On Sunday, March 16, Ron Gregg (54), founder and president of Outdoor Research, was killed in an avalanche while skiing with three friends on a hut trip in the Grizzly Bowl area of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in southeastern British Columbia. He is survived by his wife Sharon, his brother Bob and sisters Lonna and Laurie, his Outdoor Research employees, and the thousands of industry friends Ron thought of as family.
According to a report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), two men (only Ron's name had been released to the press at the time of this report) were buried in the avalanche and were dead when B.C. Parks and RCMP rescuers finally reached them.
Following a Tuesday board meeting to begin discussions of the company future, Outdoor Research issued a late morning statement that said, "The management team will now implement an established succession plan to ensure the continued long-term health and goals of the company."
Bob Gregg, member of the board and Ron's brother, was named as the company's interim president following a second meeting of the board Tuesday. Bob told us that the company would begin a search for a new president immediately.
"With my corporate background I can run the company, but this is far too personal in terms of the activity and there are folks out there that can emulate Ron's love of the outdoors far more effectively than I," Bob told SNEWS. "We absolutely don't want to run this as a sterile company. While it is something I am more than capable of doing and am sure we could make money doing it, the board is quite clear that we want a company leader to have the spirit that Ron embodied for better and better product that comes only from using the product."
Appropriately, the official press statement from Outdoor Research closed with, "If you knew Ron, you will understand our twisted love for him. We will miss his punny quips, dance moves, hugs, Gargoyles and 'female repellent' hat. Have a Pepsi and a big piece of drippy chocolate cake...Ron will be smiling!"
SNEWS View: We have been saying goodbye to friends far too much in the last year. Ron is no exception. We've butted heads with him over stories, tipped beers with him while sharing laughter and tales, and talked endlessly with him about industry trends and product design ideas. Ron was an unmistakable force of nature. Outdoor Research prospered because of him and in spite of him.
He founded Outdoor Research on an idea for a better product design in 1981 and grew it into the $10 million company it is today. His designs and products are either owned by or have influenced the designs of other products owned by just about everyone in the industry today. He created organizer pouches for gear and his pre-packaged first-aid kits were at one time the first-aid kits of choice. Product success stories include the OR Bivi, the Crocodile Gaiter and the Seattle Sombrero -- the company sells upward of 25,000 of the brimmed, crushable Gore-Tex hat per year alone.
Ron was never about fashion, a fact he was most proud of. He once told SNEWS in no uncertain terms that, "I design and sell product solely for functional purposes and fashion be dammed!" That effectively ended the questioning about the somewhat boxy look of a particular garment. A broad smile quickly followed the frown, letting us know our brief transgression had been forgiven.
His passion for design and his ability to disconnect from the present moment while on a product design journey only he could imagine were legendary. A SNEWS favorite tale (no doubt properly exaggerated for effect) has Ron plummeting off a cliff on his mountain bike while friends watched aghast. Rejoining the group after the freefall of nearly 100 feet into shrubbery, it is said that Ron simply commented that he missed the trail turn because he was engrossed in working through a design feature on a garment he was wearing. No word on whether the design idea is currently in the product line.
Ron was a member in good standing of the "First Street Mafia" so named for the gathering of company owners who once congregated their businesses on Seattle's famous street -- Cascade Designs, MSR, Outdoor Research, One Sport (Montrail).
A friend of Ron's, who called us early this morning, remembered skiing with Ron just over a week ago. As always (he spent nearly six months a year outdoors), Ron was extremely excited about the upcoming trip and, according to his friend, acutely aware of the avalanche danger. The friend even recalled Ron commenting that the group would likely spend all their time in the cabin because of the risk.
While the company is putting on the best face it can muster, and has taken critical steps in the last year to prepare for the unthinkable loss of Ron, including establishing a design team Ron gave input to, the loss will impact the company more than it knows. While there is a cadre of very talented folks at OR, you don't just replace someone like Ron. Ron was the heart that pumped the blood running through the company.
Ron would have wanted the company to continue, which it will, not so much because it represents his legacy, but more for the several hundred employees he felt responsible for. The only tears you would ever see from Ron now, we would guess, would be ones of anger if his beloved staff suffered as a result of his change of venue. Whether another company or investor eventually buys Outdoor Research (which we feel is quite likely) or if a new president is found and the company continues forward with the current ownership structure, hear us now -- you don't want to make Ron mad.