An interview with Burton’s Donna Carpenter

This year marks the 35th anniversary for Burton as a company which was founded in 1977 by Jake Burton. Here’s a look at their journey through the eyes and voice of Donna Carpenter (Jake’s wife) who is currently Burton’s President. This March is also the 30th anniversary of Burton’s US OPEN!

A NEW YEAR’S SPARK

Donna Carpenter grew up skiing and traveling. Back then snowboards were made out of wood and they had fins like a surfboard, with ropes and handles. Soon after, Donna met her husband, Jake Burton on New Year’s Eve. They were married in 1982 and have been happily married ever since!

Donna explains the simplicity of the idea for getting Burton started: “The demand was just there… for something new on the snow.” With that knowledge of consumer demand and desire, Burton snowboards were born. Jake and Donna had a real passion for the sport. “We knew that if we focused on the sport {snowboarding} that everything else would follow.” Well it did and now Burton is the world’s leading manufacturer for snowboards!

BURTON WOMEN WANTED

After having kids, Donna came back to the company as CFO (Finance and Operations) for Burton. Interestingly enough, Jake raised the flag about not having enough women in the work place. They asked themselves, “What can we do to get more women to want to work here?” They realized that it is important to have diversity in a company to be healthy. Burton needed men and women with different experience to bring about innovation and creativity. After all, Burton sponsored female athletes from the very beginning!

After raising the red flag, Burton’s goals were to recruit, obtain, and promote more women in its corporate office. In order to do that, they had to make some changes around the office. Burton realized they needed role models — women in senior management positions at Burton to look up to. Donna exclaimed: “It’s about having different voices and nurturing those voices. Burton became a better company for it!”

BURTON REACTIVATED

What women want are mentors, coaching and leadership training. Burton made it a priority to develop and invest in all of its employees. Burton tackled these challenges by acknowledging what women were going through making the proper accommodations. Burton actively worked to challenge their current mentality. Burton started to offer paternity leaves for men as well.

Burton revamped their standards and respected all employees as people with families and needs.

PERSPECTIVE WHILE IN CHARGE

Donna is in charge of various regions like China and Japan which gives her an opportunity to ask what is happening with the women’s business in that area. This gives Donna a great perspective to look at these regions and figure out what they are doing right and wrong and how to change that. “I always say that women don’t buy a brand, they JOIN a brand. They have to have an emotional connection. They want to feel.”

RIPPLE EFFECT

All of these changes created a ripple effect — many women were promoted or moved to a different part of the company. Opportunities were created with the help and resources they were provided. “The whole company shifted to where mentoring and coaching became part of the culture. Burton worked hard to make sure women’s needs were met.” Donna is very passionate about teaching women. She believes that “the future of the sport is to convince women that it is fun to learn!” So Burton created a Women’s Learn to Ride Program. Donna confesses while there is still a lot of work to do, they are getting there!

WHO’S YOUR MENTOR?

Donna craves someone she can go to for advice. “Jake showed me the importance of integrity, having a vision, and a passion. I like to encourage women to have their own ‘board of directors’ to help guide your career. You need to recognize what areas you are weak in and act on finding that person.” Essentially Donna thinks having mentors in your life are of utmost importance: “It’s about sharing our experiences, giving back, and continuing to learn.”

It’s simple to find a mentor – all you have to do is ask someone who knows and understands you to help you with an issue or problem. Prompt questions like: “Can you help walk me through it?” or, “Would you be willing to have lunch with me once a month?” Donna explains that being humble enough to ask for help will allow you to be guided in a good direction from an outsider’s perspective.

WOMEN’S MARKET & BRANDING

Burton has quickly become a GLOBAL snowboarding Community. Anywhere there is snow there is a Burton family. “This sport is about individual expression, but at the same time you are a part of a community. You can see another female snowboarder in the world and relate.”

The Women’s Market is growing – According to Donna, snowboarding participation grew 25% from 2010 to 2011. While Burton was initially perceived as a male brand, the perception is changing because of everything that Burton has done to integrate the presence of female role models. Clearly, the Burton team is all on board to continue growing and becoming a company that nurtures equality and performance.

Interview & Post written by Christina Palomino

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