Jill Layfield to become CEO of Backcountry.com

On Feb. 1, 2011, Jill Layfield will begin another chapter in a story that is still being written by becoming the CEO of Backcountry.com. SNEWS has insight from our exclusive interview with Layfield.

On Feb. 1, 2011, Jill Layfield, 36, will begin another chapter in a story that is still being written by becoming the CEO of Backcountry.com. Co-founders Jim Holland and John Bresee are stepping into new roles: Holland, who is resigning as CEO, will become the executive director of Backcountry.com’s board, and Bresee will remain as an advisor to the executive team.

Layfield, now COO of Backcountry.com, joined the company six years ago, in 2005, as the director of customer marketing. At the time, less than 30 people worked for Backcountry.com. In her role, Layfield was directly responsible for 75 percent of Backcountry.com’s revenue, which grew from $27 million in 2005 to over $200 million in 2009, according to the company.

In 2007, Backcountry.com was acquired by Liberty Media to become part of the Liberty Interactive Group (Nasdaq: LINTA).

Recognizing her talent, Layfield was promoted to vice president of product management in 2009, overseeing the company’s strategy, planning, documentation, design and execution -- all focused on improving the user experience of the websites. In March 2010, she was promoted to COO.

Layfield will now be the leader of an online retailer that operates nine e-commerce stores, has more than 750 employees, requires a 325,000-square-foot distribution center to house nearly 1,000 brands, and, according to the company, is on track to generate nearly $300 million in sales in 2011. 

“Jill started with us when we were still in the garage in Heber. Since then, through her work in marketing and product management, she has gained a thorough understanding of our business,” Holland said in a statement shared with SNEWS®. “Those who know Jill know her to be uncommonly energetic and upbeat. Her optimism and enthusiasm are contagious.

“She is a confident, focused leader with the ability to turn complex issues into manageable challenges, and to make any lofty goal achievable through step-by-step processes. One of Jill’s greatest strengths is managing people. She is a pleasure to work with because she respects everyone’s intelligence and capabilities, and she encourages us all to stretch and reach higher in pursuit of our shared goals.”

Prior to joining Backcountry.com, Layfield held marketing positions at Shutterfly.com, Cisco Systems, Infogear and 8x8. She graduated from the University of Santa Clara with a BA in communications.

Layfield spoke exclusively with SNEWS prior to the announcement becoming official so we could get a little more insight into what motivates and inspires her.

SNEWS: What have you learned from past jobs that you apply and use to be as successful as you are?

Layfield: First and foremost, and I often talk about this, I have learned I am likely to be more successful at what I do when I am working for a company where I identify with the customer or the product I am selling. I have worked for companies in the past where I find myself thinking, “Who would ever use this?” I am just not good at getting behind a product I don’t believe in. It all ties into passion for me. I am a very passionate person, optimistic, and I like to have a ton of fun at work.

SNEWS: Wasn’t your first job at an elementary school during summer break, scraping gum off the bottom of desks? How did passion play into that?

Layfield: Even if the job is scraping gum off the bottom of a desk, I am just fiercely competitive and like to do anything to the best of my ability. It becomes a matter of “how quickly can I finish cleaning this desk, and then this room, and then the entire school.”

SNEWS: You have a favorite quote by George S. Patton that says, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” One could read into that the feeling that just good enough is OK with you.

Layfield: I firmly believe that you can course-correct on most decisions. What I think is terribly wrong is to over-analyze something, or procrastinate on making a decision, or to simply be fearful of making a decision. I believe in business, and especially in e-commerce, you have to go go go because if you wait around for perfect, there is a great likelihood that someone who has got to be good will quickly pass you by. I simply could not work at a company where small decisions take too long to make. I am always ready to go.

SNEWS: If our math is correct, at Backcountry.com, there are 746 employees now, of which 212 are women and 19 are in management positions. Outside of Backcountry.com, this is still a very male-dominated industry, though gradually shifting. Have you thought about this and your role now, as a leader and mentor for other women?

Layfield: I am very proud to represent women and be in a leadership position such as this. It is something that means a lot to me and a lot to the women in this company. When I moved into the COO role, Sally Jewel (CEO of REI) wrote me a hand-written note. It spoke to her character both as a leader and as a woman that she reached out and congratulated me in such a personal manner. I hope to continue that forward.

SNEWS: You’ve changed the paint and décor in the office already at Backcountry.com. What else can we expect to see changed at the company under your leadership?

Layfield: I really don’t know. I am certainly not inheriting anything that is broken. I do not want to rush into making any changes just to make changes. I need to look at this company now through fresh eyes and with the expectation that whatever changes happen, will happen over a long period of time.

--Michael Hodgson



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