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Women Of The C-Suite: Cindy DiPietrantonio Of Boathouse Sports On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A C-Suite Senior Executive

When you put people first, amazing things happen in business and society.

As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy DiPietrantonio.

Cindy DiPietrantonio is the President and CEO of Boathouse Sports, a leading designer and manufacturer of Elite Performance outerwear along with uniforms and training gear for teams and athletic enthusiasts nationwide and abroad. With more than 30 years of experience, Cindy has built businesses and driven profitable revenues while consulting industries including but not limited to, apparel, footwear, jewelry, fitness, health and wellness, media and sports. Prior to joining Boathouse Sports, Cindy was the President and COO of ALEX AND ANI where she was responsible for leading the company to its next level of maturity and growth by restructuring the business, stabilizing the infrastructure and fostering a culture of accountability.

She also served as the Interim President of SHEEX, a moisture-wicking bedding and sleepwear, where she led the company to its first profitable year in its history. Additionally, Cindy acted as the Chief Operating Officer of The Jones Group where she built a flexible supply chain for a seamless customer journey that led to efficiencies that yielded more than $90M in savings in a 4-year period.

Cindy is the first female CEO of Boathouse following the company’s founder, John Strotbeck. She has a BFA from The College of New Rochelle and was a recipient of the 2014 Roger Milliken Achievement Award and 2012 Alumni Woman Achievement Award from her alma mater.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was in high school, I joined the track team. I wanted to be a distance runner but all the girls at my small school wanted to run sprints and mid-distance. As the only girl who ran distance, I had to run with the boys’ team. I didn’t want to run with the boys and the boys didn’t want me running with them. The team’s volunteer coach James McAllister (a former NFL running back and global record holder for the best long jump) pushed me to stay focused on my goals and ignore the boys and their attempts to ditch me at practice by trying to push the pace. He told me they would push the pace, but they wouldn’t be able to maintain it. McAllister said I didn’t need to be in the front of the pack, or the middle I just needed to keep the pack in sight. Every day I showed up and ran with them, and every day I was dead last. After weeks of practice the season opened. At my first meet I set the 2-mile school and conference record for fastest girls’ time.

This experience was integral to shaping the person I have become as I learned how important it is to show up every day and be consistent. How focus is more powerful than any other force I would come up against. How important failure is to ultimate success. The mentality I adopted through sport has carried me throughout my career and has given me the tools necessary to be a strong leader in business. Athletics can have a profound effect on young women and empower them to achieve the goals they set out for themselves.

About three years ago I met John Strotbeck Founder of Boathouse Sports. I have always had a passion for both sports and retail. When John approached me for the opportunity to come in and lead the company as the CEO it was a natural decision.

Boathouse felt like a place where my passion and business experience could come together. Boathouse checked so many boxes for me, it has the ethos and core values that I admire, integrity, precision, authenticity, as well as supporting and employing a local community. It is more than just a company, it is a community of like-minded athletes and artisans who believe in strengthening their connection with former, current, and aspiring athletes.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your current company?

The most unique thing about Boathouse is the genuine connection we have formed with our customers, employees, and the community we reside in. When I first came in as CEO of Boathouse, I received dozens of texts, emails, and letters from Boathouse customers and partners expressing their unwavering support and passion for not only me in my new role, but the direction of our brand. Small gestures like that are indicative of the impact and roots the brand has created over the years. Boathouse is more than just a jacket. When a brand is able to transcend the functionality of their products and build an emotional connection with those who engage with it, that’s when you know you are part of something really special.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started with Boathouse Sports, it was in September 2020 and there was current a mask mandate in effect. At the beginning of my career at Boathouse, I spent nine months in an office environment with everyone in masks. We had a period of time when the mask mandate was lifted, and I ran into one of our Boathouse employees outside of work. We all got so used to seeing people with their masks on so when I ran into them, I didn’t recognize them without a mask on. It made me realize that everyone has attributes and traits that that set them apart, and it is important to pay attention to those little details.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been very fortunate to have many great role models in my life that have inspired me at every stage of my career. My biggest supporter has always been my mother. She was a consistent source of encouragement and confidence who instilled the belief that I could achieve anything.

I also have a close inner circle of people made up of friends, family, and mentors, that I call my “truth tellers.” This group is important to my success as they challenge me, give me honest feedback, and hold me accountable when I slip up.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Getting a daily workout in is a must for me to stay sharp and relieve stress. It gives me a sense of balance, focus, and clears my head. Studies have shown that exercise improves cognitive functions: the ability to think, recall, and make decisions. I fiercely protect that slot of time in my day, and I have been able to recognize and understand the importance it holds in my life.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I always hear the phrase “more seats at the table” tossed around when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Honestly, more seats at the table are not going to cut it. We need more tables. It is critical that we continue to create more diverse and inclusive organizations. Research has shown time and again organizations who prioritize diversity and inclusion outperform their peers. It is not only the smart thing to do but it is the right thing to do. It’s important for people to see themselves represented especially in executive teams — so they can feel heard, know that they matter and know that they too can be in a leadership position. It is crucial to have different vantage points that diversity brings. People’s knowledge and insights are shaped by their backgrounds and life experiences. The more diversity you can have on a team, the better evolution and impact the company can have.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

The case has been made again and again for more representation in the workplace, and still, we aren’t seeing equal representation within leadership roles in business. The lack of movement in this area, to me suggests that business leaders are not compelled to do so, which I do not fully understand as great leaders benefit from gathering and learning from people with different life experiences, perspectives, and opinions.

It is short sighted to think one person, or one type of person can solve massive challenges or has what it takes to run a business. Boathouse is a brand for every athlete. We problem solve, design, and create quality outerwear by harnessing the feedback and input from people with all kinds of backgrounds and life experiences.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Ultimately, CEOs have one job — to ensure the success of the organization. But there’s a lot that goes into ensuring organizational success. Leaders must bring people together and inspire results, demonstrate strong and meaningful communication, take responsibility for failures, and make difficult decisions when needed. In setting a good example across these key areas, leaders will foster a healthy and productive culture that yields the desired results.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Being a CEO is not a singular job. I think a common misconception about being an executive is that our decisions are the end all be all. We do have to make the hard decisions, but we also have to listen. Listening is such a huge component of successful leadership and generating a healthy and productive work environment. As an executive, our job is to get the most out of our team and to ensure that we build an environment that values collaboration and creativity.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women comprise more than half the workforce and yet, less than 20 percent of C-suite executives are women and only five percent of CEOs are women. Women CEOs are still enough of an anomaly that the word ‘women’ is a still used as a descriptor before any achievement. Ultimately, we are judged by our performance. I want to see those statistics continue to grow in order for the gender descriptor to be removed from the accomplishments of women executives.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Great business leaders have a passion and vision that inspires their team, ability to strategize and learn from mistakes. They are confident and transform with agility and are comfortable with risk. A leader must be able to listen to their team and make a decision that benefits the organization as a whole. Leadership is not easy, but it comes with time, experience, and the right opportunities.

You need to be open to feedback, willing to do whatever it takes, able to accept failure, or admit you are wrong at times.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I would advise any leader to communicate clearly, simply and do the right thing, always. Demonstrate an unwavering commitment to doing the right thing in every action you take and every decision you make.

Find a way. Take responsibility for making things happen. Always look for how you can do it, rather than explaining why it can’t be done. Show initiative and be creative and resourceful. Listen generously, be present and engaged. Listen to your team but listen to truly understand.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m a huge advocate for young women in business. Being able to use my platform to help elevate them, sponsor them, give advice and resources, or even getting them in touch with the right people, is so critical for the growth and success of women in business. I always aim to pay it forward and will continue to do so whenever I can.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Remember that perception is reality.
  • Stay locked on the “critical few” vs the “urgent many.” It is important to understand the big rocks.
  • You don’t need to choose between being kind and being strong, they’re not mutually exclusive. As a leader I know I needed to be as clear and transparent as possible but also treat everyone with the respect they deserved.
  • Focus on people and always choose people that challenge you and are smarter than you… always be the student so you can evolve. I also believe when hiring you should weigh passion heavily sometimes over experience. Passion is rare and valuable.
  • Seek advice. Early in my career I thought asking for advice was a sign of weakness or incompetence. What I learned was seeking advice is a vital part of the business process and gives you the ability to gain valuable business insights.
  • Focus on the things you can control and detach from the things you cannot control. I couldn’t control COVID or any other macroeconomic issues, but I could control how we managed through it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe in community. Strong communities create strong commitments. If I could inspire a movement, I would want that movement to be about togetherness, businesses pouring into the communities they reside in with resources and opportunities. When you put people first, amazing things happen in business and society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. — Maya Angelou

It speaks to everyone’s ability to create a more just and caring world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Dawn Staley. Dawn is the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, and a four-time Olympic gold-medalist, as well as a hall of fame athlete and coach. She is also from Philadelphia (which holds a special place in my heart as it is the home of Boathouse), and is such a strong, independent, and inspiring leader having broken many barriers for women in leadership and sports. Beyond her achievements, Dawn is also an advocate for other women in sports and coaching. I admire how she has built the program at the University of South Carolina and as also impacted, supported, and encouraged so many women with her journey.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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