Morgan Rae Berk knew early on that she would never be fulfilled by a regular office job. So, despite years of success in the event industry, the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration graduate left corporate America. While mapping out her next career move, Morgan took up surfing. Her new hobby would eventually lead her to a new passion and her new career.
Inspired by her love of surfing, Morgan founded the New York Surf Film Festival (NYSFF), an annual festival that, per its website, “gives the surfing community and general public a spotlight in the city to celebrate the filmmaking craft, honor the heritage, and learn about the new movements within and surrounding the surf lifestyle.“
Calavera Swimwear’s founder, Anna Jerstrom premiered her short film, Water Warriors, at the festival and says of the experience: “I haven’t had the chance to hang out with the East Coast Surfing community as much as I would like to, but I was loving spending time both in the water and at the NYSFF bar at the Nighthawk cinema, chatting to fellow surf enthusiasts. It is such a great vibe and I am so impressed with both the organization and the turn out for the festival.” You can view a trailer of Anna’s film here.
Morgan took the time out of her incredibly busy day to chat with us about her career journey, the best advice she’s ever been given, working in a male-dominated industry and much more. Read Morgan’s full Q&A 4Her interview below!
Did you ever imagine yourself achieving what you have?
Yes, I knew from about college age that I would never be happy working a 9-6 “real job” in a cubicle every day of my life. I have always had a larger vision on how one can make a living, a desire to create, a knack for solving problems, and the discipline to sit down and map out how to make it happen. My largest achievement here is being able to work under my own rules doing something I am passionate about every day.
What in hindsight would you say you underestimated about your industry or business and why?
How male-dominant and “cliquey” the surfing industry (and audience) is! I was aware there was definitely an uneven ratio of males to females, but what I underestimated was how much of a boys club it is; it almost works to keep women out. I have never experienced that in any other work I’ve done.
What is the best business related advice you, your business/company have ever been given?
“The only way out is through.” – Gabrielle Roth, Creator of 5Rhythms
Once you have set the wheels in motion, you might notice you’ve made a few mistakes or misjudgments along the way. The worst thing you can do is to drop everything and run in situations like this. Keep on working! The best thing you can do is to keep your head up, troubleshoot, fix mistakes and keep moving forward. You’ll find that the end result -while maybe not exactly where you thought you’d end up- is actually the place you were meant to be…you just didn’t know that yet from the start.
What do you love most about what you do and why?
This business allows me to be able to work in a mix of environments that keep it interesting. 1. The professional setting of experiential marketing and communications for major brands (sponsors of the event). 2. Help this passionate group of filmmakers get the recognition and showcase they deserve. We are a vital conduit for talent discovery in this niche market, introducing them to both the surfing world AND the larger NYC cultural community. 3. We provide a community for the NYC surf enthusiast in a place that is a bit “fish out of water” in terms of the larger surfing world. The main business goal of the NYSFF is to support the filmmaker. It’s about managing creatives, discovering talent, and fostering that talent to rise towards a greater future, and it’s that service that is the most rewarding each year.
If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently and why?
Nothing! Maybe I would have left corporate America a few months earlier, but if I had I wouldn’t have had my full event production experience so I’m not so sure of that. It was the years of event production experience that I cultivated before founding the NYSFF that has been recognized time and time again. The professionalism and “tightly run event ship” was given accolades from the very first year from both the industry and the community. It was apparently a breath of fresh air in the surfing world, and our partners and friends return year after year knowing that we produce a seamless turnkey experience for their marketing initiatives.
When you’re not working how do you like to spend your time?
How do you define success?
I think of success as being when you can’t fully differentiate between your work and play because you are doing something you love.
If you had to share one final thought with our audience of thousands of women in business, what would it be?
Using surfing as the example – I think a big mistake start-ups make is thinking, “I can surf well – therefore I can produce a surf event.” The thought process should be, “I can produce an event – now what event can I produce that I’m also passionate about?” For greater chances of success, think of your established skill set first and then apply it to your passion, not the other way around. Also, just because men are historically in charge of an industry doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a woman’s refined touch!