Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#LeadershipChat Meet Gert Boyle

Columbia Sportswear makeoverImage by Jason McHuff via Flickr
Every Tuesday evening 8:00PM EST @lisapetrilli and @swoodruff co-host a live Twitter chat called #leadershipchat. It is always an interesting exchange. Tonight they plan to talk about The Accidental Leader. This chat may deal with political leaders or business leaders, but I thought today might be a good day to introduce my friends to Gert Boyle.

Do you know Gert Boyle?  I bet you know her company. Does Columbia Sportswear ring any bells? I would like #leadershipchat to meet Gert Boyle. Her colorful life story reads like a movie script and I hope you will read the full 2003 CNN Money article, but suffice it to say she was a stay-at-home mother and on December 4, 1970, her husband (then President of Columbia Sportswear) suddenly died of a massive heart attack.

"I had to go to work the next day. It was the fifth of December, just before Christmas, and we had all these deliveries to do. I was afraid all the seamstresses would quit. It was hard to find good seamstresses! We had just taken on an SBA loan. The government said that if you don't pay us back, what are you going to give us? Well, my husband had said that we'd give them our life insurance. He was 47! We'd also give them our house, our mother's house, and our beach house. How am I going to say to my mother, "Hey, you know that house you've been living in? It's gone." I couldn't do that. If you stay home and cry all day long, it isn't going to change stuff. And poverty was really not something I was looking forward to. So I went to work."
On January 27, 2011, Gert Boyle, now nearly 87(born around 1924)and still Chairman of the Board, participated in the conference call to announce Columbia Sportswear posting double-digit gains in quarterly, yearly earnings.

Maybe you are wondering why I even know about Gert Boyle. You see I first moved to snow country (read Alaska and then on to New Hampshire) in 1983. Until that time I had never seen snow fall. I had to learn quickly how to dress for the cold and lucky for me it was in 1986 that Columbia Sportswear introduced the Bugaboo Parka (a 3 in1 jacket).  The one you see in this photo was purchased in 1986 and you should know that just two weeks ago when the temperature in Tucson dropped to 18 degrees my husband was wearing this Bugaboo Parka.
But there is more to my story with Gert and her son, Tim Boyle. In 1983 they started an advertising campaign: "Before it passes Mother Nature, it has to pass Mother Boyle."  It was part of their entire campaign, even on their merchandise tags. It was the sort of campaign that stuck in your head. One day winter 1993 I drove to Attitash Ski Resort to pick up my two sons from a alpine ski racing event. It was a bitter cold day and I had to walk a long way from the car to the ski lodge. When I finally located Aaron and Daniel they were ready to go home, ski bags in tow.  We started towards the door when one of them discovered they had picked up the wrong black Columbia Sportswear ski bag. Now you can imagine trying to find the right bag in the confusion of a race day, many little boys and girls all with their black bags. One thing was missing from the bags...an outside clear pocket for a name and address card.
The next day I wrote a letter to Tim Boyle. It was a nice letter, I simply asked him if he were sure Mother Boyle had "passed" on the ski bags.  And guess what...about two weeks later Tim Boyle called me long distance, all the way from Oregon to New Hampshire. He liked my letter and he liked my suggestion. He also had a good laugh about how his mother might have reacted to a bunch of little skiers all with the same bag and no noticeable way to easily pick out their bag in a crowd. He said he was going to send my idea to his research and development department.

Columbia Sportswear Company is now in it 73rd year. I am pleased to introduce Gert Boyle to my #leadershipchat friends. Let me know what you think and in the meantime you can enjoy a photo of Dennis and me taken in Butte, Montana in front of the Berkeley Pit October 1997. Dennis is wearing the polar fleece inner jacket of his Bugaboo Parka!

Judy and Dennis October 1997


Other interesting links about Gert...

Columbia Milestones (Here you can see a sample of one of their ads)
Our Company, Ourselves (April 1, 1998)
Gert Boyle Has a Vested Interest in George Bush's Fishing Fortunes (September 18, 1989)

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Lisa Petrilli said...


Honored to be included and I absolutely love everything about this post! What an amazing story and I love how you reached out to the company!

So glad to have you in my circle of inspirers - your stories never cease to inspire me!

All the best,
Lisa Petrilli

Judy Helfand said...

So glad you liked "meeting" Gert. Her story never ceases to amaze me. I actually started thinking about Gert and Columbia some months back when there was a lot chatter about the "guest experience design". Chris Brogan calls it the new GED! I remembered fondly what a great company Columbia is and it is that way because of this "accidental leader."
I hope that you were able to enjoy some of the links I provided, because her entire life is just so incredible. She lives it with grace.


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