Lothar Boensch, SVP Growth & Strategy AND Competitive Sailor

Middle of the Pacific: Racing from Los Angeles to Hawaii in the 2019 Transpac on Blue Moon, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 52

Growing Up on the Water
I love everything about the ocean: the wind, the waves, the tranquility. As a young child in Vancouver, I would play in the tide pools along Spanish Banks with my sisters. As a young boy, I would spend hours fishing and crabbing from Jericho Pier. And as a teen, I would sneak out at night and meet friends at Wreck Beach, lighting bonfires and getting into all sorts of trouble. Even as an adult, I have always chosen to live near water. It represents home, renewal, danger, and excitement all at the same time.

My love for the ocean sparked a passion for sailing. My first sailboat was only 19.5 feet, modest in size and speed, but absolutely full of character. Built in 1984 and formerly owned by the lead singer of the Irish Rovers (Canadian folk band), this classic “2-of-a-kind” wooden catboat was a head-turner in its own right, and for many years would take me on many adventures in and around the waterways of British Columbia.  

My first boat—Sylvester, a 19.5 foot catboat.

In 2016, I moved to Chicago to take on a new position at WPP. Although my beloved sailboat stayed in Vancouver, I found many opportunities to sail on Lake Michigan, and eventually was asked to join a racing crew on a 46-foot Nelson Marek yacht called Skye. Graduating from a sleepy 19.5 catboat to a high-performance yacht with an amazing, semi-professional team was a crash course in advanced racing technique, heavy-weather racing, and Chicago-style parties. After three seasons of intense racing (and partying), I made my way to Los Angeles to pursue another career opportunity and quickly found Odyssey, a 40-foot Tartan sailboat—along with a new team and many new weekly adventures—that I currently enjoy sailing out of Marina del Rey.

One of the biggest sailing adventures I was able to participate in was the 2019 Transpac, an epic, 115-year-old tradition that takes place biannually, racing from Long Beach to Waikiki. At just over 2,200 nautical miles, the Transpac race had been a long-time dream of mine and, strangely enough, opportunity finally presented itself. Sailing on Blue Moon, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 52, we repositioned the boat from San Francisco to Los Angeles and spent two weeks getting it ready for the journey. It took just over 13 days to cross the line in Waikiki, a nonstop marathon of four-hour rotating shifts across the Pacific. There are many stories to share, but perhaps I’ll save those for a future article!

Racing in Chicago on Skye, a Nelson Marek 46

Racing on Santa Monica Bay on Odyssey, a Tartan 4000

Sailing as Metaphor
I’m often asked why I love to sail. The maintenance, cost, and effort to keep a sailboat in good working order and afloat is, for some, simply not worth the trouble. And although many sailors may dream of cruising across the water at 5–7 knots for hours on end, the majority of people remain unenthused, unable to see the attraction to a sport so seemingly tedious and painfully slow.

But I see things differently.

Sailing is a way of life, and it serves as one of the best metaphors to living a life with purpose. It begins with a plan and ends in a series of destinations, and along the way requires close attention to the details, continuous decision-making, a team of good people around you, perseverance, and a touch of good luck. Trimming sails to harness the wind, anticipating and leveraging currents, plotting the best course to beat your competitors—these things all take years of practice, patience, and persistence. Like most meaningful things in life, there are no real shortcuts. Learning what to focus on and taking the time to master it are the keys to success. 

I try to learn something new every time I’m on the water. Whether racing or just cruising, I look for opportunities to make the boat go faster, apply new techniques I’ve read about, or attempt sail adjustments that haven’t been tried before.

And I often find myself doing the same thing at the agency. Whether learning about a new marketing technology, piloting new workshopping techniques, or developing strategies to win new business, I strive to find new and better ways to secure meaningful brands to grow the agency.

If I could impart any lessons from sailing to life at the agency, it would be the following:

Take time to get to know your teammates
During a yacht race everyone on a sailboat has a specific role: jib trim, main trim, runners, pit, foredeck, tactician, helm. It’s critical that the team knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that there is an implicit trust that everyone can do their job or will ask for help when things get dicey on the water. Winning a race depends on how well each of these roles performs individually, but more importantly, how well the team works together. Sometimes there may be a new team member on the boat, and assessing their abilities and determining how best to leverage their skills is instrumental to ensuring boat safety and performance.

Our work at the agency shares similar challenges. We come together as a disparate group of professionals, with varying skills, experiences, and expectations, and are asked to work as a part of a team to create something of value for our clients. We rely on each other daily, following a playbook and delivering our parts to the overall solution. We may work with the same team for weeks, months, and even years.

But how well do you know the people you rely on every day? Do you know their strengths and weaknesses? What they love to work on? Whether they are thriving or struggling, and why? Taking the time to really get to know the people on our teams is a big step in creating teams that are connected, empathetic, and high-performing.

Understand the plan
Every boat has a race plan, typically prepared by the captain and the tactician. The plan lays out the marks (the racecourse), expected points of sail based on wind direction and strength and prevailing currents. Boats that share and discuss the plan with the whole team prior to the race typically fare well. Boats that don’t, well, don’t. I’ve been in both situations and can attest to the chaos, last-minute panic, and resentment that ensues on boats where the plan is not properly shared or understood by all team members.

Take the time to understand the project plan and your role in achieving the objectives of the engagement. Work with the project manager and account lead to understand how your tasks are connected to others and discuss ways to optimize deliverables. Be curious as to the goals of the client, their business and even the industry. We are part of a larger puzzle that our clients are trying to solve. Knowing what that puzzle is supposed to look like helps us to be better at what we do and focuses the team on what is most important.

Always be ready for change
Change is inevitable. Whether faced with new tasks, being promoted to a new role, or suddenly having a deliverable deadline move up, change is constant. Much like winds, waves, and currents, clients can be unpredictable and can alter course in a moment’s notice, often in response to organizational changes, budget shifts, or competitive pressure.

Like sailing through a sudden storm, we must be prepared to work through these changes as a team, even taking on unfamiliar tasks and coming up with new ideas quickly to respond to a client’s revised direction. Change pushes us into unfamiliar waters but ultimately helps us grow.

Most of all, have fun
At the end of a race, when the boat is back at the harbor, cleaned up and tight on the dock cleats, I’ll ask myself: “Did you have fun?” It’s an essential ingredient for me. In sailing, and in my work. If there is no joy, then why continue? Most of the time I leave the boat smiling. But, there have been times when I haven’t enjoyed a race or sail, often due to foul weather, no wind, or poor crew dynamics. Even on these days, I remember that not every day on the water is perfect, and I’ll tell myself that the next sail will definitely be better. And it usually is.

– Lothar Boensch

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