Twenty-something executives are a rarity in the boating industry, but the field gets even tighter when that executive is female.
Nona Pedersen admits that she didn’t know much about the industry in 2014 when she applied for a market research job at New Zealand-based Oceanmax. Five years later, she is managing day-to-day operations as its general manager.
Pedersen studied business at Auckland University of Technology. Her knowledge of the boating industry was limited to occasionally piloting her father’s trailer boat and some basic fishing skills.
The boating industry, she admits, “wasn’t the future she saw, but this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Oceanmax is a small but fast-growing company that specializes in marine coatings for propellers and running gear to prevent aquatic growth. The company, which exports 95 percent of its production, only had four other staff members when Pedersen joined.
Pedersen had applied for a junior role in the marketing department doing research about possible export markets.
“What I really liked was seeing people who were so passionate about the industry,” Pedersen told Trade Only Today. “I spent the first year learning everything I could about the underside of boats. I wanted to be confident that I really understood what we did as a company. The biochemistry can be pretty complex. I dug so deep I’m sure I annoyed a few of our technical guys.”
In the first few years, Pedersen focused on marketing, creating literature for the company’s expanding export initiative. Because Oceanmax was so small, she took on a number of other roles. “I helped with finance, product development—you name it, I did it,” she says. “When you’re the office junior you have all sorts of jobs thrown at you. But I got to learn everything there is to know about the company and that led to my current position.”
Pedersen’s new general manager role will include global product growth, the creation and implementation of new product strategies, team growth, and supply and manufacturing partner management.
Last year, Pedersen spearheaded the international launch of Lightspeed, the first transparent foul-release coating developed for underwater lights. The new product received recognition from the METS DAME design awards in the Netherlands. Domestically the product was a New Zealand Export Award finalist in 2018, and a winner in the Westpac Auckland Business Awards.
She said she put a lot of “blood, sweat and tears,” into creating a marketing campaign around the product, while also aiding with product development.
“Her ability to cover all of the technical and engineering details that come with a precision line of products is remarkable,” said Clint Jones, Oceanmax’s managing director in a statement. “Nona has been a significant contributor to our international expansion. Simply put, she is the right person for the job.”
Jones added that Pedersen demonstrates “charismatic marketing leadership.”
“My experience with Nona has been nothing but positive,” adds Mike Connors, vice president of sales for Land ‘n’ Sea, a U.S. client of Oceanmax. “Nona’s energy and work ethic are contagious. She is always willing to go the extra step to help sell more product together.”
Despite its small employee headcount, the New Zealand company says its Propspeed coatings are now on 15,000 U.S. boats. Besides distributors like Land ‘n’ Sea, Oceanmax sells through West Marine.
“Our marketing has been mostly focused on the US,” says Pedersen. “We see it as the greatest opportunity for growth. We now have a team of five based in the U.S. and they’ve been doing a lot of boat shows, association meetings and other venues where they can get the brand out there.”
Pedersen says having “boots on the ground” in the U.S. has been “phenomenal for sales.” The company is now looking at Europe as the next potential export destination.
Oceanmax has grown from five to 15 staff members in the last four years, and Pedersen is now recruiting another marketing person. She says that part of the GM role is to “free up the managing director,” so he can focus on growing the business. “Sales is his superpower,” she says.
Pedersen says the job comes with some hurdles. “My age alone is a challenge,” she says. “Not just in our industry—a general manager at 26 in any industry is unusual. But when you go to the marine industry and add female on top of it, it can be tough to have your voice heard.”
Pedersen said her age, which is a rarity, can also provide a platform to promote Oceanmax’s product lines. “I found out very early in my career that you need to know what you’re talking about to be taken seriously,” she says. “Once they see you as something of an expert, the tone of the conversations change and you get more respect. If anything, getting ignored at boat shows motivates me to win them over even more.”
There are now two female managers at Oceanmax, including a production manager and office manager.
“We have a diverse team, a great mix of cultures people from all over the world,” says Pedersen. “Our technical manager is from France, the business analyst is from Brazil, and so on. It’s a group of diverse people from different countries who share our passion for the industry.”