Racing and sailing across 280,000-plus miles of ocean prepared Knut Frostad to lead Navico.

- by david schmidt

If experience is the best teacher, Knut Frostad can go to the head of the class, using his bluewater sailing insight to help lead Navico.

Knut frostad, as skipper of INNOVATION KVAERNER , was topping the overall leaderboar­d in the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race. He had just finished leg two, which stretched 4,600 nautical miles from Cape Town, South Africa, to Fremantle, Australia. ¶ Several days earlier, Innovation Kvaerner had slipped into second place for the leg—a position that didn’t please Frostad or navigator Marcel van Triest. In an effort to reclaim the lead, they aggressive­ly hunted a massive low-pressure system deep into the Southern Ocean. They found wind but suffered collateral damage: two broken steering wheels, shattered mainsail battens and other broken bits. ¶ Night fell. Frostad found himself steering with 40-plus knots of wind howling through the rigging. Water was everywhere. He couldn’t see his instrument­s, so he had a crewmember call out the numbers as he surfed the vessel down huge seas at 30-plus knots. ¶ “It was important to get to the bottom of a wave at the right wind angle to avoid gybing,” Frostad recalls. “I had to keep the boat between 120 degrees and 130 degrees. My crewmate started screaming when I got too low.” ¶ While harrowing, the experience taught Frostad that he could trust his B&G instrument­s to help keep his crew safe. It was a lesson that would serve him well during his decorated sailing career and in his new role as Navico’s CEO. ¶ The saying goes that experience is the best teacher and a driver of innovation, and Frostad has offshore miles and leadership lessons to spare. These include three and a half circumnavi­gations during the Whitbread and the Volvo Ocean Race, numerous Atlantic crossings, and an extended cruise with his family aboard their former Outremer 5X catamaran. All up, Frostad has cruised more than 280,000 nautical miles. ¶ Then, there was his work as CEO for three editions of the Volvo Ocean Race. When he started there, media engagement was a borderline afterthoug­ht; by the time he left, he had helped to revolution­ize the race’s storytelli­ng capabiliti­es visa-vis drones, onboard reporters and satellite communicat­ions. Additional­ly, Frostad served on the board of directors for Navico—parent company of B&G, C-Map, Lowrance and Simrad—for 14 years before signing on as CEO in June 2019. ¶ Eight months later, Frostad, Navico and the entire world sailed into the unforeseea­ble hurricane called the COVID-19 pandemic. ¶ “It brought me right back to my Volvo Ocean Race days,” Frostad says. “As a Volvo Ocean Race skipper, you only know that something will [eventually] go really wrong … so you practice crisis situations. When something happens, you activate the crisis plan. We did this at Navico, and we got the company through in a healthy way, although it’s far from over yet.” ¶ While fallback positions are important, Frostad is quick to acknowledg­e that the best sailors remain calm in rowdy weather. “We almost enjoy it,” he says. “That attitude has been really helpful during the pandemic.” ¶ Another important tool that Frostad acquired during his racing days is the ability to read people and have empathy for their challenges. “You can’t close your office door,” he says, adding that aboard offshore-racing sailboats, “everyone will know everything about you.” ¶ Even today, he values people and embraces a transparen­t leadership style. For example, Frostad freely admits that he knew relatively little about manufactur­ing practices before taking over Navico’s reins, so he put himself on a steep learning curve. “How well you manufactur­e has a massive impact,” he says of a company’s bottom line, adding that—just as in sailing—how well a team works together makes a huge difference. “An [offshore-sailing] team needs to get a little faster every day. It’s a relentless pursuit of improvemen­t.” ¶ While Frostad was accustomed to managing a global organizati­on, taking over as Navico’s CEO created different challenges. “We have over 2,000 people in over 40 sites in 24 countries,” he says. In a way, the pandemic provided cohesion. “It was one thing we all had to rally around,” he says. ¶ Frostad is a self-described tech geek who clearly understood— and trusted—B&G’s sailing-specific electronic­s prior to accepting the job. However, he admits to another knowledge gap when it comes to the power-cruising and fishing markets. ¶ “One thing that you can’t learn early enough are your customers’ real needs,” he says. “Fishing is a new world to me. The mentality of

wanting to know every detail of the seafloor—I’m blown away by it. I can relate with wind shifts in sailing, but you need to experience it to understand it.” ¶ Which is precisely what he did in the months preceding the pandemic. “The big thing to learn was sonar and transducer­s,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time studying this technology, and I’m still learning.” ¶ Looking ahead, Frostad points to artificial intelligen­ce and how it could be leveraged to enhance boating. “It’s easy to go crazy with technology, so we have to stay true to the basics, like safety,” he says. “Marine electronic­s need to work when you leave the dock, so we test products and make them 100 percent reliable. It’s why we work with the Volvo Ocean Race or many of the best profession­als.” ¶ This, of course, is the same methodical approach that enabled B&G to build the wind-sensing electronic­s that kept Frostad and his Innovation Kvaerner crew alive in the Southern Ocean that windswept night. ¶ He knows, as a boater himself, that recreation­al boating is a passion more than anything else. “No one needs it—they do it because they love it,” Frostad says. “They might only use their boat for one or two months a year, but it’s their highlight. I get to work at a company where we make [their experience­s] better. It’s a gift.”

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