THE BLOG
12/20/2013 12:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Trisha Blake, President of Marketing and Kathy Fennel, President of Operations, FLW

Serving as the president of the marketing division for FLW since 2010, Trisha Blake has been a key contributor to the success and growth of the organization in her 15 years with the company. Blake was named senior vice president and chief marketing officer of FLW in 2004 and served as vice president of corporate affairs prior to that.

Kathy Fennel was appointed president of the operations division for FLW in 2010. Fennel oversees the day-to-day operations, making sure FLW continues to provide prestigious, well-organized tournaments of which participants, fans and sponsors are proud to be a part.

FLW is the premier tournament fishing organization that provides unparalleled fishing resources and entertainment to our anglers, sponsors, fans and host communities.

Through a variety of platforms including tournaments, expos, international media and creative marketing strategies, FLW is committed to providing a lifestyle experience that is the best in fishing, on and off the water.

How has your life experience/s made you the leader you are today?
T: Leadership to me is about having goals and bringing people together to jointly achieve them. I have always been a very motivated and organized individual and believe this has played a significant role in both my personal and professional life. I also grew up with a Father whose passion and motivation was contagious not only to me but those around him. He is interested in everything and always asks questions. I think just paying attention and being present creates some of the biggest opportunities and outcomes.

K: I grew up attending church and living in a household that had rules, responsibilities and consequences. This upbringing had a profound influence on my work ethic and ultimately my leadership style. I was married, had a child and started my career at FLW by the time I was 20. Juggling the responsibility of motherhood and my career at such a young age taught me a great deal, as did the experience of divorce. Looking back, I realize the importance of pouring 100 percent of myself into everything I did. You should treat every job as if it is the career opportunity of a lifetime. It might turn out to be exactly that.

How has your previous employment experience/s aided your position at FLW?
T: It was very important to me that I work for someone else before entering into our family business which FLW is. I had a lot of personal pride and put a great deal of pressure on myself to get out and do something on my own. I worked in the retail and skincare industries and always took my job(s) seriously. What I learned is that in business there are many principles that are universal and that people are what make the difference.

K: My situation is a bit unique in that the vast majority of my career has been with FLW. I joined the company in 1982 and was fortunate to work for supervisors that recognized the value of my contributions and trusted me with work of increasing importance as the company grew. Even my earliest work experiences helped shape who I am today. As a 12 year old I worked at a local drive-in restaurant where the owners expected employees to not only accomplish a specific task, but to accomplish it in a specific way. Some struggled with the rigid standards, but I thrived. I also learned to appreciate that there is always work to be done. When you finish the task assigned, you had better find something else that needs your attention.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
T: I think marriage and children create that balance for me. I enjoy working and it's part of my life but not my "life". Raising happy, well-adjusted children is the most important thing to me and my husband. In order to do this, life needs to be put into the proper perspective which I feel I am reminded of each day when I wake up to get my kids ready for school and when I come home to see them after work. My children are also very good at reeling me in when I need to change focus.

K: Faith, family and work are my top priorities and have been my entire life. When I've faced difficult situations, my faith has always carried me through. Since I started with FLW as a young mother so early in my career, I was fortunate to have my job responsibilities evolve at the right time. As my career required extensive travel, my son was at an age that allowed me to do so without hardship. I am fortunate to work for an entrepreneurial, flexible and family-friendly company that allowed me to grow with it.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at FLW?
T: I think the highlights over the past 17 years with FLW have been the many milestones we've set in the world of professional angling. FLW was the first to bring corporate America including Walmart into the sport which changed the landscape of our sport forever. It brought a new level of awareness to our sport. This alone provided many opportunities over the years to grow our organization and mainstream the sport of fishing beyond what it was. Today at our highest level of competition anglers are fishing for a living and making careers out of it.

The biggest challenge(s) for us has been overcoming the economic setback we experienced a few years ago. Our sponsors, anglers and fans are what keep FLW going and when the recession hit, everyone pulled back. Marketing dollars were the first to get cut. Gas prices were high and our anglers and fans like everyone else in America were forced to cut back. We are still recovering and rebuilding. The loyalty of our anglers and fanbase is something we are very grateful for and have worked hard for over the years. As far as our sponsors are concerned, because ROI is the norm in today's world of sponsorship, we are constantly looking at how we further connect our fanbase to the products and brands that support FLW and ultimately grow their business.

K: The biggest highlight of my career was when Irwin Jacobs purchased FLW in 1996. He took what we considered at the time to be a successful company and outlined a vision for us that was truly remarkable. He then invested the resources necessary to help us turn that vision into reality. He also invested in me personally by recognizing my early contributions to the company and challenging me to step up and do more. Today FLW is the world's largest tournament-fishing organization. We are supported by Fortune 500 companies and reach an enormous audience on their behalf through our events, magazine, television show and website. On the flip side, in recent years we've faced the same challenges as every other business operating in an unsettled economy. Fortunately, under promising and over delivering never goes out of style.

What advice can you offer women hoping to establish a career in a masculine dominated industry?
T: I would tell any female hoping to establish herself in a male-dominated industry to recognize that there are differences between the genders but that we can work together to accomplish common goals. In today's society, men can surprise you in ways that you may never know when you don't create preconceived notions about them. I have been pleasantly surprised over the years.

K: My advice is to ignore the stereotypes, and make your desire for advancement known. Seek out good counsel, and foster business relationships based on mutual respect and loyalty. Volunteer for the tough and unglamorous jobs that nobody else wants. These jobs often lead to an in-depth understanding of the industry that others lack. Learning as much as you can, about as many different aspects of the industry as possible, will provide a foundation for career advancement.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
T: I truly believe that the biggest issue for women in the workplace today has to do with how they view themselves and their own abilities. Women innately tend to put themselves last and believe this is how it is "supposed" to work rather than believing that they should come first. This may sound selfish or self-serving but why is it okay for men to do this and not women? In other words, it should be a level playing field when the skill set, talent, and abilities exist regardless of gender.

K: Work/life balance and the expectations that come with a career and family have to be the biggest issues women in the workplace face. I have to acknowledge, however, that I am probably the exception to this rule thanks to the timing of my career with FLW and the flexibility the company has offered me.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
T: I read Sheryl's book on a recent trip to China. Her life experiences are pretty extensive compared to most women in this world so her views and opinions aren't going to resonate with everyone. However, there is an underlining message that every female reader can take away from this book which is that we, as women need to believe in both ourselves and each other if we truly want to see further advancement for our gender in the workplace. Until I read her book which was very well-researched and substantiated, I thought we (women) were further along in our quest for equality in the workplace. With over 50% of college diplomas earned by women over the past 30 years we are still way behind as it relates to positions and equality in the workplace. Whether inspirational or aspirational, "Lean In" has brought further awareness and conversation to a much needed subject.

K: I think she offers wonderful advice for women and men alike. Building a solid foundation and developing the self-confidence to stand up for yourself and your ideas is critical to success in all aspects of life. There are times when we should all be leaning in a bit more instead of pulling back. It may be an uphill battle, but if we all lean in together, we can accomplish great things.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
T: Mentorship comes in many different forms. In each job I held, I always found at least one individual to ask questions, bounce ideas off of and get advice from. I chose individuals in top positions because I felt they had made it to those positions for a reason and that their experience was invaluable. I was amazed at the personal interest top leaders in the companies I worked for took in me but realized as time went on that my hunger for knowledge was unusual and that others were not seeking this. What I found is that my mentors were as eager as I was to learn to share their thoughts and advice. Today, even though I am in a leadership position I rely on my team(s) for their thoughts and advice as much as my own. It's all about the people you surround yourself with and they help shape decisions each day at FLW.

K: Mentorship is invaluable, even informal mentorship like most of my experiences have been. One of my most vivid memories from early in my career is having the namesake of our company, Forrest L. Wood, a legendary figure in our sport, approach me after a hectic week at our championship tournament and telling me that he appreciated how I managed to get a lot done without making a big deal about it. Having him validate my work ethic in such a manner was a huge confidence boost. It is also rewarding to work for visionaries who teach you to dream big and show you that those dreams can become reality.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
T: I admire multiple female leaders both well-known and not. Female leaders are around us each day. When I see one who is unassuming, engaged, listening and willing to take direction from others as well as help others build confidence I admire that.

K: She's not a celebrity, but one of the women I admire most is Betsy Flynn, the president and CEO of Community Financial Services Bank in my hometown of Benton, Ky. Betsy successfully navigated a world dominated by men to become the leader of what is arguably the most successful bank in our region. I also admire Katie Couric, the first solo woman anchor of a network evening newscast, for her accomplishments as a journalist and her ability to be both likeable and composed in almost every situation she faced.

What are your hopes for the future of FLW?
T: I have many hopes for FLW's future. I think the sport of fishing both recreationally and professionally has a lot to look forward to if as leaders in the industry we are successful in continuing to grow our awareness and participation. There are over 55 million Americans who purchase a fishing license annually in America today. We want to see this number continue to grow as well as the support and awareness of the sport. It is the only sport I am aware of that crosses all barriers including gender, race, age, income, and physical ability. FLW runs 231 events annually including High School, College, grassroots and up to the pinnacle of professional angling where anglers are fishing for a living. It's a universal sport that anyone can participate in. Ultimately, our plan is to globalize FLW. We have anglers from around the world fishing our events because nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. China is our next big venture. FLW is the first foreign sport to be approved by China's central government for conducting events on a national basis. It is estimated that there are 600 million people fishing in China today. We're still setting our foundation there but with the government as our partner who recognizes the demand and passion for the sport along with the natural resources available for the Chinese people to enjoy they see huge upside. They've basically asked FLW to set the standards for the sport in China and what could be a better compliment than this.

K: Fishing is traditionally seen as a male-oriented sport, but I guarantee that the fish do not care who is on the other end of the line. In fact, fishing is one of a select few sports that allow men and women to compete on equal footing. As such, it's the perfect sport for high schools nationwide that often struggle to offer equal opportunities for all students. Two years ago we launched High School Fishing with our partners at The Bass Federation, and the program has been wildly successful in terms of overall participation and attracting young women to the sport for the first time. Three state athletic associations have already sanctioned fishing as an official high school sport and many more are considering it. We have an opportunity to fundamentally change stereotypes associated with fishing and elevate it to its rightful place alongside "traditional" sports like golf and tennis. FLW is already the world's largest tournament-fishing organization. My hope is that we can continue to grow participation domestically and internationally by providing fishing opportunities for men and women of all ages and skill levels.