Leadership Lesson 6: A Little More Conversation

via the Outdoor Industry Association 

For Skip Yowell Future Leader Katie Hawkins, talk ain’t cheap. In fact, a single, short conversation with an industry exec was one of the most valuable interactions of her career so far.

By Devon O’Neil Jun 27, 2017

Any successful career has not one but many pivotal moments. For Katie Hawkins, one of those came on the heels of another.

It was January 2013, and Hawkins had just won the prestigious First Ascent Award for budding female leaders from the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (since renamed Camber Outdoors) at the Winter OR tradeshow. Hawkins, who at the time was the only female sales manager at Black Diamond Equipment, was already glowing when Mark Martin, then president of Marmot Mountain, walked by and congratulated her. Hawkins thanked Martin, and the brief interaction planted a seed that would grow far beyond the walls where they spoke that day.

Hawkins had grown up wearing and admiring Marmot products in Seattle, where she skied every weekend and had a view of Mt. Rainier from her house. After college at Washington State, she worked as a ski instructor on Snoqualmie Pass for three years (“I wasn’t really in a rush to go wear heels,” she quips). That led to a gig tuning skis and handling warranty requests at a mom-and-pop gear shop, before she went to work for Gregory Mountain Products in Sacramento while earning her MBA, then later shifted to BD after it bought Gregory.

Hawkins aspired to work for Marmot someday, so when Martin opened the lines of communication, Hawkins made sure they never closed. “How often do you have a direct link to a president of one of the top apparel brands in the industry?” she says. She and her husband loved the Sierra and hoped to one day move back to Northern California, so she kept in touch with Martin. Hawkins rode the fine line between persistence and overzealousness that defines successful networking. It paid off. Later that year, Martin offered her a job in brand management, which Hawkins happily accepted.

The gig led to a regional sales manager job and later the national sales manager position, which she still holds. Hawkins, one of 32 members of this year’s Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy (SYFLA) class, manages an internal team of six as well as 11 agencies that sell Marmot’s products into retailers throughout North America.

Read these profiles from the inaugural class of the SYFLA:

Lesson 1: The Myth of Seniority
Lesson 2: Sometimes You Find Success By Taking a Detour
Lesson 3: There’s Strength in Numbers
Lesson 4: Enterprise Will Get You Everywhere
Lesson 5: Honor Thy Dirtbag Soul

Though her current gig has shaped her as much as any, Hawkins admits she would not be the leader she is without her past stepping stones and the lessons they afforded. Take, for instance, her job at the brick-and-mortar shop on Snoqualmie Pass, where she did everything from process returns to wrench on gear.

“Every customer matters,” she says, recalling what she took away from the shop, which has since closed. “Whether it’s timely communication, follow-up, or just treating their needs with the utmost respect, you should always go beyond the customer’s expectations. I do that now, too, dealing with buyers from the largest retailers in the nation”—a client list that includes REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Backcountry.com, Vail Resorts, and FGL Sports in Canada. “I try to exceed their expectations, and communicate—over communicate—even if it’s bad news.”

Longtime outdoor industry sales maven Amy Beck, who serves as Hawkins’ SYFLA mentor, says Hawkins possesses sales skills and leadership instincts that can’t be taught. But Beck has counseled her about prioritization a lot in the past six months, a common pitfall that derails young, ambitious leaders. “When you’re driven like Katie is and like I am,” Beck says, “a lot of times you just say yes, because you know you can do it and you know you can do it the way you want to do it. It’s really easy to say yes to a lot of things and then do all of them at C-level work.”

Learn more about the Skip Yowell Leadership Academy and how you or someone you know can apply for the 2018 class. Applications will open July 26, 2017.

Lately Hawkins has prioritized a goal that reaches far beyond her day job. Drawing on relationships she’s built with other young leaders across the industry, Hawkins has been working to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation and Public Lands Enhancement in California, as Utah and Colorado have done with great success. “We should have a central voice for our community, not just for outdoor brands but also for conservation and how to optimize strategies for budgets,” she says.

Hawkins has discussed ideas about how to do that with her SYFLA peers as well as with officials at OIA. And although her lobbying to state officials hasn’t succeeded yet, Hawkins isn’t worried. She knows, from experience, that every successful project or relationship is often just a conversation away from taking off.

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