Conversation With Leslie Baker Brown … Celebrating 30 Years With Tecnica
This past April marked Leslie Baker-Brown’s 30-year anniversary at Tecnica, and in those 30 years how the industry has changed.
In the first 10 years of her career, Leslie was often the only woman in the room. Beyond that, what she has done for women in skiing – pioneering Women to Women (W2W) – arguably the most progressive women’s program in outdoor sports – has changed the way equipment is designed for women and how brands communicate with women. She has a proven track record as one of the outdoor industry’s top female leaders and has truly changed the landscape at the consumer level – with great humility.
We had a chance to speak with Leslie, Blizzard Tecnica Marketing Manager since 1988, from her office at Tecnica on the challenges she faced moving up the corporate ladder but all of which allowed her to thrive in the workplace.
SGB | Being the only woman in meetings must have been a challenge, what were three things that helped you win at work while confidently being the only woman in the room when you first started your career path. LBB | To always be me, never be afraid to speak up and cultivate confidence.
I had a mission, and I was determined to stay on that mission. It was never a question of not being fairly treated. There was no time or reason to complain. I had a job to do, and I needed to get it done for me and my family. Myself and my female colleagues never thought about the other stuff that many young women today do. I simply focused on my job.
SGB | Your whole career it seems has been an evolution. LBB | People say ‘how can you stay with the same company for so long?’ because people rarely do that anymore. My answer is, my job is never the same. Number one, marketing has changed so much. When I started at Tecnica, our secretary was creating our price list on a typewriter. We were just starting to use computers. We were just starting to develop our website. There was no social media, there were no cell phones. It was print advertising and some POS materials. It was actually quite a bit simpler. Today things move much faster in the digital landscape including the way people purchase.
My job everyday has never been the same. I’m constantly learning and trying to keep up with what’s happening in the world of marketing which has kept my job interesting.
SGB | What impediments have you faced in becoming a leader within the company over the last 30 years that have allowed you to grow? LBB | My husband and I raised two great kids who are now out on their own and growing in their own careers. Having kids restricted my ability to travel for my job but it was a choice that I made, and one that I was very happy to make. It was important for me to spend as much time with my children as I could. Honestly, having children restricted my growth and I plateaued a little, but in the last five years I have traveled more than ever and my career is thriving.
Motherhood is an issue for women in business. There’s an inherent way that people look at mothers differently than they look at fathers. They expect the fathers to still travel. They don’t expect the mothers to necessarily still travel. I don’t blame anyone else if my career plateaued at that time. It was a conscious choice that I made. And that’s the way I wanted it.
I struggle a little with the blame game today. Set your goals and work to achieve them. We also have this issue today when speaking your mind. It’s about how you come across. You can be aggressive or a team player. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a lot of respect from the people I work with and work around. I can say what I want and how I want. It’s not an issue because it comes from a level of respect in the way that I present myself.
SGB | You could have looked at motherhood as an impediment but instead, it was a fulfilling choice. LBB | Yes. I am lucky that I have a very supportive husband and family who helped me make it work. I also coached my kids in a lot of different sports. These were all things that were important to me alongside working for Tecnica.
SGB | What is one leadership lesson you have learned in your career? LBB | Gaining confidence in my voice to speak up. Early on for me, I was afraid to speak my opinion for any number of reasons. Today, I say that there’s no stupid idea. If it doesn’t work, let it roll off and move on. Or if you still believe in it, explain in a better way why you think it’s a good idea.
For me, over time, it was just gaining confidence in my voice and believing in myself that my ideas are good, and I do have a lot to contribute to Tecnica. Even today though it comes and goes. You have ups and downs and some days you feel good about yourself and some days you don’t. I think that’s everyone, but I think men are better at hiding it than women. And it’s assumed when a guy walks into a room that they know what they’re doing and a woman has to prove it.
I do spend time with women in our focus groups that are in their early 20s and 30s, and a lot of it comes down to confidence and believing in yourself. Once you have it, you can get out there and get things done, and you feel good about it. Don’t take failure personally. Women generally take it more personally than men. We as women need to be better at that. Sometimes you have to fail to win.
SGB | Tell us about the Blizzard Tecnica Women to Women(W2W) program you founded? LBB | The Women to Women project has to be by far my most favorite project I’ve ever been involved with at Blizzard Tecnica. The commitment our company has made and is continuing to make, as well as the response from the industry, has been fantastic.
I love working with all these women to learn more and work to make a contribution to make skiing a passion for all women!
The potential it has within the women’s market extends beyond just sales to enhancing our brand image to both men and women. For me, it is gratifying to feel that we can help women enhance their skiing experiences and try to get more women out there loving this sport as we do!
Aside from the product development, which we will continue in an on-going basis with input from our product development team, we are taking a 360-degree approach to also inspire and educate women to take control of their own skiing experience all the way from equipment purchases to on the hill.
At our first W2W athlete summit, Jackie Paaso (Freeride World Tour competitor and who skis ridiculously fast and hucks big stuff!) mentioned to me that even she is intimidated walking into a ski shop. That led me to think that educating women on ski equipment would help them feel more comfortable by having the knowledge of, for example, what a side-cut or radius or rocker meant and what it meant for women in purchasing the right equipment for how they ski.
We’ve loaded and will continue to load, our website with a lot of educational information on equipment, but also on things like fitness for skiing, nutrition and on the hill ski tips to educate and give women the confidence to go out and buy their own equipment.
We’ve also created some inspirational, more emotional relatable videos, such as how skiing creates balance in our lives. I have also partnered with quite a few of our retailers for in-store or on-the-hill women-specific events which have also been super successful.
There are a lot of things we can do and hopefully, we can continue to add to the list of what we are currently doing to help women in skiing.
SGB | What encourages you today as a leader? LBB | It is an accumulation of experiences good and bad that I’ve had and being honest with my teammates.
SGB | Who were your mentor(s) and those who inspired you in your career? LBB | It was John Stahler, chairman and CEO of the Tecnica Group North America before retiring who hired me and was instrumental in mentoring me. And I get inspired by my teammates that I work with. I admire and love working with the young women who are up-and-coming that I’m working within our women’s focus groups and what they’re doing. Some of our athletes just amaze me. And the risks and challenges these young women are taking because of what they believe in helps me as well.
SGB | Where would we find you on your downtime? LBB | Hiking, golf, biking, anything outdoors with my husband or women friends. I try to live a balanced life. My friends inspire me some of whom are doctors, lawyers, nurses, stay at home moms. Hearing about their issues allows me to step outside the ski industry box and see a different view on things.
By Teresa Hartford