Barbara Hufsmith is proof that if you fall off a bike—or out of a boat—you should pick yourself up and get back on.
“I fell overboard while racing one time in Lake Ontario and all I could think about was sharks,” says the 63-year-old leader of the Rochester Yacht Club. “I guess ‘Jaws’ really traumatized me as a kid.”
She may have been traumatized at the time, but it was not enough to keep her from her passion: being on the water. It was that passion, plus her decades of experience, that led to her becoming the first woman ever appointed as the yacht club’s commodore.
“I handle things much differently for more than one reason,” she says of her leadership. “It’s not just that I’m female, but that separates me so I don’t have the old-boy locker room mentality.”
As commodore, Hufsmith oversees a staff of 50 during the club’s peak summer season and revenues of close to $3 million annually. She plans to increase the club’s membership, which currently exceeds 500 people.
“I would like to see our membership grow,” she says. “We are debt free. We need to invest in our club long term, and we have an opportunity right now to make a positive impact on growth with strategic planning and investment in our club.”
She expects her business background to help in that endeavor. Hufsmith has worked as a CPA for three decades, owned Hufsmith & Associates CPAs P.C. for 15 years and in 2014 joined Petrella Phillips LLP as a full-time CPA.
To become commodore, an individual must serve two years as rear commodore, two years as vice commodore, two years as commodore and two years as past commodore. Each commodore has an area to oversee, including facilities, membership, the board of directors and to serve as a mentor to new commodores.
“A lot of people are afraid to take on this job because it’s eight years,” she says. “We need more people to take on this job. And it can’t all be retired Kodak executives. It’s got to be different people, younger people, people who work.”
A rich history
The Rochester Yacht Club is steeped with tradition. It was incorporated and held its first regatta in 1877 with eight sailboats. By the time the club joined the Lake Yacht Racing Association in 1887 it had 46 members and 15 boats.
Through the years the club has sponsored local, national and international level regattas, including Dinghy Racing, One-Design, Handicap Racing, Women’s and Junior Racing.
At its 13-acre facility overlooking Lake Ontario and the Genesee River, the club offers sailing instruction to adults, high school athletes and novice sailors beginning at the age of 6. Swimming, youth tennis and pickleball—a paddle sport—lessons also are available at the club to members and non-members.
Members enjoy a year-round calendar of events, such as club-wide sail and power boat cruising. Membership includes the use of a heated outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, kayaks and access to sailboat rentals.
The club also has a children’s playroom, kiddie pool and outdoor playground.
Hufsmith joined the organization in the early 1980s as part of a six- to eight-person racing crew on a C&C 38 sailboat. The boat was owned by two men who worked out at the Metro Center YMCA, whom she met there over coffee.
The two men asked if anyone knew how to sail because they had just bought a boat.
“I do,” Hufsmith recalls saying. “I was up for adventure.”
Since then she has been a committee chairman for four years, a director on the board for two years and a member of the finance committee for more than eight years.
In addition to its member offerings, the yacht club has a restaurant, holds events year round and can be rented for weddings, funerals, birthdays and other parties. During winter months members continue to meet at the club while staffers prepare for the upcoming boating season, Hufsmith says.
Goals and challenges
While increasing membership is important, Hufsmith says her first goal is to get everyone on the same page.
“If a company is going to grow or it’s going to break out a new product or it’s going to do something like that, then the core business has to be really secure,” she says. “That’s kind of what I’ve been focusing on now, is getting us all together as a group.”
Many of the club’s previous commodores were retired so they managed by walking around, Hufsmith notes.
“I work, and I made some changes in my life, but I’m not here all the time,” she says. “So like in a business, you need to set up systems so people know what to do when you’re not here. It’s kind of learned from doing. There’s no manual.”
Club manager Mary Smith says Hufsmith encourages discussion and collaboration because she believes no one person has all the answers.
“She processes that input then gives you her direction,” Smith adds. “She is to the point and expects you to make it happen.”
Hufsmith describes herself as fairly structured.
“I want meetings to be productive, and I expect people to do what they say they are going to do,” she says. “Knowing how busy people are, I help by defining action items and sending reminders.”
One of Hufsmith’s favorite expressions is: “If we all agreed, then we wouldn’t need a meeting.”
Smith says the biggest challenge the organization faces is making the best use of its members’ time.
“The world we live in is fast paced, and people do not always have a lot of time for recreational activities,” she says. “We strive to provide our members with a fun schedule of events. Done right, this is where people want to be.”
Adds Hufsmith about the club’s biggest challenge: “Shrinking membership. As the older generation passes, we do not see the younger generation filling the gap.”
Every private club has the same issues, Hufsmith says.“It’s a different world today; everyone is too busy and we have come to realize
that our primary competition is people’s time,” she says.
Additionally, Hufsmith says, the younger generation is moving away for employment opportunities and does not want to commit to club membership or owning a boat.
“We are taking all these things into consideration as we move forward with our growth strategy,” she adds.
Facility chairman Patrick Basset agrees focusing on the next generation is key to overcoming hurdles.
“The challenges that Rochester Yacht Club faces today are the same as many years back,” Basset says. “How do we meet the new generations to come’s expectations to join our club without destroying our very deep roots, which have provided us with well over 100 years of longevity we still enjoy today?”
Hufsmith says when Rochester’s traditional Big Three companies were at their peak, the club had to put a limit on the number of members and there was a six-year waiting list for boat slips.
“Certainly the economy in Rochester has changed since then,” she acknowledges, noting dues are based on age, with the club making it more affordable for younger members. “Even though we are the best value with our very affordable initiation fee and dues, private club memberships are not for everyone.”
The yacht club, she adds, is experiencing a different attitude about joining a private club; not as a luxury, but rather a safe, friendly community of likeminded people that enjoy boating and the water.
“It’s less expensive than a cottage, doesn’t require the constant time commitment of maintenance, and is an easy ‘staycation’ just a few miles away from our busy lives,” Hufsmith adds.
Despite the challenges private clubs face, Rochester Yacht Club has been successful through the years, Hufsmith says. The reason for that is its focus on members.
“People join and stay a member because of the camaraderie,” she says. “The Rochester Yacht Club is the facilitator for our members to connect with friends and enjoy time with their families.”
Basset says the club’s success is a result of its moving forward with the times but never forgetting its roots.
“The property is second to none with its one-of-a-kind setting and beautiful views, great food and lots of family fun,” he adds. “You do not need to own a boat to enjoy one of Rochester’s best-kept secrets.”
The work environment at the club is pleasant and fun, he says.
What makes his work enjoyable is the club’s leaders and other members, Basset says.
“They truly appreciate your input and diligence to preserve the club’s reputation as the club to be part of in Rochester,” he adds.
Manager Smith says the clubhouse staff have a diverse set of skills.
“We have bartenders, bussers, cooks, wait staff, sitters, to name a few,” says Smith, a 23-year veteran of the club. “When things get extremely busy in the clubhouse it is nice to see everyone pulling together as a team to make the visit to our club an enjoyable one.”
In addition to the camaraderie, Smith says, what keeps the job exciting is that each day is unique.
“We are always planning for the next event while at the same time making sure that today’s schedule is going as planned,” she adds.
Although the view from the deck would keep anyone coming back to work day after day, Hufsmith says that for her it is the people.
“I joined this club as a single woman over 20 years ago. I have always felt comfortable coming to the yacht club bar alone without worrying about looking like I wanted to get picked up,” she says. “RYC is my club; these people are my friends and there is also a strong network of women and activities.”
Hufsmith was born in Pennsylvania. The first 10 years of her life, her family moved 12 times. She has called Rochester home for more than 50 years. She and her husband, Gordon Britton Jr., have two cats, Mr. Hobbs and Clarisse.
Favorite family memories include visits to the Britton family cottage in the Thousand Islands, participating in water sports during the day and having dinner together on a screened porch overlooking the St. Lawrence River at night.
“Magic,” she says of the memories.
Hufsmith says one person who changed her life is her husband.
“He loves people and has such enthusiasm for life,” she says. “Because he is so happy, entertaining and interesting, most people are attracted to him.”
He is an example of the saying, “You attract your own life,” she says.
Long-time friend Mary Jo Hartman calls Hufsmith an easy person to talk to and one who values honesty above all else. She is not afraid to take things on that other people might think were too much, Hartman says.
“She’s not a person to come home from work and put her feet up and that’s it for the day. She’s always had things to occupy her outside of work,” Hartman says.
Hufsmith’s hobbies include kayaking, bicycling and reading. In the past she did a lot of sailing, camping, skiing and high-performance driving.
Hartman recalls how her friend started a “Women of Wilderness” club. During the 1980s Hufsmith asked Hartman to go camping in the Adirondack Mountains.
“She went up there first, canoed out to a campsite by herself, stayed overnight, canoed back in and picked me up with another person,” Hartman recalls. “For probably 15 to 20 years she developed a group of women that went to the Adirondacks canoe camping.”
And while the atmosphere of the trips has changed some in the last decade—Wimps of Wilderness they call themselves now because they stay in a condo—Hufsmith’s courage and strength have not, Hartman says.
“Barbara has always been—and I hate to use this word—empowering,” she says. “I’m pretty impressed. I’m not a member of the yacht club but I think she’s really going to do some pretty amazing things over there.”
Hufsmith says one thing she is most proud of is being the first woman to hold the role of commodore at the Rochester Yacht Club. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer is “independent.”
Title: Commodore, Rochester Yacht Club
Education: B.S., accounting, St. John Fisher College, 1982
Family: Husband, Gordon Britton Jr.; two cats, Mr. Hobbs and Clarisse
Hobbies: Kayaking, bicycling, making chain mail jewelry and reading
Quote: “A lot of people are afraid to take on this job because it’s eight years. We need more people to take on this job. And it can’t all be retired Kodak executives. It’s got to be different people, younger people, people who work.”
6/12/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.