ORLANDO, Fla. — Calling it an honor to be included in a group of such “Wonder Women,” BoatUS president Margaret Podlich accepted the 2014 Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year award at the Marine Dealers Conference & Expo on Wednesday.
“I am very humbled, considering the winners from years past,” said Podlich, 50, who received the decoration at a Marine Retailers Association of the Americas awards breakfast at the Rosen Centre Hotel. “It is an honor to be singled out and join such a group of women that includes leaders like Marcia Kull, Kris Carroll and Joan Maxwell.”
Podlich has held several positions at BoatUS for the past 20 years. She worked her way up the ranks to become president in 2011.
In 1994 BoatUS recruited Podlich to run its then-new, non-profit BoatUS Clean Water Trust. In 2005 the association promoted her to vice president of government affairs. As the group’s president she has been overseeing membership activities, recruitment and retention efforts, government affairs and lobbying responsibilities, and consumer and public affairs, among other duties.
The recipient of the Briggs award demonstrates leadership and commitment to the boating business. Recipients also must show a willingness to volunteer their time and effort in their communities and social organizations.
Established in 1987, the award is named after Darlene Briggs of Wayzata Marine in Wayzata, Minn., who exemplified these qualities. She served as the first retail marine saleswoman in Minnesota and the first female member of her state marine trades association.
Podlich was raised in a sailing family. She raced in college at Tulane University and then competed in such national and international events as the 2011 Rolex Women’s International Keelboat Regatta, finishing fourth. She also was a member in 2006 of the three-woman Yuengling Team Cronin sailing crew that competed for a place on the U.S. Olympic sailing team for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
“Having grown up on the water, I know I am lucky to get to go to work to create other people’s fun,” Podlich told me during a 20-minute sit-down interview after the ceremony. “Sure, some days it feels like work, but it makes a difference if you have that passion for the water and you can feel that relaxation and the joy it brings. That break from the rest of our crazy worlds is found on the water, and we need to share that with others.”
Podlich reflected on the state of women’s involvement in the recreation of boating and in the boating industry.
“The industry has an increasing appeal to women consumers. The appeal in the product is greater,” she said. “What I am saying is there is significant opportunity within the women demographic to sell boating to women consumers. I think women in the industry are going to help that happen. It is not just a nicer galley in a boat. It is about better safety; it’s about having more choices; it’s about making boating easier to fit into lives.”
She recognized the MRAA’s efforts to attract a more diverse group of people to the industry.
“At this particular conference I have been impressed by how many women are involved at the dealer level,” she said. “One of my takeaways is that [MRAA] perhaps is doing a better job of getting women involved than the rest of us. The other fun thing about this crowd is that there are some younger people here. To me, that is brilliant. They have cracked the code. Maybe we need to learn from them about how to permeate the rest of the industry with some of this younger demographic. They have different boating experiences than many of us — wakeboarding, for instance, and the ability to control the wake behind the boat. And the stereo systems here are incredible. To me, this is very exciting.”
Industry colleagues and former award winners Marcia Kull, vice president of marine sales at Volvo Penta of the Americas, and Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine, were excited to see their friend recognized.
“We are grateful that we have a woman like Margaret in the boating industry,” Maxwell told me after the presentation. “She is a friend and a smart advocate for the industry and it is because she loves boating so much.”
Kull presented the award to Podlich. “Under her leadership, BoatUS moved from a staid consumer organization to a powerful lobbying partner of both the NMMA and MRAA, harnessing the energy and advocacy of its half a million members to ensure that boating remains affordable, accessible, safe and fun, and that its members keep buying the boats and accessories our industry is manufacturing and selling,” she told the audience. “Margaret evangelizes the boating lifestyle as a passionate and skilled participant, and that itself forms the very root of her effectiveness as a leader.”
Past recipients include Rallee Chupich of Gordy’s Lakefront Marine; Debbie Meigs of Cobalt Boats; Jewell “Julie” Crowe of Crowe Marine; Barbara Woodard of Woodard Marine; Nancy Smith of Colorado Boat Center; Ann Baldree of Marine Products Corp.; Marcia Kull of Volvo Penta; Joan Maxwell of Regulator Marine Inc.; Kris Carroll of Grady-White Boats; Lynn Fiorenzano of Silver Spring Marine; and Maureen Dickson of Cap Sante Marine.