US Sailing: Journey towards excellence

Published on November 29th, 2021

Outgoing US Sailing President Cory Sertl shares these thoughts about the role she has held since 2018:

One of the things our board is especially proud of during the last three years is the transition we’ve made with our Olympic program and the focus we have now on excellence in Olympics and international competition.

Over the years US Sailing has transitioned from a volunteer-run volunteer-led organization to professionally staffed run and led organization with a Board of Directors. The misconception that many people have is that I’m the paid CEO and I go to work in Bristol every day as opposed to a chairman of a board where we’re all volunteers and we are at the highest level of strategy and with fiduciary responsibility for the organization.

Focusing in on what we are responsible for as an organization and how we could do that the best we can, I felt at the start of my time on the board was really focusing in on our strategic plan and what our vision and goals. We came up with three pillars and one thing I’m especially proud of is making the Olympics and success at the international level a top priority of the organization a stated priority.

That was important to me to really come out and say that so that our entire organization could be focused on that, but also that people would understand that that’s not the only thing we do. We also wanted to focus on the experience of our member and how we could deliver more value to the members of US Sailing and then also be the best organization we could be.

During the pandemic we were able to spend some time reflecting on our successes and failures with our Olympic program and with the help of Paul Cayard, and with the help of a few partners from McKinsey & Company, we were able to commission a study and look at what we could do differently and how we could improve our Olympic program.

As a result of countless hours of work with a lot of volunteer effort and pro bono work from Clay Bischoff and Brian Fox from McKinsey, led by Paul and a number of us on the steering committee, it resulted in a plan called Project Pinnacle.

This plan is looking ahead towards Los Angeles 2028 Olympics and American success at the Olympics, which I personally am incredibly passionate about and inspired about because it’s important for everything we do in the sport to aspire towards excellence and the Olympics epitomizes that. As a result of working with Paul, and our board supported his efforts, it resulted in hiring Paul as the Executive Director of the U.S Olympic Sailing Team.

I’m really proud of the women leaders that we do have from my generation who were part of the first time for women in the Olympics and it’s just really great to see the women who are younger than I am also giving back to the sport and you know our focus is trying to have a good balance of men and women voices at all levels of leadership in the sport. That’s really healthy and I think all of us who are at the top levels are good role models for women coming up.

In 1988 I was second in our Olympic trials and I ended up being asked to be the training partner and alternate for Allison Jolly and Lynne Jewell. I was able to be part of the team, wear the uniform and march into the Opening Ceremonies, and I think that was a defining moment in my life about wanting to continue to pursue Olympic sailing and being really excited about getting involved internationally in the sport more. I just think Olympics is what drives me from the point of view of Olympics inspires excellence.

One of the things I got to do in my role as President of US Sailing was with the U.S Olympic and Paralympic Committee and go to one of their assemblies. The theme of their assembly was Journey Toward Excellence and I really took that to heart because the Olympics inspires all of us on our journey to excellence.

US Sailing is the national governing body of the sport and we don’t just focus on the Olympics; we focus on the entire sport and I looked at it as an opportunity to set the tone, change the culture, raise the bar so that every part of our organizations was on the journey towards excellence.

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