“Because we were near the water, I figured out that’s where I’m happy,” said Podlich. “It is a pleasure to have a job where you get to blend your passion and what makes you happy with what makes other people happy. I feel so lucky.”
What has been your greatest accomplishment as president of BoatUS?
PODLICH: Connecting more with the industry and with the boater. I have fully enjoyed getting to know our members around the country a little bit better. The more I know what’s going on at the boater level, the better job I can do … on the other side: the more I can communicate and share that with the industry in terms of their customers. I look forward to more of it!
What would you like to see from the industry in regards to involvement with government relations that impact their businesses?
PODLICH: Everybody needs to be involved. They don’t have to dive in head first – if they could do one thing for half an hour once a year, it would help. Think about the impact it would have on so many people who are in the industry. I think [government and legislation] is incredibly mysterious to a lot of people and it’s sometimes a little bit scary. … You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in [government relations] to be involved.
What do you think the industry can do to attract more women, as a recreational option and as an employment opportunity?
PODLICH: You have to break the barriers in order for others to feel comfortable coming in. A lot of it is subtle. It’s so traditionally male [and] we’re going to have to think about new ways to bring women into [the marine industry]. There may be barriers that people don’t even know they’re putting up. In shopping for a new boat, there’s a lot of training that could happen at the sales level to help salespeople, particularly men, understand that women shop differently. We do a lot more research, we ask a lot of questions. You also have to be aware that they have different needs than a male customer. I suspect that everybody in the boating industry either has a sister, wife, mother or somebody that they can say “I need you to walk through my company and tell me how we could be more female-friendly. Are there any turn-offs? Do our company ads not show pictures of empowered women?” Walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and see how your business stacks up.
What can the industry do to improve diversity overall within the boating industry?
PODLICH: Diversifying [the industry] so it is just as appealing and available to women is really important, and [to] the different kinds of family units. What households in the country look like right now is not what you’d think – there’s a lot of single and multigenerational households. In terms of diversity and reaching out to people who don’t look like your traditional boater, we all need to open our minds to how we might embrace new cultural and multigenerational needs and new business models. Getting all those people into boating is certainly a challenge, but to me it’s a significant opportunity and it’s an exciting one. If you think about diversifying the ages, I get pretty worried about the [younger generations]. They’re carrying a lot of college debt, they have lots going on, they’re saving money for their first house – which costs a lot more than it used to proportionately. They’ve also got a lot of expenses that some of us never had, like cell phone bills, which adds up. If they were kids in boating, how do we keep them in boating? And if they weren’t kids in boating, how do we add some kind of boating activity into their repertoire of fun?
What advice would you have for young women starting their career in the marine industry?
PODLICH: Other women in the marine industry are going to be very supportive of you. Find them and network. Those of us in the industry need to realize that we can be levers for these younger people. I think the boating industry is ready [for young women] – I think the world is ready – so come on, join us! You don’t have to know everything. I think women sometimes feel like “I can’t apply for that job if I don’t [know] 150 percent of the topic already.” My encouragement to the woman is go for it! None of us know the whole job when we apply for the job. That’s why it’s a new job. You’ve got a learning curve, but embrace it and ask for help. The more women that we can get into the boating industry, the more appealing that we can also make boating for women, and that’s exciting.