Blazing A Trail On The High Seas: The Woman At The Helm Of The Miami International Boat Show

Cathy Rick-Joule
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February 13th marks the start of The 2014 Miami International Boat Show. Dubbed “the greatest boat show in the world” and Florida’s largest annual event, it is THE place to preview the new boating season. Captaining this epic event, which boasts 3,000 boats and 2,000 exhibitors from all over the globe, is Cathy Rick-Joule… a Woman You Should Know.

Born and raised in Montana, Cathy began her career with the National Marine Manufacturers Association in New York, working her way through various positions, eventually being promoted to Operations Manager for NMMA’s northeast based shows (New York, Philadelphia, PA, Norwalk, CT, and Norfolk, VA).

“There were never any boundaries set on life’s possibilities.” In 1991, when there were almost no women in leadership roles at NMMA, she was promoted to show manager for the Tampa Boat Show, where she was responsible for both shows (Tampa Boat Show & Florida State Boat & Sports Show). In 2009, she became the Vice President of the Boat Shows division and is currently responsible for the management of the Miami International Boat Show, the organization’s flagship event, which has an economic impact of $597 million for the state of Florida alone.

In a field traditionally led by men and an industry dominated by testosterone, Cathy is a woman who has been blazing an almost three decade long trail. So, of course, WYSK needed to know her and we got the chance to speak with Cathy on the eve of her big show. Here’s what she shared.

Women Talk: 5 Questions With Cathy Rick-Joule

As someone born and raised in landlocked Montana, how did your interest in marine boating develop?

CRJ: Well, my father always loved the water and we had a boat most of my childhood. We spent our summers on Flathead Lake (the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the contiguous United States) and I always loved it. That however, is not what got me interested in the marine industry.

I moved to New York City in the very late 80’s with the desire to experience big city life and explore my world outside of Montana. At the time, I was not sure what I wanted to do for employment when I had the opportunity to work temporarily in the office of the NMMA (producing from that office at the time the New York National Boat Show, Norwalk In-Water Boat Show, Philadelphia Boat Show and Penn’s Landing In-Water Boat Show). I was immediately drawn to the fast pace of the business and the fulfillment that came along with helping to design a show from scratch and follow it through to completion. So it was a no brainer when I was offered and accepted a full-time job with NMMA as their registration manager. That was a long time ago… 26+ years now.

Cathy on the Cathy Ann

Cathy on her boat… the Cathy Ann

As a woman, was this a tough industry to break into?

CRJ: For me it wasn’t. We have always joked that “I was the only boy my father had” as I was always by his side doing all the things he did. He was a real man’s man, and he never set any limits on what “girls should do”. He rode a motorcycle, so I did, but I also had to learn how to fix it. If he drove an 18 wheeler – I did. There were never any boundaries set on life’s possibilities. I find that most of the people in the marine industry are the same way. So breaking in was not difficult – I found an industry that I shared a common language with.

Once you started working, did you actually find gender to be a factor (positive or negative) in the dynamics of your industry?

CRJ: I don’t think it was a factor. I think that it’s not so much my gender that has helped me to have some success – it is my natural curiosity to learn. I always want to know how things work, and people (both men and women) naturally like to talk about what they do. This is the best way to learn how things work – get someone talking about something they are passionate about and love to do.

Cathy Rick-Joule Monaco Day

Cathy with her NMMA team, Julie Balzano and NMMA President, Thom Dammrich

Why do you think boating is still a male dominated industry?

CRJ: Good question. I might answer this in a way you wouldn’t expect. I don’t think that it is a male dominated industry and leisure activity so much anymore. Certainly there are more males in the industry, but I am surrounded my women too. We probably have more women employees in NMMA and a fair percentage of our Boards are women.

As women continue to take the lead in major purchases like home buying, are you seeing a shift or increase in women’s interest in boating?

CRJ: We see more and more woman in our marina who have purchased and run their own boats, and we continue to have a focus on education in our shows. As more people have the opportunity to learn and overcome things that might be uncomfortable for them (while operating a boat), the more people will make the decision to become boaters and stay boaters.