Marketing strategies for growth: Anchors up or anchors down, which are you?

Mark Overbye headshot
Mark Overbye, CEO, Anthem Marine
By Mark Overbye

Setting speed, capacity and size records, the straight-deck bulk carrier Edward L. Ryerson plied the Great Lakes for over 50 years. At its completion, the steamer was 730 feet long, containing four cargo holds and reaching a service speed of 16.75 miles per hour. Its crew totaled 37, and it could accommodate eight additional guests, in lavish Art Deco-style quarters.

The ship was named in honor of Edward Larned Ryerson, a big name in the steel and iron business, and the big ship with the streamlined stack, flowing bow, graceful pilot house and tapered stern was given the title “Queen of the Lakes.”

Equipped with a single, cross-compound steam turbine engine producing 9900 HP, the Ryerson is among the fastest Great Lakes boats ever. She can carry 27,500 tons and set a number of capacity records carrying coal, wheat, corn, rye, barley, oats and iron ore.

Retrofitted in 1997 with increased tonnage, the Ryerson maintained sailing schedules through January 7, 2008, when she was laid up in Superior, Wisconsin’s Fraser Shipyard where I see her frequently.

After digging into the Ryerson’s story and history, I got to wondering about the transference to human nature. How many people are willing to set out into unknown seas, bear the risks and fearlessly move toward their best possible future? Too often I see people reluctant to leave their familiar and calm harbor, unwilling to potentially trade for an infinitely better life. Being afraid to leave the harbor for points unknown and tempest threats keeps anchors down.

Essentially there are Anchors Up people and Anchors Down people. Contrasting the two, you rarely hear stories about – or remember the names of – Anchors Down people. Conversely, spending their entire lives “at sea” in a sense, the familiar names of pioneers such as Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are evidence of the rewards of living fearlessly and taking chances.

As you may contemplate your life, in the end there is only one question to answer. And I will quote Yoda. “Do. Or not. There is no try.”

A popular inspirational message is synonymous with one of the most cited end of life regrets: We only regret the chances we didn’t take.

When my always-curious kids were little, I told them there are two kinds of people in this world; those who watch and those who do. Or again, Anchors Down people and Anchors Up people. While those that “do” will fail, sometimes spectacularly, they’re typically the wisest, most interesting people, and better for their experience. Those Anchors Up people make things happen, and without them we wouldn’t have iPhones, medical breakthroughs or space shuttles. Closer to home, they’re the people who start and run businesses, donate their time to causes, rally teammates and generally encourage others to, as my grandfather would say, “Step on the gas.”

Maybe right now you’re asking yourself which one you are. You already know. In case of confusion, some key characteristics of Anchors Up people:

  • They never give up, seeing challenges as building blocks.
  • They know fear is an illusion.
  • They like the daily exhilaration of being at sea versus a colorless life in the harbor.
  • They pursue an enriched life visiting unknown ports with new people and experiences.
  • They’re optimistic, believing there are infinite paths to the next port.

Here’s a great quote, perfectly defining the benefits of being Anchors Up. “Complacency leads to stagnation,” warns James Brown, CEO of Smart Communications. “The best way to combat this is to constantly be willing to push ourselves, our businesses, and our colleagues to explore the unfamiliar. Truly groundbreaking ideas rarely come from status-quo thinking. Embracing, rather than fearing, the unknown forces us to actively think creatively, instead of simply letting creativity come to us, and this leads to new perspectives.”

Teddy Roosevelt was an early adopter of Anchors Up thinking. He thought, “Warships are not built to rust and rot in the harbor. Keep them moving so that crews can keep in full practice at their seamanship, gunnery, etc. That sounds like hard sense.” Coincidentally, in 1901 a Duluth, Minn. newspaper, metaphorically “encouraged individuals to be more adventuresome” comparing that, “a ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

A great and thoughtful effort went into building the Edward L. Ryerson and for five decades its commercial value was realized. I’ll bet some CFO grinned hugely every time 25,000 tons of ore traveled from port to port. In accounting terms, the Ryerson is an asset while at sea and a liability when not. Reframed by Zig Ziglar, “It is absolutely true that the person who won’t take a chance hasn’t got a chance.” The Zen in me understands that your treasure lies behind your fears. Heading into open water is the right path for 2021 – and beyond – if you want to grow, gain perspective and realize your best life. 

Mark Overbye is the CEO of Anthem Marine, as well as the chairman of USA Waterski and Wake Sports Foundation. He is also the founder of Montara Boats and Gekko Sports.

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