It’s been six months since Kirsten Rowe, the former executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA), left the association to pursue opportunities with the Bush presidential campaign. During that time, many in the industry were likely unaware of her absence, as the PWIA admirably chugged along in its efforts. Every good ship, however, needs a captain, and Maureen Healey, a veteran of the plastics industry, has now filled that position.
Powersports Business caught up with Healey only eight days into her new role, and took the opportunity to get her thoughts on the continuing challenges facing the industry, and what the PWIA can do to continue to meet them.
PSB: The obvious first question — what brought you to the PWIA, and how has your past experience prepared you for your new role?
MH: I most recently worked for the trade association that represented the plastics industry. I worked there for 16 years, the last four years as vice president of government affairs. Taking on the job as executive director of PWIA, I’m convinced the amount of symmetry between what I used to do as the face forward for the plastics industry will translate very well into being the executive director for the PWIA. I think the skill set that I bring will serve me very well. I’ve done advocacy work at the state level, at the federal level, particularly with the regulatory agencies, which is where a lot of the personal watercraft debate is now focused. This is an industry where we need to look at the facts, we need to rely on science, and we certainly cannot allow having one product banned or disadvantaged at the cost of another product. We simply want a level playing field in which to compete.
I feel very good about the skills that I bring to be able to help the personal watercraft industry.
PSB: Coming into the new role, what was your perception of the industry?
MH: I thought it looked like an extremely exciting sport. Personally I was aware that the industry had been a good corporate citizen and had stepped up to the plate, and had been making the necessary improvements and changes to be a good environmental partner. I did not have the misperception that unfortunately is still out there. The best analogy I use is that it’s unfortunate, but some people still look at the personal watercraft industry from a snapshot of 12 years ago, when the vehicles were more environmentally intrusive. It’s like seeing a ray of light from a star, you know, it left the star six years ago but now that’s what you see. It’s very unfortunate, because personal watercraft are the least environmentally intrusive vehicles that you can use out on the water. We’re already meeting our environmental obligations by the clean air standards set several years in advance.
Not to get off on that tangent, but I’m very hepped up on the industry, as you can tell, and my perception was very positive coming into this. I think actually that’s one of the things that attracted me to this position, that this industry had been such a good corporate citizen and had stepped up to the plate in every instance and had met the challenges that they had to.
PSB: Do you look forward to the challenge of changing the industry’s outdated image?
MH: I think it’s a tremendous opportunity. The industry I know is engaged in outreach and education, and I think that will be a very critical link to the opportunities that await the industry. To ensure everyone knows what the current state of the industry really is.
PSB: What do you think is the reason for the disparity? The industry has done the right things, yet there still seems to be this dated perception. What can the PWIA do to ultimately break through that barrier?
MH: That’s a good question, something that obviously I’ve been thinking about and grappling with. I’m trying to talk to just as many people as I can from every side and aspect of this industry and issue.
I think the industry needs to tell its good story more loudly and clearly. We’ve got to tell the story often enough that it will saturate the consumer market. And maybe we do need to ramp that effort up some. I’m not sure if that alone closes the chasm between the perception and the reality, but I think that it will start to make a significant mark, and along with that goes the educational aspect, too.
PSB: Do you have any concrete ideas or ways in which to do that?
MH: I think we need to look at every turn for increased opportunities to get the word out, whether that’s in talking to folks such as yourself, or other media venues to be able to tell the story. The story is good, so the more light we can shine on the story and the industry I think will serve the industry better. I think we’ll look for increased media opportunities…we need to make sure that we’re working with, and working effectively with, all the appropriate allies and partner organizations that all work toward the boating safety issue. Increased participation with partnerships, increased media opportunities. And I think, too, we need to find out where the negative stigma lies, and remove that, whether it’s through misperception, through pending bans in the national parks, we need to remove the negative stigma and make sure the positive story is told.
PSB: What will be your first actions with the organization?
MH: My personal goals are to meet with the members individually and collectively, to listen and learn as much as I can, and I think immediately begin increasing the visibility of the industry, going back to telling the good story. A very big priority for me right now is to get out and meet the partner organizations that we need to be working with.
PSB: Is it a concern that the PWIA has been without a leader for so long?
MH: I guess that I would answer that in two ways. The staff that I’m now working with at PWIA, I can very clearly see that they’re all so good and so professional that I think they’ve done a tremendously good job of keeping the ship of state afloat. I have not yet seen any gaping holes that need to be plugged. Having a leader is always good, but I think the staff did a very good job of keeping all the loose ends together.
PSB: The big question — we know you’ve gotten the opportunity to get out and ride. Do you consider yourself an enthusiast?
MH: Using the product is absolutely the best advertisement. If you use it even once, you’re addicted. I could go on and on. You only have to use it once and you become a fan for life. It is one of the most exhilarating experiences in sport that I have ever participated in. So yes, I’m a fan!
I hope my enthusiasm comes across. I’m just terribly enthusiastic about the opportunities that await the industry, and I just can’t jump into this too quickly or too deeply. I’m just so anxious to get started.