I wanted to study international business at college but they didn't have that kind of degree back then. I had to graduate with something, so I studied Spanish and became a high school teacher. Later I went back to school and took business classes and worked part time for a big grocery chain while my kids were young.
As they started to get older I thought I needed to find more of a niche. I saw an ad in the paper. A business needed somebody in its international department, hopefully with a foreign language. I applied for the job and started working for Olaf Harken, who was in charge of Harken’s sales and marketing. My language skills had opened the opportunity for me to be involved with international business, which was nice.
My colleague, Anne, and I were Harken’s international department in those early days. So, we had to get everything ready, including the documents for export. If the receptionist took a phone call and the caller had any kind of accent, it was ours, even if we later found the person was from Texas! Now we have six customer service people, a customer service manager and a logistics department to handle the paperwork.
I don't regret the changes that I made to join Harken, 24 years ago. There are no cookie-cutter days here. That variety makes my job interesting, as well as travelling internationally and seeing how other people do business. To keep up with our family of distributors around the globe I usually get into the office at 6:30-7am. Speaking to China is always tricky because of the time difference, so I might Skype from home at 8pm.
I love to travel and like to read when I have time. My husband and I also go biking and walking, making the most of being outdoors because our summer here is so short. I have one daughter in Chicago, another close by and four grandchildren.
I haven't travelled since February, due to getting over foot surgery, but I've already got my tickets booked for the Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark during August where we have a trailer. This is a collaborative effort with our Danish distributor, Columbus Marine. It's a great event because you get to see and work with sailors that are interested in your products. Some of those sailors go to the Olympics and end up on TP52s or the Volvo Ocean Race. When that happens, you think, ‘Oh, wow." I met that kid when he was only 18. These big-name performance events are great for research and development. Although we want to remind everyone we make a lot of products for cruisers too.
Gail Rice is Harken Inc’s International Distributor Sales Manager, based at the company’s US headquarters in Pewaukee, Wisconsin where this interview was held. This year will mark the 20th time that Gail has helped to organise Harken’s stand at METSTRADE.