My role as executive director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association is best described as the culmination of a wonderfully diverse career filled with opportunity, hard work and yes, a little bit of Irish luck along the way.
The path to my marine career could not have started farther from the shorelines that I cherish and a recreation I love, but then again we all start somewhere, and it’s in the journey where we find our way.
There were no signs growing up that this was the industry where I would land. Although I loved our summer vacations on Cape Cod, my path was college and graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in television production, a minor in political science and a resume of marketing and special event coordination.
A year spent representing my sorority, Alpha Phi, after college brought me to 40 colleges and universities around the country, working on member recruitment, retention and operations. The bright lights and strong friendships landed me in Dallas after my travel year, where I settled into a career first in advertising and production and later as the director of marketing for some large regional malls.
I became somewhat of a specialist in grand openings, staging large-scale events and implementing some cool creative marketing campaigns for renovations and new build projects, but I also was learning asset and property management and more, and I met my husband, who was managing the development and operational end of the business.
The tide shifted when we purchased our first boat: a 23-foot Chris-Craft that we used to wander the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, where we were bitten by that bug to be on the water and shed our corporate selves — which we did as we partnered with others in a marina in southern Maryland on the lower Potomac.
It was there that all our property management, marketing and people skills were needed to run a boat dealership, marina and restaurant. Those years were very special, as we became integral members of the small waterfront community in St. Mary’s County, selling the Bay-friendly C-Hawk boat line, Pursuit and others while filling our 80-slip marina and running the popular watering hole.
But like many partnerships, not everything goes as planned, and when additional development of the marina was not feasible, its future was jeopardized — something we never thought would happen. We had come to the end of the line. It was time then for the next step, knowing we were now 100 percent committed to this industry.
With development, marketing, management and marina experience, we were uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of renovating and managing a large marina in the Noank section of Groton, Conn.
Although we initially oversaw the renovation, for the next 15 years we grew the business, built a staff and serviced some of the greatest customers. As the ownership’s family grew into their roles, it was time to turn over the reins and set sail for the next adventure. This time, my husband stayed on the marina side and I moved to where I am today — nearly back to my roots.
As executive director of the CMTA, I am dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the recreational boating industry, and it is truly an honor to serve on behalf of the hard-working men and women who make up our working waterfronts, boat dealerships and service companies. I know what it takes because I have been there, and a long time ago I was given the opportunity to hone the skills to do so.
Whether it is the creative side to further our best forms of member communication, staging events such as the Hartford Boat Show or researching the many layers of regulation and legislation that may influence and impact our industry, it has been the richness of my experience that has prepared me for this role.
Although mine was not a typical path to a career in the marine industry, at every turn it has been my experience that has enriched each phase of my career — the “what’s next” made stronger by the “what was.”
I am very fortunate to have found an industry I am passionate about — and one that welcomed the different skill set I brought to the boating industry. I have also learned not to be afraid of changing tides because it is in the ebb and flow where things happen.
Kathleen Burns is the executive director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association.