Women in Business: Kirsten Winquist, Program Director, Radio Margaritaville

05/07/2015 04:42 am ET | Updated May 06, 2016

Kirsten Winquist grew up in what could be the setting for Margaritaville in the coastal town of Safety Harbor, Florida. At an early age she developed a passion for music and chose the trombone as her instrument (because it was the most "non-girly" instrument available at the music store that day). She was selected to be a part of America's Youngest Jazz Band at the age of 11 including a performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and by 16 she had traveled the country performing with the Spirit of Atlanta Drum Corps.

While attending Florida State University, her passion for music led to an interest in radio and her dual major in Communications and Sociology (in a parallel "non-radio" universe she thinks it likely that she would be Jodi Foster's character in Silence of the Lambs). She interned with Tallahassee Alt Rocker WXSR where she was soon thrown on-air when the morning show discovered her talent as an ensemble cast member. She eventually grew within the station to become the channel's Music Director as well as an on-air host.

Today, Kirsten is the Program Director for SiriusXM's Radio Margaritaville Ch. 24 and serves as a liaison between Margaritaville Holdings, Inc. and SiriusXM insuring that both entities interests are properly represented. Above all else, she serves Radio Margaritaville's loyal and passionate 6 million (and growing) person fan base which is one of the most popular partner channels on SiriusXM's platform. Her primary role is to constantly create a soundtrack for listeners to escape the day-to-day and transport people to a place where they feel a connection to wherever their "Margaritaville" may be.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up swimming off my parent's dock almost every day in Safety Harbor, Florida fishing, looking for manatees and listening to the radio. I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. I believe in loving what you do, once you have that everything else grows from the place of love and passion.

Much like radio, the key to good leadership is listening. I make it a practice to listen and learn from the people with whom I'm constantly creating this channel. Since radio is a 24/7 medium, it is always evolving and it's our job to tap into that every-day sense of exploration, freedom and escape. I have always believed that great radio is really a conversation and like all dialogue you need to listen carefully.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Radio Margaritaville?
I feel truly grateful that I've had the opportunity to work with some fantastic companies. I got my start in Florida working my way up at an alternative rock station during my time in college. Organizations like SiriusXM, Emmis Radio and Margaritaville foster a culture of flexibility and openness to new ideas and thinking. They do an excellent job of taking people with ambition and talent and giving them the support and tools necessary for success. Bottom-line, I wouldn't be where I am today without these experiences.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Radio Margaritaville?
It's a very personal conversation that Jimmy Buffett has with his fans through his music, and it's something he takes very seriously. I remember when Jimmy was forced to re-schedule a 2013 performance at the last minute due to bad weather. He was so upset at the thought of letting down his fans that he asked for forty minutes of airtime to play a few live songs. In the end, Jimmy spent almost an hour on-air, chatting and making music and trying to re-create the concert experience for fans that might have missed out. It was one of my best days on the job. It highlighted the loyalty that Jimmy has to his fans and how important it is to honor that connection. It's that passion that started Radio Margaritaville. I remember the first time I met Jimmy Buffett in person at a Las Vegas concert. I was so taken by his candor, passion and quick wit. He's a big part of creating this radio station and he still loves and listens to it on his own time.

I like that SiriusXM is not beholden to ratings, therefore we can rely heavily on our understanding and connection with our listeners. Jimmy's passion for music and his fans have fueled our own determination to find and continue our success.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in broadcasting?
If you truly want to work in broadcasting and are willing to hustle for it, you'll find your niche. Also, EVERYONE appreciates honesty and if you're not honest in your presentation, listeners will know. I'm here because I'm different, and I like that. If I acted like everyone else I'd lose that distinction. There's power in being different and that goes for everyone. Learn what makes you unique and learn when to use it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's a constant battle really. When work starts to spin out of balance I typically look at my big boss (Jimmy Buffett) and remind myself that I work for Margaritaville. By nature, the organization is centered around having fun, being collaborative and, of course, running a successful business by working hard. Like anything in life, it's so much easier to maintain a balance when you love what you do and you're very passionate about it. I'm exceptionally lucky in that area.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received came from my mentor. He says "YES" first and then figures out how the heck he'll get the job done later. I'm committed to fostering that kind of confidence in the people on my team. This is especially important for women because sometimes we can be too cautious and that leads to potentially losing out on opportunities that men traditionally say yes to without hesitation. Also, we need to choose partners in our personal lives who foster, encourage and support our careers, not just with words but with actions.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Finding a good mentor is key, but I don't think it can be forced. I've had so many wonderful mentors over the years from all walks of life, male and female. It's amazing what you get when you're not afraid to put your aspirations out there and ask for help. A good mentor teaches you how to be a better version of yourself.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Two women come to mind. Sheryl Sandberg is my gold standard. She's doing it. All of it. I can't wait to see where she'll be in 5 years. Also, Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO of Theranos. She's changing the way we do medicine for the better. It's a huge undertaking and one for which I have a profound amount of respect.

What do you want Radio Margaritaville to accomplish in the next year?
We have so many opportunities ahead of us in 2015, but my biggest goal is pretty basic. I want to tell the best story possible with our music, our artists and our hosts and we can only do this by keeping our eyes and ears open to what's going on in the communities and what's important to Jimmy and our fans. My goal is always to satisfy our listeners and bring in as many new fans to the channel as possible. We've been able to create a musical melting pot, crossing multiple genres and generations of music, from island and reggae, to folk and rock. Much like Jimmy's music, you can't put Radio Margaritaville in a box. We describe it simply as the soundtrack to escapism. And, regardless of the 'type' of music we play, we've been able to attract an increasingly diverse audience. Whether they are older, loyal fans, millennials who were raised on Jimmy's music, or 9-to-5ers looking to escape, I hope our station will always help brighten up days with authentic feel good vibes and music.