Osprey's Tom Barney goes from CEO to sales clerk

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The surprising next move for Tom Barney, departing CEO of Osprey Packs

Courtesy of  Tom Barney

Courtesy of Tom Barney

AFTER 15 YEARS AT THE HELM of leading pack and luggage maker Osprey Packs, Tom Barney has decided it’s time for a change of course.

But his next move might surprise you.

Barney plans to hire on at a local Durango specialty retail shop as a seasonal employee. Not an owner or manager or even a buyer, but as a salesperson, working in the trenches, selling socks and boots and rain jackets. And of course, packs.

“There’s a natural process that happens to leaders in business,” he said. “They get insulated to what’s truly happening with retailers and reps and agencies.” Barney said he wants to get back in touch with specialty retail, by working the floor during the holiday season

“Even if I have to pay them, I’m gonna work that floor,” Barney joked.

He wants to interact with consumers on the front lines where buying decisions are being made and brands are being compared. “I won’t get that by jumping right into another leadership position,” he says. “I’ll get it by returning back to where it’s really happening. And I’ll be the best Osprey pack salesperson they’ve ever had.”

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During Barney’s tenure, Osprey has grown significantly. When he started in August 2001, Osprey was a small wholesale business with one Japanese distributor. Flash forward 15 years, and Barney leaves the corner office of a company that is arguably the world leader in technical packs with a robust wholesale business (they forgo any direct-to-consumer sales) and 16 distributors in 65 countries worldwide.

The Osprey team in Vietnam // Courtesy of Tom Barney

The Osprey team in Vietnam // Courtesy of Tom Barney

“Under Tom’s excellent leadership and direction, Osprey experienced significant sales growth and a broad increase in its retail and distribution partners,” said founder and owner Mike Pfotenhauer in a statement. “He helped establish Osprey not only as a leader in the outdoor industry, but also as an excellent business partner.”

“When I signed on, I had no idea what Osprey would become,” Barney said. “I underestimated the potential for the company, and I underestimated Mike’s design capability. He really is one of the gifts of the industry, a rare and talented designer. I knew back then that he sort of needed to be released from the day-to-day burden of running his company so he could focus on building packs. He had so many ideas that hadn’t yet hit the drawing board.”

Together, the pair hit their goals in those early years. “We actually blew them away, year after year,” said Barney. “As business grew, it became more fun. More retailers joined in, we opened our office in Vietnam and started hiring people there, and we were in this magical spot.”

“That startup mentality, when everything is new and fresh is as fun as it gets,” he said.

Barney said the company has hit a number of milestones recently in terms of financial size, team member size, role in the industry, diversity of product and worldwide distribution. “And we are really well poised to continue growth and remain a leader in packs,” he said.

 Barney and fiance, Wendy Rodgers, in Teton National Park. // Courtesy of Tom Barney

Barney and fiance, Wendy Rodgers, in Teton National Park. // Courtesy of Tom Barney

And Barney himself has also hit some personal milestones, including a recent engagement. “I’ve worked for 34 years without a break,” he said. “My kids are off to university, so it’s quite a moment to pause,” he said. He remains highly dedicated to the outdoor industry and the relationships he’s formed. Barney will remain in Durango, Colorado, but recently bought a “crashpad” in Denver, which will allow him to stay well connected the industry. “It’s just the right time to turn the page,” he said.

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Early next year, after his minimum-wage stint at his local retail shop, Barney plans to re-engage in the industry-at-large in an official way. “I’ve been dreaming and scheming for a while, but I have nothing to announce yet.”

 Barney is deeply committed to specialty retail (pictured here with camping buyer, Angela Roam, at Alpine Shop in St. Louis, Missouri.) // Courtesy of Tom Barney

Barney is deeply committed to specialty retail (pictured here with camping buyer, Angela Roam, at Alpine Shop in St. Louis, Missouri.) // Courtesy of Tom Barney

Also in his sights: writing a business book, using Osprey as a case study. And creating a “legacy circle of senior outdoor industry leaders”—both working and retired--who want to band together to help keep our industry healthy and fresh.

“I may be retiring from Osprey, but I’m far from retiring from the industry,” Barney said.

Barney will remain at Osprey until Oct. 28. The search for his replacement is in its final stages.

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