UK Sailmakers Loft Managers and their families enjoy a wrap-up dinner at Larchmont Yacht Club in New York with special guest, Butch Ulmer.
In 2010, I started working with UK Sailmakers on a consulting basis doing advertising, writing newsletter articles, being part of the web team, and helping with general marketing issues. Although I was considered part of the UK extended family, my role as a marketing advisor didn’t call for me to travel to locations around the world for the annual UK International Loft Managers Meeting.
This year’s UKI Loft Managers Meeting, however, was held in White Plains, NY, only 15 minutes from my home. I quickly accepted UKI President John Bennett’s invitation to be part of this 3-day conclave of international sailmakers. At the meeting’s conclusion Friday afternoon, I stepped back to articulate my takeaways from the Managers Meeting: eye opening, invigorating, information sharing. Here’s the backstory:
Over the years, it became apparent to me that the organizational structure and operating philosophy of UK differ dramatically from the various advertising agencies and media corporations on my resume. Professionally, I grew up in top-down management structures where, by and large, you marched to the tune of the top person. Those presidents, creative directors, and CEOs were the talents that clients were buying, and you followed their leads.
UKI, on the other hand, is different. Originally Ulmer Sailmakers, Butch Ulmer traveled the globe to create the UK Sailmakers International network that has grown to 50 lofts and service centers around the world. The important and key difference between UKI and a traditional corporation is that each loft is owned by individual sailmakers who joined UKI to enjoy the benefits of and scale of an international entity. Yes, this confederation of like-minded, entrepreneurial sailors has a reporting chain of command to a single UKI president, however, the loft managers each have skin in the game, each has unique, local market insight, and each is committed to sharing ideas, knowledge, and innovation with their fellow UKI lofts. After a dozen years as a consultant, I was aware of this operating structure; but it wasn’t until I went to the 2023 Loft Managers Meeting that my perceptions of UKI were overwhelmingly confirmed.
UK Sailmakers Loft Managers attend a marketing presentation by Geoff Bishop and Heather Mahady.
I spent three days sitting among 25 sailmakers from Europe, South Africa, and Asia, as well as the U.S. It’s good to put a face to the names I’ve been working with for years, but the real enlightenment was seeing how these men and women work together. It reminded me of my fraternity days when everyone knew and liked each other…and we would work towards common goals. I was also reminded of my time at ESPN in the network’s pre-Disney early years when we were hundreds of sports enthusiasts working together to create a new product and new content based solely on the enthusiasm we shared.
As a starter, these loft managers are all exceptional sailors, each with a shared passion for the sport of sailing. They are all entrepreneurs running their own small businesses that roll-up to create a large, multinational enterprise. Each also recognizes that their personal success will be greater as part of the group vs. operating independently. Perhaps the most important component of this recipe for success is that they all trust and like each other (ergo my fraternity reference). Listening to three days of discussions sharing sail designs, sailmaking techniques and software, sail cloth innovations, and descriptions of how sailboat racing and cruising differs from region to region was nothing short of enlightening.
UK Sailmakers Chicago wins 2023 Loft of the Year for their outstanding contributions to the group. Pat Considine (left) accepts the award from UK Sailmakers International President, John Bennett (right).
With the additions of a family-style dinner at Carmine’s in NYC, a nighttime New York Harbor cruise with the NY and NJ skylines in full illumination, and even the bus ride into and out of the City, this meeting was informative, effective, enlightening, entertaining, and fun for all. On the final night, John hosted a dinner at Larchmont Yacht Club with Butch Ulmer in attendance. Watching everyone having their picture taken with Butch expressly to hang up in their loft was an indication of the impact Butch’s original vision for UKI has succeeded. Over my professional career I’ve attended scores of corporate conferences, but none were as cooperative, engaging, and mutually beneficial as this one.
Nighttime New York Harbor cruise with the NY and NJ skylines in full illumination.
In a word, thank you, John, for the invitation to participate, and thank you, UKI for allowing me to transition from the extended family to being part of the team. I’m now even more convinced that with UK Sailmakers, you really can Sail With Confidence.