By Jamie Stafford
In June, we recognize all the women leaving their mark on the industry with our annual Women Making Waves recognition program. These women work hard to create positive change and foster momentum within the marine industry. They come from a variety of backgrounds as well – from dealerships to trade associations to manufacturers, they offer many different perspectives.
We spoke to Women Making Waves alumnae about leading the industry forward. They reflect on the past, look toward the future, and weigh in on being a woman in leadership.
Fate brought many of these women to the marine industry. Alyssa Freeman, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County, recalls her initial ambition to join the automotive industry after growing up in Detroit, Mich. “I had just graduated; the recession had just hit and it didn’t seem like a career in the automotive industry would pan out. It was a scary time for me – I had put myself through school and had accrued student loan debt. I reached out to my network of people and found an opening with MIAPBC. It was perfect because I had grown up boating.”
Amanda Levandowski, dealer principal of Charlotte Ski Boats, also pivoted her career aspirations. “While working on my college degree, I was an owner of a mortgage company in Charlotte. My dream was to become an attorney,” she says, “but then my husband and I started Charlotte Ski Boats. We grew into a Top 10 worldwide MasterCraft dealership and are now the nation’s top new Tige & ATX dealer, North Carolina’s largest Tahoe pontoon dealer, and an Elite Formula dealer.”
Like Levandowski, Sara Anghel came from outside the industry. “It was interesting because I had no background in marine whatsoever,” she comments. “My background was all related to advocacy and government relations.” Yet, Anghel thrived in her role at NMMA Canada and eventually rose to become president of the association. Along the way, she has created many successful outreach channels and established a relationship with the Canadian government.
Currently, she’s working with parliament members to fight the luxury tax for recreational boats. NMMA Canada has already won a victory in this ongoing discourse by getting the taxable threshold raised from $100,000 to $250,000.
As with many others that have come to the marine industry, Michele Price was introduced to it through a summer job. “After college, I took a part time job at Prince William Marine, and I never left,” she tells Boating Industry. Price is the general manager of Prince William, and has been working at the company for 36 years, an impressive tenure that saw her working in various positions across the dealership.
In contrast, some women have always known that they would find a home on the water. Kristen Frohnhoefer, President of Sea Tow, grew up in the company. “My father was the one who started Sea Tow, so it was always a family business. I was twelve, answering the radio, answering the phone, dispatching calls. Over the years, I grew up with Sea Tow, working summers while I went to school.” Kristen stepped away from the family business to be a teacher, but found herself back at the company full time in January, 2003.
While these women have taken the helm at their respective companies and organizations, many didn’t initially pursue ambitions of leadership. When asked if she had ever envisioned herself in her current position, Ann Baldree was emphatic: “Absolutely not.” Baldree is the senior vice president of Chaparral Boats, located in Nashville, Ga. “Nothing could’ve been further from the truth,” she laughs. “When I took the position, I worked as a clerk and a receptionist. I worked in that position for quite a long time until the company started to grow and add more staff.”
Michele Price wasn't planning on staying in industry at all. “It was a part time job and I planned on finding something else, but I fell in love with the boating industry from all the time I had spent in it.”
“I felt, when I started, that I was just here to do advocacy,” Anghel remarks. She saw it as a growth opportunity for her career, but didn’t approach NMMA with immediate ambitions for a leadership position. “I didn’t see it all working out like it has. The growth and opportunities have been phenomenal. It didn’t happen overnight, but here I am today looking at helping young professionals in the industry and mentoring young women. It’s been such an amazing journey building into this leadership.”
Unlike others with more unexpected career paths, Kristen Frohnhoefer knew that she’d be part of Sea Tow’s leadership eventually. The time came earlier than expected when her father passed away. “I was always confident I could step into the position of president, but I didn’t anticipate taking on the role as soon as I did. I was thrust into this situation where the company said, ‘hey, you need to take over,’ and luckily, we had put a succession plan in place to make that happen.”
Family businesses are an important part of the industry, from organizations like Sea Tow to local, community-focused dealerships. Jana Wood, co-owner and vice president of South Florida Marine, knows this well. She followed her entrepreneurial spirit to open a dealership with her husband in 2001. “I didn’t envision I would come this far, but I’ve always aspired to. My husband and I always loved the water, both growing up with fishing and waterskiing and being part of the boating world. When we had the opportunity to sell and service competition ski boats it was not a hard decision. We took a leap of faith and started to do want we love.”
The alumnae of Women Making Waves achieved their positions through both talent and hard work, but they faced plenty of challenges along the way. Stereotypically, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation in general were all seen as men’s hobbies. Perhaps to be expected, the boating industry has been historically dominated by men. To ascend to a position in leadership, these women had to disturb the status quo, which elicited some pushback.
“When I first started to become a leader in the boating industry, I wasn’t taken seriously by elders within the industry,” Levandowski recalls. “When attending leadership conferences and serving on leadership boards, some would doubt me or my ideas. I overcame that by coming to the table with facts and knowledge to back up my ideas and then taking the necessary actions to prove that I deserved to be there.”
“I’ve definitely had experiences where I feel like I wasn’t welcome,” Freeman agrees. “The combination of being young and being a woman in this industry worked against me. I just tried to learn and grow as much as I could, and I didn’t ask permission to join the conversation. If you have thick skin and confidence, it works out in your favor.”
Ann Baldree also faced her fair share of skepticism from the industry. She started fresh in her thirties, determined to find a career, not just a job. “I wanted to be able to be independent – I asked for a seat at the table. I said, ‘I can do that’ and I didn’t shy away from anything.”
Baldree, like many women, was often tokenized: “At boat shows or events, men would often make the comment ‘oh, I have one of those back at the office’ to Jim Lane, our former president. You were always viewed as a secretary or second fiddle, never as an equal. But I would always correct those men. I felt like I was always put in the position to defend myself and my achievements, because it wasn’t expected of me. I never let that bother me.”
“In fact,” she continues, “I saw that some women thought they could only achieve what they wanted by acting like one of the guys. I never wanted to be one of the guys; I wanted to be the best woman I could be.”
Even though many women experience this type of dismissal, change is on the horizon. “The marine industry is very different now than it was ten, fifteen years ago,” Frohnhoefer says. “As I grew in my role in Sea Tow and interacted more with those in the industry, I have had those moments where I was treated as less or presumed to be incompetent because I was a woman.
“However,” she says, “I’ve seen a tremendous difference in the past decade; I think that’s because there’s more diversity in general within the marine industry. I think that one of the strengths of the industry within the past few years is saying, no, boating is for everyone.”
The meaning of leadership
Leadership can mean many different things. These industry leaders weigh in to discuss what being a leader means to them, and how they can continue to support their company and be role models for others in the industry.
“Leadership is a lot of things,” muses Michele Price. “It’s being the person that helps everybody and keeps them focused on what their job is. We’re all very close here at Prince William, so I spend a lot of time keeping up with everyone and making sure they have what they need to succeed.”
The success of the team often hinges on the strength of its leadership, and Women Making Waves alumnae understand this well. “We have to recognize the strengths of those around you and encourage and support them,” Kristen Frohnhoefer says. “No one can do anything themselves – you have to have a strong and capable team. Leadership is enabling and empowering those around you to be successful. You have to help your team learn and grow. You’re there to create those pathways of growth.”
Jana Wood creates both pathways of growth and immediate opportunities by being involved in the local community. “Being a leader in the Marine Industry puts me in a position to inspire other women to do the same,” she says. “I take a sponsorship role in the local area sport teams and tournaments and include all people by offering rides and instruction on the use and rules of boating.”
“For me, being a leader means leading by example,” says Alyssa Freeman. “I feel a lot of responsibility because I represent all of the marine businesses and boaters in the Palm Beach County area.”
Ann Baldree also strives to lead by example, saying, “I don’t ask more of those who work for me than I’m willing to do myself. I’ve learned that you should surround yourself with people who know the things that you may not know very well, so you have a cohesive team where everyone can contribute something unique. I’ve never been intimidated by someone who was smarter than me.”
Amanda Levandowski discusses how she approaches leadership and success: “Every day is a new opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. We are helping our customers create a lifetime of memories. Being a leader of Charlotte Ski boats has given me the platform to spread watersports love and change the world in our community, one ski boater at a time. We have built a culture of continual improvement. I work at being better every day, helping others with a smile, and embodying persistence and perseverance. You can achieve anything if you have a vision, passion, and a tenacious work ethic.”
The marine industry has a long and rich history, but that means that some traditions may be slow to change. While it’s vital to look back on where the industry came from and keep a respectful eye on the past, these women know that true innovation lies with the future.
The boating industry has changed significantly in the past few years, making leaps and bounds in progress on the diversity front. The future looks bright as it adapts to a growing and diverse audience. However, the alumnae of Women Making Waves stress that this success shouldn’t lead to complacency. There’s always more work to be done to make sure that everyone feels welcome on the water.
So how can the industry continue to move forward and embrace change?
“People need to see themselves in this industry,” Kristen Frohnhoefer answers. “What does your photography look like? When you’re hiring models for photoshoots, make sure you have a diverse cast – that's who’s out there on the water.”
Visibility is an important topic to consider when thinking about diversity. “By having more women leaders and bringing other women into the industry, we show them how their skills can be utilized here,” Amanda Levandowski says. “If other women are excited and passionate about what they can do and accomplish in the marine industry, that encourages others. The key is having more women in leadership to bring other women alongside them.”
In terms of leadership positions: “We’re already here!” Alyssa Freeman asserts. “Sometimes people have their blinders on and only look to bring in other people that they know. It’s just a matter of going outside your comfort zone, meeting new people, and not having those blinders on.”
“We want to see more women and diversity, but we would never want someone hired merely because of their gender,” Frohnhoefer adds.
The talent is already there, as many women have stated. However, there also needs to be trust, as Sara Anghel reminds, “It’s important to trust and have faith in our abilities, and to allow women to take hold of opportunities. That’s why I was able to grow to this level and become a leader in the industry as a woman. We have to invest in opportunity.”
Passing the torch
Before starting a business, accepting an industry recognition award, or becoming president of a national company, one starts with their first job, or perhaps a formative experience on the water. Regardless of where one ends up, everyone begins somewhere. When asked what they would tell a young woman first stepping foot into the world of recreational boating, all the Women Making Waves alumnae stressed the importance of self-confidence and ambition.
“When I first got into the industry, I was 21 years old and it was very intimidating,” Freeman recalls. “I would tell other young women to be confident and reach out to people they want to connect with – create a network within the industry and find mentorship opportunities.”
“I would say it’s all about building up your confidence in what you have to offer,” Sara Anghel says. “It’s an amazing place to be with exciting, impactful work. It’s also really satisfying to see women out there, building business for recreation – what could be more fun?”
Michele Price highlights the importance of hands-on experience. “Come see what it’s like,” she says. “Spend a few days in a dealership and see what the industry is like.”
Along with experience, arming yourself with knowledge is a valuable way to gain confidence. Jana Wood urges young women to seek out learning opportunities. “Knowledge is power and being a woman in the boating industry puts you in a small circle of powerful women. Take charge of the wheel, take a boating safety course and get your boating license. Become as knowledgeable as you can learn about the different areas in the boating business and the opportunities that are available.”
Amanda Levandowski offers women in the industry a final encouragement: “Be passionate! When something feels like an obstacle, look at it like a challenge you have the opportunity to learn and grow from. Push yourself to excel beyond your goals, and with a good mentor, you will achieve more than you thought possible!