See SNEWS Winter Outdoor magazine 2010, p. 48, “SNEWS Power Players.” To download the full issue, click here www.snewsnet.com/magazines in early February 2010 to see the version in print with photos.
By the editors of SNEWS
Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in today’s business climate. Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. That is the driving force behind the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that acknowledges outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors. Contemplate their words to discover useful advice, tap into your own motivation, or find humorous and wise ways to overcome challenges.
To name the second class of Power Players -- those in the industry who are being talked about or whom SNEWS thinks should be talked about -- our team asked SNEWS readers to nominate people they considered leaders, and we were inundated with candidates. To arrive at the final list, we selected outdoor professionals who have made a significant impact on the industry in the previous year, be it on product development, business leadership, industry growth, non-profit work, design or communication. Each person is an innovator in business practices and one whom others look to for advice and inspiration.
Read what this year’s Power Players think about today’s business environment, their secrets to success and what has inspired them -- and learn from their advice and wisdom.
Keep in mind that the SNEWS Power Players list has become an annual honor -- one we hope is anticipated and will keep the industry talking. Make sure you stay abreast of SNEWS, so when we ask for nominations in late 2010 for the SNEWS 2011 Power Players list, your choice gets noticed.
Power Players Top 10
Nantahala Outdoor Center, CEO
Favorite food: I have to say its barbecue, as I sit outside Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in Atlanta. I’m going to have a quarter chicken and a half rack of ribs and baked beans.
Favorite vacation spot: While this really doesn't count as a favorite or as a vacation, in December I traveled to Germany to perform the Brahms Requiem with the Berlin Philharmonic. Something that a lot of folks don't know about me is that I'm a classically trained singer and perform regularly with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, with whom I've even won a Grammy Award.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: Harvard Business Review or National Geographic Adventure. I’m a business geek, but National Geographic Adventure cuts to the core of what this industry is all about -- that exploration.
Desktop computer image: A picture of me kayaking over a massive 50-foot waterfall called Oceana in Tallulah Gorge.
Lessons from a mentor: Brian Hankin, founder of (r)evolution partners, a consulting firm I worked with early in my career. The work we did was around breakthrough brand innovation. Trying to come up with the next generation hotel room for Holiday Inn and next generation bottle for Coca Cola. In outdoor recreation, there’s not often breakthrough innovation. For retail, other than the Internet, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation about how you reach consumers, drive traffic and get them to be more brand loyal. For us, it’s about thinking about what consumer problem you’re really solving. Having an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit is just critical. At NOC, we have 30 different business units ranging from outdoor stores to summer camps to rafting companies to adventure travel, so it’s always about coming up with that next generation idea, concept or business model and always challenging the status quo -- and trying to drive that home throughout the organization to make it innovative in nature. A lot of people think innovation is a flash in a pan or a stroke of genius, but it really is a process and an evolution.
Challenges: One of my biggest challenges is looking at innovation as a process. I move at a very fast pace, and I’m always pushing to the next idea, and for me, it’s making sure that as you’re innovating you’re building consensus, bringing others along, and building a sustainable, new business model and process. Almost slowing down innovation just for the sale of process and delivery. With a new business or concept, I’m not ultimately the only one who is responsible for its success -- there will be a manager, a department lead, a director -- and I have to make sure they buy in to what they help create.
Advice to yourself at 25: I would have told myself to realize that the goal of business should be balancing value and values, and the CEO's job is to balance shareholder needs with what is the right thing to do for your employees and community. An imbalance either way can be quite unhealthy for your organization. While achieving that symmetry is difficult, it is achievable and leads to extraordinary outcomes.
Important product innovation/business development in last the 25 years: The Internet has just completely transformed the outdoor industry and has had a huge effect on how you communicate with your customers and also the commerce aspect. You have some level of commoditization with Amazon starting to sell online, with big boxes getting bigger, and we’re focusing on bringing it back to the core experience. At NOC, a little less than half of our business is outfitting, so we’re very invested in delivering the experiential content. We’re redeveloping our online initiatives, but we’re really focusing on the brick-and-mortar, experiential aspects of outdoor retail. You can run a Class V or Class II rapid right outside our back door, and with our new Gatlinburg, Tenn., store we’re trying to say we’re right next to a national park where you can do a lot of outdoor activities.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: Social media is interesting in that it’s a very cost-effective way to create networks and market to your consumers. I think it’s going to have a huge lasting affect on affinity groups and users trying to meet up to go paddling, biking or running, and trying to communicate their brand affinity or affiliation. Social media is certainly here to stay, but we all have a lot to learn about it.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: One thing we have seen in our numbers, from a macro sense, people will end up traveling less. We had a huge benefit from close-to-home recreation -- people trading off the expensive trip to, say, Disney World, and doing a day trip or weekend trip in the Smoky Mountains. Close-to-home recreation, whether it’s an urban park or national park, is here to stay, and it’s up to manufacturers and retailers to capitalize on that. In paddling particularly, it’s all about driving participation with youth. I started kayaking at summer camp when I was 10. I am the living, breathing example of someone who started paddling at a young age, and never dreamed would wind up running NOC. I sometimes tell my staff that the summer camp kid, that 12-year-old, could be your boss one day.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: You have to build an outstanding team. You can’t do it by yourself. I’m an avid whitewater kayaker, and I always try to paddle with people who are better than me and more proficient than I am because you’re always learning, you’re always picking up a new skill or new perspective of boating. In business it’s a similar circumstance where the really successful people surround themselves with the most talented people they can afford. For me, it’s about building that team of people. A lot of outdoor sports by their nature, people think they’re about individual achievement, but with me, it’s all about the experience with others. It’s about teamwork, being your brother’s keeper, and holding people accountable, especially when you’re running difficult whitewater, and I think a lot of the same principles apply in business.
GoLite, co-founder and chief environmental officer
Favorite food: Fresh homemade pasta with fresh veggies and tomatoes.
Favorite vacation spot: Hawaii, Southern Europe or New Zealand. These places all have one thing in common: They have lots of places to play outdoors.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: New York Times because it covers every aspect of human life.
Desktop computer image: A beautiful autumn woods scene that makes you want to go down that trail.
Lessons from a mentor: I’ve had a lot of mentors inside and outside the industry who have inspired me and have taught me. The most consistent person has been my husband (GoLite co-founder Demetri Coupounas). The thing he’s always told me is to be myself. The more he’s encouraged me, the more those insecurities get out of the way.
Challenges: Trying to figure out how I can as a single individual solve some of civilization’s most pressing problems. How can we be part of the solution rather than its cause? It requires collaboration.
Advice to yourself at 25: I’d say, “don’t take life so seriously. Dance more, worry less, laugh more, work less….” I was so serious and that leads to stress. Have more fun. Life happens. Allow your career to unfold. Don’t have this idea of exactly what will happen because you’ll miss opportunities and flashes of brilliance.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: Not to be self-serving but the shift to lighter products. It gave the industry a wakeup call and a sense of focus. Just thinking fresh about business and products does an industry good.
And, of course, the arrival of the Internet. It’s allowed consumers to share their passions immediately. It enables companies to reach those consumers directly, and it’s changing how we do business at a fundamental level. We’d be in the dark ages without the Net.
Plus, I have to mention the push toward sustainability. This will become a huge source of innovation and brand growth in the years ahead. When a company makes fundamental changes in how it does business, it’s a de facto form of innovation.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: The role of social networking hasn’t been very large. It’s mostly been about friends and family. Businesses are fast at getting it, though -- and they’re using it as a way to connect with consumers in a fun way. Just three weeks after GoLite launched a Facebook page, we already had 1,500 fans. In a few days, we had more than 200 comments, videos and stories. You can’t do that with static, old-style marketing media.It’s a way to take your personality and brand essence and create a tribe. It’s one more reason to get rid of printed materials. In the past, we all had massive catalogs and now it’s live. It’s still early, but it’ll be an explosion in the next few years. It’s going to ramp up faster and faster.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: It’ll have a long-term sobering affect. We’ve been riding a bubble since the ‘80s and in some ways it wasn’t healthy. This has not forced all of us to get back to basics -- scrutinize budgets, strategy plans…. It’ll force us to get back to excellence in operations without a lot of hullabaloo. It’s been a wakeup call in terms of the job market. It’s given people a false sense of security -- especially the millennials who thought a job should just get handed to them. It’s a good thing for companies to be realistic. It’s made the industry more competitive. There won’t be any fat. Sobering can be a good thing.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: It’s two things: I am very passionate about what I do. I throw myself into whatever I do. I talk about it, I live it, and I breathe it every day. Plus, I just work hard and that leads to many doors opening. It’s passion and hard work. In 20/20 hindsight, everything I’ve done has contributed to what I’m doing now. I actually was a bad investment banker, but I learned a lot of good things.
Channel Signal, founder
Favorite food: Is beer a food?
Favorite vacation spot: Panama. It’s wild still, has terrific hiking, fishing, kayaking and surfing, and it’s a relatively stable country.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: The New York Times, because it has the best writers.
Desktop computer image: Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison River in Montana. I’m an avid fly-fisherman, and once you watch that fly for about an hour, that’s all you’re thinking about.
Lessons from a mentor: My father-in-law Kent Child, a real estate developer, got me on the road to being an entrepreneur. He taught me that nothing happens until somebody sells something. And in a deal, always leave something on the table so they realize you are providing more value than they are paying for. Never walk away with the other person thinking, “I don’t know if that was a good deal.”
Challenges: What challenges me is to get my potential customers to understand the benefits of a new company that I’m building. Although companies in the outdoor industry believe they are on the cutting edge, for the most part they are risk-averse when it comes to business. There are not many people in the industry that say they want to go first. The companies that do go first seem to come out on top, but many of the companies are me-too manufacturers.
Advice to yourself at 25: I would tell myself to just calm down. Take a deep breath every once in a while; stop pushing so hard, relax and let it flow a bit more. Half the time I didn’t know where I was going. It’s like the old saying, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m making good time.”
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: It is not the Internet, but technology in general that has been the biggest game-changer in the last 25 years. Large organizations can't have just a push strategy where messaging and products are just pushed into the marketplace, or into the population. Technology allows the common citizen or customer to respond and publish what they like and what they don't like. And given certain circumstances, many times, these responses get wide circulation.
Recession’s long-term affects on the industry: It depends on how the outdoor industry positions itself. The outdoor industry in many ways has been fortunate because the public has come to them, but now companies can’t count on consumers continuing to flock to them. We have to continue to talk with consumers, continue to listen to the influencers and then take chances and help lead the way.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: Perseverance. I think all the time, and come up with four to five ideas a day. When I come up with an idea that won’t leave me alone, that’s when I start thinking, can I build this into a business? I remember a California guy laughing at me saying, “Why would I hire a video production company out of Park City, Utah, when I live in Newport Beach, California?” But you persevere, and say, “This is a good idea, it’s going to help the industry and it’s a moneymaker.”
Favorite food: Fresh pomegranates
Favorite vacation spot: Our cabin in the Sierra at 7,000 feet. It’s a great place to take the twins.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: New York Times because of its breadth of reporting. I also like the Wall Street Journal; I read the economic reporting; I never read the opinion pages. And the Atlantic for its analysis.
Desktop computer image: Our dog, Beezus, at 10,000 feet in the Sierra on a granite outcropping. He passed away this summer.
Lessons from a mentor: Everybody I know I learned something from. You’re dead in the water if you’re not learning from everybody. I learn something every day. You just have to keep learning. You just have to keep questioning your perception, but you have to keep trusting your own gut and your own values.
Challenges: The speed of change. It’s intoxicating. It’s exhilarating. We are challenged constantly. We are constantly revising our planning and approach to the marketplace because of the speed of change. There is more change now in the business environment than ever in my career. You can either embrace that change or be traumatized by that change.
Advice to yourself at 25: At 25 I had a goal and I needed to constantly refresh those goals. So I’d say, keep an eye on where you want to go and how you’re going to get back. You can get locked in on something and lose track of the big picture.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: The web is very important to all of us. The instantaneous sharing of product information, the ability to get product, has been very positive … and very disruptive.
The other one is the development of China. It has allowed us to get fabulous gear at prices all of us could afford. That let really great quality products get to more people. And better gear can equal a better experience.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: It’s enormous. It’s absolutely essential. All of us are trying to catch up with it since it’s so quickly evolving. How do you affect the consumers? How do you engage the consumers? It’s a great opportunity to have them feel a part of your brand. Every company will have a slightly different answer. It’s one of the huge megatrends today. Social networking is at the heart of everything. Before our shops were at the heart of the community. The great news is it can make activities more accessible.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: It’ll feel like the recession for awhile longer. It’ll give the consumer a chance to discover the outdoors and its affordability. Unemployment will linger. The outdoor industry will have to keep innovating to keep people compelled. I worry about small businesses and retailers getting capital. It’ll be harder to start businesses. The economy will keep us from making strides we had hoped to make.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: I’ve always been passionate about what I’m doing and whom I’m doing it with. If you’re inspired and passionate, you’ll find what you love doing. If I boiled it down, it’s my passion for participating in the outdoors and innovating gear for people who share that passion. Learning the tools for how to do that becomes part of the expedition.
Amazon.com, business development manager
Favorite food: Tacos. Messy. But really, I have no favorite food; for me, my favorite food is something I have not yet tried.
Favorite vacation spot: It is where I am right now…the Olympic Peninsula is a new favorite place to me as it is new to me and my wife and I love the mountains and she loves the ocean.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: What is a magazine? Seriously. I read most everything I need online, but I do have one subscription and it is to Wired magazine. I use a hodgepodge of different things from RSS feeds and blogs. I rarely go to the New York Times and just start reading.
Desktop computer image: My iPhone has a close-up abstract of very old rocks on the North Shore of Lake Superior that I took this summer. My wife owns a property on the end of a trail in the Boundary Waters.
Lessons from a mentor: I have had lots of mentors in different parts of my life. Dad is the obvious one as he played a big role in my life and development and my appreciation for the outdoors. He was a photographer and took me out into the woods and taught me how to build a fire. What I learned from him is the advice that sticks with me: “In every job, there is a right way and an easy way…there is no such thing as a shortcut to doing a good job. To be proud of what you do, you have to invest in it and you can’t be lazy and expect great results.” So I do find I ask myself frequently, “Did I work hard enough at it or did I take the easy way?”
Challenges: Reality. Doing things that are new and exciting, I can get ahead of myself for sure with concepts. It is hard to realize sometimes that the world does not move at the pace I would like and it does take time to get things lined up with your vision and there are tedious things that stand in the way.
Advice to yourself at 25: Get a real job. I did not start working in the outdoor industry until I was 40. I was an outdoor recreationist as a non-professional in the outdoor industry. When I was 25, I was in the music industry. It was a dead end in terms of being conducive to loving the outdoors as it kept me in clubs late at night. All the places I could have gone and done back then. It was following a different passion of mine, which is music.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: It is the Internet. It has changed the way business is being done. The Internet is the engine behind the consumer shift. The ramification for the outdoor industry is that the Internet is not only a different way of doing business -- the Internet is reaching a lot more people. It is such a super important business development that I am not sure the industry yet knows how to deal with it really yet. The industry does not yet know how to deal with the fact that their customer and the distribution matrix splashes over the edge of what we define as our industry a lot. I am a commuter and every day I do an inventory of the shoes and laptop bags that everyone is wearing. They are all brandishing outdoor brands -- perhaps influenced by the location I live. What about that customer that has the outdoor brand of shoes and jacket and laptop bag that we do not talk about that much? That has been a function of the Internet and broadening the distribution, and if we can come to grips with that, we can bring more consumers into the industry by selling more product.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: It has had a huge affect. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a paradigm shift underway right now. Ground is shifting under our feet. Consumers behave differently now and it is a powerful and fundamental shift. Part of it has to do with being empowered with information. Consumers are empowered with the connectivity that social media plays a role in and the availability of information that is a function of being online. You go to buy a car and you can know what that dealer paid for that car -- and that is a huge, huge shift. Consumers are connecting with peers and trusting peers through customer reviews and articles and looking for product references and advice that are no longer necessarily manufacturing advertising or retail sales pitches -- which was the primary way consumers used to get information in the past.
A lot of folks are out there trying to figure it out. The best people who are advising on it right now are most often the same ones who are figuring it out right now. There is solid advice out there in terms of things I have heard. Go fishing where the fish are. A lot of folks are trying to create their own buzz. There is power in aggregation of community and that is why the leaders that emerge -- Facebook and Amazon and Twitter -- really cannot be ignored. A lot of things companies can do are ancillary to that, but you have to be where your consumer is.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: There are a number of potential outcomes to pay attention to:
Folks being more conservative with their recreational budget certainly benefit the outdoor industry, as it is cheaper to go camping outdoors than to take the family to Disney…will that be an ongoing trend? Hard to say.
People are being more frugal and looking for convenience and value. That is part of the reason they are being driven online whether for product research or ease and convenience, and that’s not only with reference to the outdoor industry.
I would not go so far as to say the recession has benefited online over shopping brick-and-mortar stores. However, the benefits of going online are clear and the consumer behavior that is embracing online, whether social media or peer reviews or whatever, is simpatico with being frugal and exercising caution and looking for value and convenience. However, it is important to realize that online has suffered to a degree economically as folks are spending less -- although I would certainly agree that the impacts from the recession are affecting online less than brick and mortar.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: For me, and this is what gets me up in the morning, is to do something no one has ever done before. There are a lot of folks who do a lot of things well and that is admirable and to be applauded, but for me I don’t just want to do things well. I want to do things in a new way, that challenges thought and says, “Let’s put a different spin on this,” and that is exciting. That does not just happen organically, and you have to put your mind to it. It requires perseverance and a realization there will be failure along the way. Doing the same old thing very well is not good enough anymore.
Favorite food: Salad with chicken and Parmesan cheese -- chocolate is a close second.Anything my mother is cooking.
Favorite vacation spot: Dorothy said it best when she said there is no place like home. The rejuvenation of being in the place you love when you travel as much as I do.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: The New Yorker -- they have great stories and incredible journalism. Great fiction, great non-fiction, relevant stories.
Desktop computer image: My nieces and nephew -- they know how to use my computer better than I do.
Lessons from a mentor: I have not had a singular mentor but been lucky enough to be influenced by truly amazing people. What it boils down to is I have learned from some of the worst people I have worked for…observing poor behavior. And I have learned from some of the best people I have worked for. The profound lesson learned is that no one is as smart as everybody. It is from a Japanese proverb. It basically means no one individual is as smart as an entire team of minds. As a CEO, I do not have all the answers. I have learned from so many folks, so my natural inclination is to engage as many people as possible in collective thinking.
Challenges: Finding a balance…the drive for change while keeping it focused and keeping people focused on the right priorities while at the same time moving forward as fast as possible.
Advice to yourself at 25: Learn from people wiser than you. When you are 25, you think you know it all. At that age, I wanted to do it so much better than others that were so much more experienced. With age and time comes appreciating what you don’t know.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: The outdoor industry’s recognition of its own influence. Twenty-five years ago it was fairly myopic from what I can see from reading and listening to the history. We have all come together, even with the competition, and realized our collective power. Environmental activism, political clout…through collaboration it has allowed the industry to do so much more than it could have accomplished individually.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: It has changed a lot of folks in the way they are focusing their marketing, certainly ours. It has implications for the entire industry. Social networking has created a platform where businesses can connect with their consumer on a very broad scale. If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world. When you think about that from a marketing perspective, it is second to none, and it is personal because it is about individuals connecting. You have to respond to individuals now and you have to respond because companies have become the subjects of people’s conversations. How you manage and respond to those conversations are very important and it is a new skill companies will have to engage in. Marketing used to be a one-way street. Magazine ads, TV, radio, newspaper -- you talked at consumers. Now you talk with a consumer.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: It has taught a lasting lesson with regard to running businesses…about staying very focused on key metrics which applies to business, and that primarily, this learning we have all gone through is a lesson that will stay with us forever. Anyone that sits in a corner office will never forget. Like grandparents that went through the Depression -- it changes them forever. It is incredibly healthy.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: Actively listen. Tap into the knowledge base of the folks around you. Recruit a great team of people if you do not have talents in your circle. Set a strategic vision. Mentor the team to execute flawlessly.
Outdoor Industry Association, vice president of government affairs
Favorite food: Chocolate
Favorite vacation spot: Yosemite
Favorite magazine/newspaper: Sunday New York Times. I like the profiles they do and I really get to understand who the people are behind the policy-making.
Lessons from a mentor: One of my mentors is Kim Reynolds. She runs Chicks With Picks. She really taught me the importance of combining my business acumen with my passion -- that it’s possible to do that. I want to be able to come into work as a lobbyist, which sometimes has a negative connotation, and feel like I am working in advocacy on behave of issues that when I get home at night I can feel good about. I’ll work on programs that build trails and then I’ll go out on a trail and see a sign that this trail was funded by this program and I know I had a part with the industry’s help in getting money for this program that built this trail. You see families out there hiking or camping at a campsite that maybe you helped bring some federal dollars to and that’s really rewarding.
Challenges: I enjoy the legislative process, so to me that’s taking a complex issue and figuring out how you’re going to resolve it. Finding as many supporters as you can and basically outworking your opponents so you can win. Sometimes that gratification can take a while with the way legislation moves, but it’s really rewarding to get that done. It’s not easy and a lot of outside factors come into play that you don’t have any control over. A lot of it is relationship building.
Advice to yourself at 25: Never say no to an invitation to go climbing or skiing on a mountaineering expedition. About 10 years ago, my uncles went to Kilimanjaro and they worked me over. I said “no” because I had a new job and didn’t think it was good politics to go, and I still regret it.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: It’s been amazing the advances in performance, while at the same time things have gotten lighter and more durable.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: It’s amazing how pervasive it is. An example I can think of is, if you think about Congress, it’s probably one of the stodgiest, slow-to-change institutions and yet now we have members of Congress twittering from the State of the Union speech or after a meeting, and posting on Facebook -- that’s usually a group that’s completely scripted on every word. So I think that shows the breadth of that change in society when you have those people doing it. I think it’s really good because it gives people a view into what their elected officials are doing and their thoughts during the day that are not filtered either through their press secretaries or traditional media outlets.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: One thing that’s been pretty interesting sitting in on OIA’s board meetings, it seems like the scene that’s coming up over and over is that members feel there is more of an immediacy to move to a supply chain model that’s closer to just-in-time ordering than we currently have. And that pressure in that discussion among the CEOs has really been accelerated because of the recession. You definitely hear a lot of the retailers saying we need to be able to order more frequently and fewer items but more times during the year rather than just doing big orders. The manufacturers have to figure out how they can adjust to that given the supply chain model. I felt like the recession really brought that issue to the forefront because of the inventory issues.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: I had a good mentor several years ago in Washington, D.C., who taught me that you have to really deal with everyone with integrity and to treat everyone with respect and listen to what they have to say. It is really likely that the intern that you are talking to in the congressional office might be working in the White House in a few years. It’s pretty common that it will happen, so there’s something to be really gained and learned from talking to everybody. It’s a very small world back there, and you want to make sure you have a reputation for being open. Going into the offices and being really upfront with them about I’m trying to push this piece of legislation -- here’s who is for it and here’s who is against it. You should just tell them that upfront, instead of trying to skate around the details. That will really pay off.
Horny Toad and Nau, CEO
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite vacation spot: Eastern Sierra
Favorite magazine/newspaper: Surfer’s Journal and The Economist. The Economist has a perspective that is more global. It’s just really comprehensive thoughtful coverage of a bunch of very relevant and important topics, both business and current affairs. And I love Surfer’s Journal.
Desktop computer image: June Lake in Eastern Sierra where we have a place.
Lessons from a mentor: My father has taught me a work ethic and a way of thinking that anything is possible and to maintain a sense of confidence and persistence to follow your path. I think as an entrepreneur, without that, you don’t get very far. More than anybody, he definitely had the most influence.
Challenges: As an innovator, not myself, but the brand, the product and the category that we’ve built, I think the biggest challenge is believing in a path that’s not necessarily paved. So there’s no real model, and there is not a lot you can use as your guiding principle. And I think at the same time maintaining a certain level of confidence when you’re in uncharted territory and not turning back because the end of the earth is on the horizon. That blend of just being out front and making sure everyday that you’re doing the best that you can without necessarily a direct model to reference. And at the same time convincing people that it makes sense, and coming up with theories as to why you’re not crazy.
Advice to yourself at 25: Do your homework, study, and really understand what you’re getting into in a more scientific or quantitative way. It’s kind of counter to the challenge and front end of things, but I think when you’re 25, everything is instinct and gut. Probably it took me a long time to realize that while your instincts may be good, doing your homework along the way will make your instincts that much more successful.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: The shift from an exclusive club to an accessible, open and educational gateway to outdoor recreation. I think the industry has come so far and in the short time we’ve been involved for 12 years. In thinking about that, it really feels to me we are so much more about getting adopters and bringing people into the fold and sharing the outdoor experience. The older traditional sports were pretty exclusive and pretty core. That’s been the most exciting development or evolution over the last 25 years. Probably the old school guys wouldn’t agree with me, but I think that’s true.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: It’s really evolving. It used to be that there were controlled channels and very traditionally managed channels of information between company and brand and consumer. Those were used -- manipulated -- to convince or influence consumers to do certain things. I think with the movement of the Internet and also social networking, this democracy of information becomes really impossible not to be transparent. Therefore, I think what’s going to happen with it is it becomes a tremendous information tool, but it’s also going to change the way companies not just market but actually operate. As consumers, information is power and it’s a shift from the company or the brand to the consumer. With that, you’re going to see a pretty significant shift in the practices and also the companies that win and lose. I think the next decade is going to be fascinating to watch as informed consumers start to really voice that power.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: I believe the recession is reminding everybody what’s important in life whether it be taking that opportunity to go climbing when someone asks or realizing at the end of the day it’s not how many toys you own, it’s about the experience and the journey along the way. I think the outdoor industry and outdoor recreation is the perfect place to experience some of that. So I think it’s a long-term trend back to nature and the simplicity of certain pleasures. And I think technology will actually aid our ability in being able to really enjoy the outdoors; be able to go to a remote place and still be able to both enjoy that beautiful experience and still work and make a living. I think it’s all good. I think the biggest challenge for the outdoor industry is going to be that we have to grab that opportunity in current terms.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: Perseverance. Just long hard hours. Also a quintessential optimism of all things. You just have to believe and have to look at the glass as half full. Continue to be positive, engaging and hopefully infectious in your enthusiasm and optimism. And keep going. Don’t flinch.
Outdoor Sports Marketing, partner
Favorite food: Milkshakes. Smoothies are my favorite breakfast.
Favorite vacation spot: I would go right now and stay on the Kauai north shore, right at the entrance to the Na Pali coast. I have gone twice with my family. I have gone to a lot of places in the world…there is another gear I can find there that is a great and reenergizing speed I can find only on Kauai.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: The New York Times Sunday edition. When I can’t go to Kauai…it is my morning coffee. That is what I enjoy.
Desktop computer image: There is a picture of me in the Atlantic Ocean with my daughter about 4 or 5 feet in the air and her arms reaching out and my arms reaching up to catch her. A lot of energy in the photo that describes peace and presence.
Lessons from a mentor: Bill Mauney at Great Outdoor Provision told me you make sales through service. Best thing you can do is develop a relationship with your customers and listen to them. Bill taught me early on that the best way to sell and service a customer is by listening. We try to teach that now to sales associates on the floor. In order to be a real service to the customer, you have to listen. My other mentor was my Dad, telling me to run my own business. It has been the greatest challenge and joy in my life.
Challenges: Probably trying to find balance between running the business and doing the best things for all of our customers and consumers, vendors and best accounts; maintaining a healthy active lifestyle that keeps me credible and my mind straight; and spending time with my family. In all of that, the big challenge is managing people on the business side. I find myself saying I can do it myself because it seems easier than trying to teach or show someone.
Advice to yourself at 25: Do what I did at 27 -- I bought Outdoor Sports Marketing, but do it differently than I did it. I would have hired a good attorney and a good accountant. I have learned from that numerous times since. I should have traveled more. Most mistakes I made early in the biz would have been alleviated by a good accountant.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: The impact of global manufacturing. When I first came on as an Osprey rep, we were selling amazing product with amazing features at an amazing price -- it was that simple. Now, we are dealing with a lot of added challenges because of our reliance on foreign manufacturing. As retailers take less inventory and manufacturers are trying to force orders by a certain date, a tug of war exists as to who will take the inventory risk. It drives so many things on how we do business these days. Many companies these days are more vendors with sales and marketing teams than manufacturers as a result of foreign manufacturing. For good or bad…we will have to address that in a short period of time how we manage inventory considering that reliance on foreign manufacturing. I am fortunate to work with some manufacturers like Cascade Designs and SmartWool who do a great deal of manufacturing still here in the U.S. It is interesting how that plays into product lifecycle and dictates how we work and how final product is brought to the consumer.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: There is a demand for constant information. I am a little concerned as everyone seems to think Facebook is the answer, and there are a lot of folks that are already quite sick of it. What is the next social networking opportunity? Quality information that is disseminated more quickly and made available to the sales floor is very important. Because of that, we are increasingly going to creatively use our website to support the sales effort on the floor. Provide more real-time information -- such as implementing short YouTube clips. We are also using it in our agency to try to keep our vendors better informed about what we are doing -- posting of photos as to how the merchandising looks, how the staff looks and where we were today. Overall, I am concerned about biz info and appointments being made on Facebook.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: We are going to lose some vendors and some reps and some agencies and some retailers, but when we come out of it, and we will, the ones who remain will be running much better businesses at all levels and the partnerships formed during this time will benefit everyone in the industry. All business are looking at inventories and managing businesses more conservatively. Reps have had to become consultants and not just order-takers. How do we assort to assure sell-through? I am very optimistic about the future of our industry, and from what I can see, everyone is running better as a result.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: There is a lot we do as a company. Developing the best community of people around me has been the secret to our success. Beyond our team is the support and council we have received -- from best accounts, to presidents of companies, we have a great network of partners that share best business practices and communicate well. It’s kind of like having a de facto board of directors for our team.
RMI, owner; First Ascent/Eddie Bauer, team leader
Favorite food: Non-expedition food. I just got back from Everest five months ago, and I dropped 20 pounds. If it’s non-expedition food, I’ll pretty much eat anything.
Favorite vacation spot: The beach. Some place with a white sand beach and blue water…away from the cold.
Favorite magazine/newspaper: Fast Company is awesome. It’s enlightening and I always pick it up.
Desktop computer image: It’s a picture I took 15 years ago on Mount Rainier of a moonrise and sunset with John Cumming and Ed Viesturs. For me, it represents the reason I go up into the mountains. It’s a religious moment, as I would call it.
Lessons from a mentor: I worked for 10 years in Little Cottonwood Canyon for Greg Smith, owner of Wasatch Powerbird Guides. He taught me the importance of customer service. He took it further than anyone I had ever seen and was committed to delivering the ultimate experience. You could ski the best powder during the day, and people would give you big tips, but if the soup wasn’t just hot enough, he was pissed, and we’d have a guide meeting for 40 minutes about the soup. I bought into that and, you know, people were paying $500 a day, and the soup should be hot.
Challenges: These days, managing people and, in particular, mountain guides. They are free spirits, and have to be very confident and self-assured. They go into the mountains and make life-and-death decisions, so you have to give them the freedom to make decisions, but they also have to work within our system. We have good retainment, and it’s a great place to work, but there’s always that balance between what they need and the company needs. It’s about encouraging them to recognize what they can do to get what they need and work within the system.
Advice to yourself at 25: Twenty years ago it was more about me. I ran Summits Adventure Travel for 14 years separate from RMI. When I was the owner of that company and I was the ultimate decision maker and taking wealthy clients on treks, climbs and skiing, that’s when I began to realize that the focus began to be other people and not me. As we grew Summits Adventure Travel and I had eight to 10 people working for me, I realized that I needed to create a good work place for a team that would stay there and get better and buy in to my idea of customer service.
Important product innovation/business development in the last 25 years: I look back at when I first began climbing and there were a lot of companies that were owned by people who spent a lot of time outdoors, and a lot of products were developed out of a need of people who were out there. With consolidation, it became more about making money, and you had big boxes come in. Today, a lot of designs are done by people who are not in the outdoors, but they’re designing outdoor products. But if you’re looking for a couple of specific products, the change from leather to plastic boots was huge, and Windstopper was amazing. All of a sudden you had fleece that would block wind. These were things that solved problems and reduced the suffering in mountaineering.
Social networking’s influence on the industry: These days with the social networking and communication that is available to people, if your customer service is good, the increased communication will benefit you. If you’re not, then it’s going to hurt you more. Everyone is aware of what you’re doing. I love some of the reviews we get when people talk about their experiences with RMI or Whittaker Mountaineering, and that’s the type of advertising you can’t buy. In my role with Eddie Bauer and First Ascent, it’s huge, if you look at the dispatching we did from Everest, and the way those videos got onto YouTube. It’s a larger platform than it was a while ago.
Recession’s long-term effect on the industry: We have services at Mount Rainier National Park, and looking at our numbers, people are not going as far as they used to in their adventuring, but doing a lot more in their backyard. This last year, we had similar business as last year and didn’t drop. People will continue traveling, and we’re not down too much in the international business. We’re still doing three-week trips on Mount McKinley, so I think people will continue to venture out and do those bigger trips. If anything, the confidence isn’t there. A lot of times people would plan an international trip six to eight months in advance, and right now people are still sitting and waiting and are apprehensive.
Secrets to getting ahead in business: If I boiled it down, it would be approaching everything in a way that is not too selfish. Getting what you want is often recognizing who has it, and then knowing how to give them something in order to get what you want. For me, it also goes back to when I started guiding when I was 16 years old and understanding relationships. When you put someone on your rope and take him into the mountains to climb, you’re no longer doing exactly what you want to do. Your pace is slower, you can’t climb as ambitious routes, and this person is paying you to adjust your selfishness. It’s that partnership, whether in business or marriage or your personal life, where you have to work with people and identify who needs something you can help them with, and maybe in return get something back.