This month we are delighted to speak to Cheryl Zimmerman, CEO of FarSounder as the third in our series of Women at the Helm. FarSounder's products can be used in a variety of applications for obstacle avoidance and shallow water navigation, they are designed to fit many types of vessels including yachts, cruise ships, research survey vessels and small commercial vessels, with the focus on the Argos range of 3D forward looking marine navigation sonar systems.
dsnm caught up with Cheryl to find out about her route to this role at FarSounder. Cheryl has led the FarSounder team for 20 years - they have just celebrated their 20th anniversary - and has focused her efforts for finding navigational solutions to keep vessels safe and protect the underwater world.
With a background in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science Mechanical Engineering (MSME) from Tufts University, Cheryl worked on technical land-side positions, pinpointing business and marketing of technology as her passion. She said "With FarSounder I moved to the marine world and have never looked back! With a passion for the ocean I developed growing up in the “Ocean State,” and then for sailing, this was a natural industry in which to focus my talents. I believe my training and communication skills have benefited me in ‘translating’ technical ideas to non-technical customers. During my tenure, both the team and I have received numerous honours over the years. One of the most gratifying awards was the 2015 Tibbetts Award for Innovative and Outstanding Contribution to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. This award recognised our technological achievements. It also acknowledged our commercialisation skills, which was most satisfying to me professionally."
As a leading female in the industry we wanted to identify with Cheryl her thoughts on what helped and what made it tough for her, on her route to the top. She told us, "Throughout my career I've been involved in male dominated fields, whether through learning from males or working alongside them. In this industry, traditionally there has been a lack of women role models, making it very difficult to emerge as a leader. Being in that environment has taught me the importance of perseverance in the yachting industry. There is power in staying focused and determined in this field and I am proud of all I have accomplished throughout my education and career.
While there is still work to be done, it is so encouraging to see women gain more power and position not only in this industry, but in all aspects of life. There is an increase in women in higher positions and in more diverse, technical positions than ever before. I know several women captains and heads of shipyards, this is something that never would have happened without their perseverance. The glass ceiling is breaking and the space to grow and develop as women leaders in this industry is only expanding".
Established as she is in her role and the industry we asked if there were any nuggets of information that she would be able to share with others who might aspire to lead a company in the superyacht industry. Cheryl said to us "Take advantage of the opportunities that are arising and be there for other women coming up the ranks. With the industry opening up more for women, I would advise all of them who aspire to lead in the superyacht industry to stay focused and determined on what you want to accomplish. A lesson I learned and would encourage other women to do is to help each other. Being a mentor to the younger generation of women in the yachting industry. This will only benefit the future of yachting. It has been a joy for me to help other women in this field and learn from each other! I truly believe the best way to move toward a more diverse workforce is to be there for advice and guidance to other women who aspire to lead".
She also added, "The sense of community and collaboration are some of the most enjoyable parts of my job. The yachting industry has a large amount of respect for everyone involved. There is a large community of people who I feel connected to but have never met. Being a part of the yachting community and working alongside those who share the same passion and drive is incredible. This also leads to a great sense of collaboration. Attending international trade shows is always an exciting experience and allows me to connect with people of different cultures whom I may have spoken to but never met before. I love to meet people and share different ideas and cultures with them. It is inspiring to be involved with so many people from so many different places. It cultivates a great sense of togetherness and commonality".
Growing up around the ocean, Cheryl finds this industry to be exciting and always changing, just like the tides! Her career in yachting has brought a lot to her life and allowed her to have a greater impact in several different areas she wouldn't have been able to in other industries. To expand on this point she stated, "There is a global aspect to yachting, it is not just stagnant in one place, because of this, I am able to fully embrace my love for travelling, for example. In addition, the yachting industry allows me to have a positive impact on the ocean. Our technology contributes to ocean sustainability and protection. I am so lucky to be able to take my career in technology and engineering and use it to make a difference in the world and in the yachting industry".
Cheryl is profoundly proud of what the FarSounder creative and innovative team has brought to the world. Their advanced technology can be found in all the oceans of the world and on many of the largest and most advanced yachts. This would not have been possible without the yachting industry embracing them in their early start up days. With constant industry support, they have been able to dive into other markets as well, such as research yachts like OceanXplorer. Cheryl commented, "I am so proud of the strides we have made not only as a company, but as a women led company. Recently, I had the honour of meeting with VP Kamala Harris for a round table discussion on women run businesses. It was enlightening and inspiring to meet with her and so many other women in business".
So, what is next for FarSounder? They are always focusing on innovation with multiple avenues they are pursuing now. Cheryl tells us more, "One of the most interesting avenues is our work in collecting and storing bathymetric data. We have been working with the IHO and NOAA through their crowdsourced bathymetry working group. We are working on developing a series of future capabilities for our customer base. We are always working to improve how we can better serve our customers, and this is a big step. For example, data from our customer exploration data pilot program has been a key factor to our research and development program. This will lead to customers being able to share data across their fleets. Keeping our customers safe and the ecosystem protected is something we are constantly trying to achieve, and this data sharing will be pivotal in the pursuit of our goal".