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May 2017

Speak Out :: May 2017

Who Will Lead Tomorrow's Industry?

Written by Paul Thallner | 0 comment

According to NSAA, more than 60 percent of the ski industry’s current leaders will be retiring in the next five to seven years. At the same time, the industry faces significant internal and external pressures: shorter seasons, the departure of the Boomers, consolidation, increased competition, and an increasingly diverse population.

Who Will Deal With All This?
The challenges are significant, and there’s concern that the industry is not prepared to meet them. Many younger employees in the industry forgo long-term opportunity in skilled professions for the short-term benefits of free passes and discounted gear. As a result, the pipeline of internal talent lacks professional training in business, finance, economics, strategy, organizational design, etc. Without a deep bench of qualified people who want to stay in the industry, options are limited.

Starting The Conversation
At this year’s Mountain Travel Symposium in Banff, Alberta, I moderated a panel discussion entitled, “Breaking Trail: Who Will Lead Tomorrow’s Travel Industry?” In a general session of about 500 people, I had the privilege to speak with an exceptional group of industry experts and thought leaders:

• Deanne Buck, executive director of Camber Outdoors
• Kim Locke, vice president of strategy and corporate affairs for Lake Louise Ski Resortcont.
• Olivia Rowan, publisher of SAM
• Melissa Maher, vice president of global partnerships, Expedia
• Kent Ebersole, vice president of sales and revenue for Outdoor Project
• Michael Colbourn, vice president of marketing, sales and communication for Stowe Mountain Resort.

Diversity Equals Business Success
Nearly all senior leadership positions in the ski industry (VP and above) are held by men. The panelists talked about the “old boys club” and the impact that it has on advancement opportunities for women and young people. However, the panel was quick to point out that diversifying the leadership ranks is more than just “the right thing to do.” Drawing talent from a pool of highly qualified women, for example, is proven to have a positive impact on business.

Research from my company, Great Place to Work, shows that the most successful companies are filled with employees who: a) believe leaders are competent, communicative, and honest; b) believe they are treated with respect as people and professionals; and c) believe the workplace is fundamentally fair. We call this combination of beliefs a “high-trust” culture within a company.

Companies where men and women share these beliefs are among the most successful by any measure (profit, margin, stock market return, turnover, innovation, customer satisfaction, organizational agility, etc.) You can get more data and examples at

Other Industries Are Leading The Way
Financial services, professional services, healthcare, and other industries have responded to many of the same challenges that confront resorts. They have invested in creating work environments where all employees feel equally valued by management. For example, in a study of 88 consulting and professional services companies, the 20 Best Workplaces in the field—those with the highest levels of trust, pride, and camaraderie—enjoyed higher levels of cooperation, loyalty, and employee willingness to go the extra mile. These top-20 companies were also growing at a faster rate than their industry peers. Turnover rates among the Best Workplaces in the financial services industry were roughly half of their industry peers.

Panelist Maher from Expedia, one of Great Place to Work’s “Best Companies in Technology,” talked about initiatives her company has launched to create a more inclusive workplace. Says one Expedia employee, “The people make Expedia great! cont. We have a diverse team where we value ‘being and thinking different.’ This gives us an edge in solving problems, as we don’t fall into group-think.” Expedia can be an example for companies stuck in, as one panelist described it, our “yo bro” culture.

Making The Pie Bigger
The panelists also talked about the impact of making a commitment to promoting (or intentionally considering) qualified women candidates for leadership roles. “Is this a threat to men?” I asked. Buck was quick to reply that the goal is to make the pie bigger, not for men and women to fight over the current pie. The idea is gaining traction: more than 60 outdoor industry companies have signed Camber Outdoors’ CEO Pledge—a corporate commitment to attracting, retaining, and advancing women in their workplaces. These companies, she says, see a business opportunity, and they are seizing it.

There’s More Work To Do
Following the general session, about 40 MTS attendees—half women and half men—met in small groups to discuss the efforts that are working to accelerate opportunities for women, as well as long-held beliefs and assumptions that hold the industry back.

I applaud MTS for featuring this topic at its marquee industry event. Steps like this change the conversation and give momentum to ideas that can make a difference. It will take all of us to rethink how we want the ski industry to look in the coming decade. If the old adage, “the only constant is change” is true, the ski industry of tomorrow will look very different from today. The question is, are we ready? 


Here are five things you can start doing right away to broaden your talent pool:

1) Analyze your company’s workplace culture to see if it’s the kind of place that attracts top talent. (

2) Encourage your company to take Camber Outdoors’ CEO Pledge. (

3) Start a conversation in your organization. Convene a small group and seek to understand a variety of perspectives—all are valid.

4) Share your story. Reach out to the SAM editorial staff to talk about your experience in the ski industry.

5) Consider your options. In a leadership parable called “The Way of the Owl,” Frank Rivers suggests that if we see a boulder rolling down a hill on a collision course with a village below, we might take one of three actions: We can stand aside, knowing we cannot stop the boulder; we can jump in front of the boulder, and be flattened for our efforts; or, we can run alongside the boulder and give it a nudge at the right moment. That nudge does not stop the boulder, but it does alter its trajectory and allows us to save the village below.