Charles River Apparel CEO & President Barry Lipsett interviewed Daniel James Brown, the author of one his favorite books,“The Boys in the Boat,” the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 crew team and their pursuit for an Olympic gold medal in Berlin. Brown narrates the inspirational story of nine college students who beat the odds and captured the attention of millions of Americans as they went up against an elite British team and a dominant German team rowing under the eye of Adolf Hitler.
LIPSETT: Is rowing starting to make a comeback or do you think it ever stopped growing? Do you think the sport could ever become as popular as sports such as tennis or golf and what would the rowing community need to do to get it there in your opinion?
BROWN: Well, this is mostly conjecture on my part, but my guess is that more people row now than ever. Certainly rowing was much more popular as a spectator sport in the 1930s and 1940s than it is now. In those days seventy or eighty thousand people might turn out to watch a race on a Saturday afternoon here in Seattle. Now three or four thousand is probably a more realistic number. However, I think the trend toward personal fitness and healthy lifestyles that has taken hold in recent decades has transformed rowing from a major spectator sort into a major participant sport. As I have traveled around the country to talk about The Boys in the Boat I've been astonished at how many ordinary people now row and how may rowing clubs there are in America, even in places as unlikely as Arizona. I do think that with so many people participating there may be an opportunity to increase the visibility of the sport and get more spectators out to watch (and more media to cover) regattas. More on that in response to the next question.
LIPSETT: I was at the Head of the Charles Regatta this past October and was disappointed to see they the races were times events and lacked some of the excitement like in your book where the boats race head to head. Do you think this effect the popularity of rowing?
BROWN: I do, yes. The HOCR is a great event with a wonderful tradition and I wouldn't change it's format with so many boats on the Charles River in a short span of time. But, I do think that side-by-side races are inherently more interesting and it would be great if there could be a structure for promoting more of these on the club level. Maybe a series of row-offs between contenders for local, then regional, and then national crew honors, culminating in a single race for supreme honors.
LIPSETT: As a business owner I am always trying to motivate my employees. What lessons do you think an Owner/CEO can learn from the two coaches from U Cal and Univ Washington? What about from rowing in general?
BROWN: You know, both Ky Ebright and Al Ulbrickson were great coaches but I'm not sure either of them had any secret sauce for motivating their rowers beyond the usual techniques. I think the one with the secret sauce, at least in Washington's case, was George Yeoman Pocock, who taught generations of both rowers and coaches at Washington to row for a higher cause. He taught them to row for each other rather than for themselves. And he taught them to row not just to win but to come as close to perfection as they could--because in doing that they not only became better oarsmen, they became better men. They lifted themselves up by striving constantly for something better. I think that notion of having a higher cause is important in any kind of endeavor, including a business. You strive relentlessly to make a better product, to serve your customers better, to improve the quality of their experience...and inevitably you make more money by doing so. That and trust. Like a crew, a business is a team. The business, like the crew, only succeeds to the extent that everyone pulls together.
About Barry Lipsett and Charles River Apparel
Barry Lipsett is the President and Owner of Charles River Apparel, a leading producer of performance apparel, based in Sharon, Massachusetts. Celebrating 30 years in business in 2013, Lipsett’s family-‐owned company been recognized with numerous industry awards and has pioneered remarkable charitable programs for cancer related causes and families in need. An avid Boston sports fan and long-time Red Sox season ticket holder, Lipsett was selected to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox home game in April. For more information on Charles River Apparel and Barry Lipsett visit www.charlesriverapparel.com