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Story Contributors: Marie Fabre Story Contributors: Ken Read

FOR NORTH SAILS PRESIDENT KEN READ, IT’S ALL PART OF THE JOB

Fresh off the 36th America’s Cup and smashing a race record to Cabo (from Newport Beach), How Does the President of North Sails Navigate a Jam-Packed Schedule?

From calling the America’s Cup to helping steer North Sails through the unexpected in 2020 and then going on to break race course records, North Sails President Ken Read returns to HQ after a wild winter, geared up and ready to keep pushing North Sails and all of North Technology Group to that next level.

If you run into Ken Read on the dock somewhere, he’ll probably be friendly, even chatty – he’s just that kind of guy. But if you ask him, “so what is it that you do for a living?” make sure you have a few minutes to spare.

“What do you do for a living?” is a straightforward question with a straightforward answer (in theory): President of North Sails. But the details are a bit tricky to explain for Read, a world champion, America’s Cup skipper, around-the-world offshore racer turned business leader who’s also an America’s Cup TV commentator and record-breaking sailor. At the heart of all these activities: to make sure, without doubt, North Sails remains the driver behind everything he does– but Read’s all-in approach means his schedule is as diverse as a start line at a Wednesday night beer can race.

After helping navigate North Sails through a global pandemic, Read finished the year living in New Zealand for four months as part of the 36th America’s Cup commentating team. The location change also helped him spend lots more time focused on the North Technology Group companies in the Southern Hemisphere. Less than 36 hours after Emirates Team New Zealand secured their win, he hopped on a flight to go help win and ultimately break the Newport to Cabo Race record (in one day, 21 hours) onboard Roy Disney’s turbo’d Volvo 70, Pyewacket. Before his final leg home to Rhode Island, Read got on the phone to talk us through the last couple of months. He did admit to feeling “pretty whipped,” but that confession aside, his enthusiasm was intact. Read appears to wear many hats simultaneously, but it all leads towards making sure North Sails, and all the North Technology Group companies continue to lead that way with their data-driven approach. After this, all of his other jobs fall into place.

“It’s my job to get out and about, be seen and shake hands,” he says, “and make sure that the sailing world knows that North Sails is here to help, that all of the North Technology Group companies are here to make their experience a better one. There are all kinds of detail-oriented jobs behind the scenes, but in a leadership role, you have an obligation to promote the sport. Which in turn promotes your brand. Remember, the rising tide helps all.”

“I got to New Zealand on December 1st,” recalls Read. “It was one of the bonuses of doing that job on TV: it got me to that part of the world where the sailing action was at its highest. I was in the right place at the right time given my position within the North Technology Group and North Sails.”

It was “a lot of work but well worth the effort” for Read, a man whose recent schedule was certainly dizzying. “A day that included commentary was hard, but it wasn’t every day. I’d start around 5.30 am with the Europe calls, then have three hours with North America, then head quickly off to commentating. Because the races were so late in the day, we didn’t report [to the TV compound] until 11 am to meet with the producers. We all had our insiders [which may or may not have included North Sails embedded sailmakers!!] inside the teams who were great at making sure we were accurate. They wouldn’t give us their company’s secrets, but they made sure we weren’t making things up on air. We’d spend a couple of hours preparing the show before going into the booth at about 2 pm to do a couple of rehearsals—two to three hours of non-stop talking followed, which was super fun.

“They loved it when I talked about sails – the producer and director were like, ‘what do you think we got you here for!’ I got to point out all the amazing sail features that the world had never seen before, and the rig and the whole ‘engine above the deck’ was a phrase I used all the time. It turns out I have heard that phrase all over the place since. A phrase coined initially by the late remarkable Terry Kohler.

“We’d end the show around 6 pm and have a half-hour debrief. I’d often go meet a client or one of our folks or my wife for a beer on the Viaduct, have a quick dinner, and likely be on the phone for a couple of hours during the night. It was fun staying absolutely current and up to date with my North Sails job. It was fun talking about the sport that we love.”

Despite the lack of sleep, it’s clear Read embraces all aspects of his role, from the marketing side of things to the more all-hands-on-deck projects.

“It was always the plan for me to join Pyewacket in the Newport to Cabo Race straight after the America’s Cup,” he said. “I missed sailing – we all do, everybody reading this article misses sailing right now – and Roy Disney and I have been talking about sailing together for a long time. I’ve known Roy and his project manager Robbie Haines forever – I did an America’s Cup with Roy back in 1995 and won two world championships with Robbie– and the Cabo race is a classic. It fit into my schedule, but we didn’t expect the America’s Cup would take a week longer than planned. So it became a little tight with the Cup ending in the afternoon and me flying out the next day. 36 hours after landing in LA and a great dinner with my daughter who lives out there, we were sailing 800 miles to Cabo with a bunch of legends in 25 knots of breeze.”

By the time he had jumped on the Volvo 70, Read was tired– very tired. But his jet lag played in his favor when he joined the watch system onboard. “The time zone I was on didn’t matter!” he laughed.

He loved seeing Pyewacket’s Helix A3 sail in action, too, a North Sails structured luff technology they used 90% of the race.

“Veteran Sail designer Steve Calder and North Sails project manager Brian Janney did a great job injecting a couple of new sails into this program which were exactly the right sails for the job. This sail proved to me that the Helix concept is real. This boat goes knots faster than the Volvo 70s I sailed in the past (like Puma’s Mar Mostro in the 11-12 Volvo Ocean Race). Yes, the rig was turbo-ed up a bit, but we were reefed all the time. The Helix sail was the big difference – it’s crazy fast and incredibly forgiving. This concept is now more respected and prevalent than ever.”

It’s experiences like these, all the contacts, conversations and connections, that drive Read across the globe and around the clock.

“That’s why I sign up for these things, because I know it’s my job at North Sails, and because I want to stay current. It would be easy for guys like me to slowly go off in the sunset, and before you know it, you don’t know the next generation of sailors.”

Still, you’d think the man would get some rest now, right? “Hardly,” he jokes. “I’m going into the loft this afternoon here in Rhode Island.” What do they say again? Love what you do, and you won’t work a day in your life. Tell that to Ken Read…

Story Contributors

All Part of the Job for Ken Read headshot
Ken Read

President — Global Headquarters | Newport, Rhode Island Newport Shipyard Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Ken is one of the world’s most accomplished and celebrated sailors. He won the US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award twice and has won nine World Championships. He joined North Sails in 1996 when the company acquired the sailmaking business...