Ken Read, Puma Team Up for Volvo Race

Exclusive interview with the North Sails vice president, who recently announced plans to campaign for 2008 round-the-world race.

Last May, North Sails vice president Ken Read joined the crew of the Volvo Ocean Race entry Ericsson for the final four legs of the 2005-2006 VOR. Read, who had plenty of round-the-buoys experience as a helmsman for Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes syndicate in the 2000, and 2003 Louis Vuitton series, had never raced in the grueling round-the-world VOR, but enjoyed the challenge. With his help, Ericsson placed second in the transatlantic leg. The hook was set.For the next Volvo, which starts in the fall of 2008, Read will be heading a Volvo Team sponsored by the fourth-largest sportswear apparel company in the World, Puma. Puma's been around for 59 years, but was pulled from the brink of bankruptcy in the United States by CEO Jochen Zeitz, who took the company over in 1993 at the age of 30. Since then, Puma has used a marketing strategy dubbed "sports lifestyle" to regain its spot in the marketplaceWe can only assume that Puma-which up to this point sponsors only one boat, an England-based Reflex 38, called Puma Style-is probably in the process of designing and manufacturing gear meant for on-the-water use. When we asked Read about this, he demurred, saying that he'd leave it to Puma to make any such product announcements.Read said his team, to be called Puma Racing, will be based at Newport Shipyard, which seems like a natural, especially considering that the winners of the last VOR, ABN-AMRO trained out of the Shipyard.Sticking close to home is understandable for Read, and not just because he wants to spend time with his wife, Kathy, and daughter Victoria. Being close to the North loft he runs, as well as the Southern Spars service company Rig Pro (also owned by North), which are both in Portsmouth, will help, as will the proximity of Southern Spars' Composite Rigging shop, just across the Bay at Quonset Point. And lest we forget, two of the most qualified custom boatbuilders in the U.S., Goetz Custom Yachts and New England Boat Works, both only a few miles away.SW: Tell us about this new venture.KR: It's going to be based in the United States, specifically in Newport, R.I. I'm the skipper and will be running the program. Our goal is to win the Volvo Ocean Race.SW: Who are your sponsors?KR: The sole sponsor is Puma. It's a German company with a very large headquarters in Boston. SW: How did you and Puma get together? The company isn't known for sailing gear.KR: Quite honestly, nothing's an easy sell when you're asking for money from anybody, but multinational corporations clearly think that the VOR is a great marketing tool. When I left the Volvo after my four-leg stint this past time, it was clear to me; it's the right race for the right reasons for both sailors and corporations. I could walk into a boardroom with enthusiasm and say: "Guys, this is the real deal." I made an acquaintance who introduced me to Puma, and the rest is history. SW: So, have you been walking into a lot of boardrooms lately?KR: Amazingly Puma has been the only corporation that I spoke with. Last September, I told my bosses at North Sails that I had one friend with one lead and I was going to pursue it. I gave it a 5-percent chance and it kept rising as I kept meeting hurdles. It really got serious at the beginning of this year. And no, I've done absolutely no walking into boardrooms. I've spoken to one company, and that company turned out to be a terrific partner. SW: That's phenomenally good luck, isn't it?KR: It's more than good luck. I'm looking at this selfishly from the point of sailing. This is a highly creative, highly motivated company that I think can make a difference in spreading sailing in this country and around the world. This company can help this project make a difference and promote sailing.SW: Have you picked a designer?KR: Yes, and we'll make that announcement in the near future.SW: You'll obviously need to start training soon; will you buy one of the Volvo 70s from the 2005-2006 VOR? KR: Yes, and its bought and will make its re-appearance in the Northeast US within a couple months.SW: Is this at least partially a development of how much fun you had during the last VOR? KR: For sure. It also has to do with at this stage in my career. I want to run a program. It also has a lot to do with the fact that we were able to sign Kimo Worthington as our general manager. That was crucial. And it has a lot to do with the help that Bill Lynn gave me to get this thing off the ground. This will be a team program: family-friendly and built to try and win. SW: Have you started putting the team together?KR: Yes, but we will remain lean through this year.SW: When will you start sailing?KR: We hope to be up and running in May.SW: You've done a lot of sailing with Jerry Kirby over the years, and he's got a Whitbread and a Volvo Race under his belt. Will he be part of the racing crew?KR: I don't think Jerry would let me go off the dock without him.SW: Is there any chance of getting a Newport stop for the next VOR?KR: We're really not concentrating on the stop right now. We're just concentrating on getting the team and design program up and running and organized.The next Volvo Ocean Race begins in the fall of 2008 in Alicante, Spain. www.volvooceanrace.org