Oregon’s 'One Tough Mother' shares wisdom, humor with FSP students and Lanzhou MBAs

Submitted by Soleil Rowan-Caneer
Student, Community Development
Portland State University

“Work hard. Always tell the truth so you don’t have to bother remembering the lies. And always trust that if you have your heart and soul in it you will be successful,” Gert Boyle tells us. She is speaking to a crowd of Chinese businessmen and women who are hanging on her every word. “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill,” she advises with a wry smile.

Business leaders in the MBA Executive Leadership training program from Lanzhou University in China have returned for their annual trip to Portland. They come to experience first-hand executive leadership in practice and to learn more about collaborative models of governance and sustainable business practices in cooperation with the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

EMBA Leadership Training Program is a partnership between Lanzhou University and Portland State University's Center for Public Service in the Hatfield School of Government.
On the final day of their two day tour with First Stop Portland,we were fortunate enough to meet Gert Boyle, the businesswoman behind the successful Columbia Sportswear Company. When the company faltered after the death of her husband, she refused to sell it for the $1400 that was offered, saying she would rather run it into the ground herself. Today Columbia Sportswear is worth over $2 billion. Scott Welch, Corporate Outreach Coordinator for the company, explains that it is largely through her bold leadership that, against all odds, Columbia became one of the most successful businesses to ever come out of Portland.

With that perfect introduction, Gert Boyle enters the conference room. At this point, the entire room leaps to their feet and with giant smiles on all of their faces the Chinese delegation bursts into 'Zhu Ni Shenri Kuaile,' the Chinese equivalent of ‘Happy Birthday.’ Gert may only be just over five feet tall, but she exudes a charismatic and energetic confidence. It was difficult to believe that she had actually celebrated her 90th birthday only the day before.

Gert makes herself at home at the front of the room and begins to answer all of the questions thrown at her by our visitors. She shares some of the lessons she has learned from her 70 years in business.

“I’ll share my motto with you,” she says “‘early to bed, early to rise, and work like hell…’”

There was a lot of curiosity about the recent announcement of a business venture with Swire Resources Ltd., a Chinese company Columbia has worked with for several years. Gert was really excited about the new direction, and emphasized how important the partnership with China is to the future growth of Columbia.

One of the final questions asked was “How do you have such a long life?”  I loved her response: “Don’t cook and don’t clean house!”

After our session with Gert and a whirlwind shopping tour through the Columbia Employee Store, we lead the delegation out to the Cooper Mountain Winery.
PSU Professor Gary Larsen at Cooper Mountain Vineyard
Stepping onto the property, my breath was taken away by the winter beauty of the vineyard. It was an unusually sunny afternoon for early March, and the hills of vines rolled away from us out towards a green valley that leapt up into mountains in the distance. The beauty all the more poignant when contrasted with the suburban "McMansions" that stood in a sharp line against the other side of the vineyard. We were standing at the Urban Growth Boundary, the line Portland has set to control sprawl and preserve important resource land.

Barbara Gross, Proprietor, Cooper Mountain Vineyards
Barbara Gross, the proprietor of the vineyard, strolled out into the yard to meet us with a warm smile. We spent the rest of the afternoon with her, learning about what it takes to make a small organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery work. We also were given the opportunity to sample their many delicious wines. We were told their soil and microclimate are particularly suited to producing stunning Pinot Noirs, which I found to be very true.

A day spent singing, laughing, shopping, and drinking wine may have on the surface seemed to be simply that, but in reality I learned about two strong, successful businesswomen whose story I was previously unaware of. I was given the chance to explore sustainable business practices and the importance of effective leadership. Most importantly, as a PSU undergrad, I was able to contribute the ongoing knowledge exchange between Portland and Lanzhou.

From left: Gert Boyle, Columbia Sportswear; Soleil Rowan-Caneer, Nancy Hales,Sydney James, and Victoria Dinu, First Stop Portland

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