By Eric Smith
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Sarah Crockett.
After being named chief marketing officer for Burton Snowboards, she moved from Seattle, WA, to Burlington, VT, jetted off to Munich, Germany, for a senior leadership meeting and then flew back to Vermont to settle into her new home and new job.
Despite the frenetic pace of a major career and life change, not to mention a transatlantic flight her first week, Crockett is taking time to stroll the hallways and offices of Burton’s headquarters to better understand the brand’s legendary status in snowboarding.
The first Snurfer that company founder Jake Burton Carpenter designed in the 1970s is on display in Burlington, of course. But Burton’s newest innovations—from lightweight materials to the latest binding technology—are also evident. They bring to life not only Burton’s legacy but also its role on the sport’s leading edge.
“The heritage is jaw-dropping,” Crockett told SGB. “You walk into offices and there are Snurfer collections from the very beginning. But then you walk into the production arm of the building, and you’re just amazed at the level of innovation that takes place. This doesn’t exist anywhere else, so it’s completely special.”
Crockett, 35, who joined Burton after marketing stints at Vans and REI, is now charged with leading the company’s efforts to share that unique, special blend of heritage and innovation with the world. And she couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity.
Crockett spoke with SGB for a Q&A earlier this week about a range of topics, including her what drew her to this role, Burton’s position as an industry leader, her admiration for CEO Donna Carpenter and why diversity is such a critical component of successful companies. She even dished on her expectations about progressing as a snowboarder.
What drew you to Burton and this position? It’s such an incredible brand, and if you think about it, how often do you really get to work with a true pioneer—someone who started a whole sport, a whole culture, a whole community? And Burton is not only a company that started a sport but continues to innovate and thrive within it. These opportunities don’t come across the desk very often. I feel very lucky that this one did. Not only that, but the people and the forward momentum that the brand has make it even more exciting. It’s a combination of all of those factors that really drew me in.
What are some examples from your work at REI and Vans that helped build the foundation for taking on this role at Burton? At both REI and Vans, there was a really clear understanding of who those brands were, what they stood for and—almost just as important—what they didn’t stand for. Knowing that really helped us to make some decisions and place some important bets because you had this level of integrity and this compass that was driving those decisions. And, in particular for Vans as a global brand, being able to make those decisions and those hard choices globally was a difficult challenge for anybody there, but because we had such a clear understanding of who we were and what we stood for and what we didn’t stand for, that made it possible. At both REI and Vans, we were hyper-focused on getting to know more about our customer—their motivations, their behaviors. We were able to leverage those insights to guide us forward. All of that is incredibly relevant for this opportunity at Burton.
How do you think your experience translates to a snowboard brand like Burton, and what’s most exciting about working there? It’s such a true place of innovation. Burton is continuously pushing forward when it comes to progression and innovation, and there’s a lot to be learned there. If you think about what people are riding, how they’re progressing within the sport, what keeps them warm and dry and protected while they’re doing that, it truly is a level of technology that changes at such a rapid pace. To be able to be at such an innovative place while that happens is incredibly important. This is a community that’s really defining the future needs for the masses. Snowboarders are certainly an endemic community, but they’re really influential, and being able to be on that early adopter train has a really appealing learning curve in store for me, and that’s very attractive.
Burton’s got such a strong heritage, but at the same time is always on the leading edge of innovation in the sport. As CMO, how do you balance those two? I see our strong heritage as such a gift. We have an authentic reason for being a leader in this space, and that’s something that not every brand has, and some people have to make it up. We’re not in that position at all. But to your point, I need to be laser-focused on harnessing this incredible brand story that has been built over the past 40-plus years, but in a way that’s really informing the future. The progression forward versus solely looking back has to be an incredibly important territory for the entire organization to focus on. There’s a culture that our riders foster that’s incredibly influential and aspirational to many. Whether you ride or not, you’ve been influenced by this community. And that’s something that we really need to harness and leverage for our advantage and applying to the broader Burton brand versus just keeping it relevant to the core snowboarding sport. And it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity and it’s exactly what’s in front of us.
You can’t talk about the snowboarding industry without talking about Burton and its founders, Jake Burton Carpenter and Donna Carpenter. How do you as CMO help to nurture their legacy? Burton has always been and will always be for the rider first and foremost. As we continue to progress as a brand, there’s really nothing more important to me, in my role in particular, than maintaining that focus and leveraging that connection to inform how we go about everything else that we do outside of snowboarding.
Is being CMO of such a storied brand a daunting position to be in? Is it exciting? Is a little bit of both? It’s incredibly exciting, and absolutely it comes with some pressure. This is a brand that has been around for 40-plus years and has really made its mark not only on snowboarding but on the broader action sports and outdoor culture. To be able to join the organization in this position comes with a high level of responsibility. But I think it’s incredibly exciting, and it’s not a culture that leaves me on an island. I have an incredible array of partners here within the brand and within the industry that are all rooting for Burton. I feel incredibly empowered because of that.
Burton is well-known for valuing women in leadership positions, starting with Donna. What does that say about Burton, and are there some lessons that the outdoor and snow sports industries can take from the company about diversity? Absolutely. Donna is a complete inspiration to me, and she is a key reason why I wanted to join Burton. People can’t underscore the importance of bringing multiple voices into a room. Different backgrounds, different upbringings—all of those factors help make everything that we do better. And Burton gets that. Burton is clearly on the leading edge of this, not only for the action sports and outdoor industries, but I would also say beyond. There are lessons to be learned by the broader sector—public and private—for what diversity can bring to teams and to work and to culture. It just raises the bar.
Where do you like to snowboard; what’s your skill level and do you expect to improve now that you’re working for Burton, where you’ll get to make some turns as part of your job? I’m absolutely looking forward to spending my first winter exploring Vermont mountains. I describe myself as intermediate in my riding. Living in Washington over the last couple of years in particular has really helped to progress my own skills. I grew up in Southern California, just south of Big Bear, so that mountain is going to always be nostalgic for me. But most of my progression happened at Snoqualmie in Washington, so I will always have a sort of soft spot in my heart for that mountain because I learned so much on it. I think being here in Burlington is only going to continue to help my own personal progression, because the more days you can stack up next to each other, the better you get. I think it’s incredibly important in my position to be on the mountain as much as I can, because that brings so much value in just being able to see what’s out there. Living and breathing the sport is something I’m looking forward to.
Photo courtesy Burton