This episode is with Steve Barker founder of Eagle Creek, recent leader of the Outdoor Industry Association and serial conservationist. Steve and I have been friends for a long time and we cover a lot in this wide ranging conversation from Eagle Creek, his non-profit work and much more.
First Exposure to the Outdoors
I grew up in Oyster Bay New York as a kid of the generation where my parents every morning told me not to come back until dinner. I grew up in a little town and started exploring things in my backyard. My mom was real sick when I young so spent a lot of time in the hospital so I had a lot of time on my own and found the outdoors as place that I could go and just spend endless hours turning over rocks, going fishing, hiking different paths. You know it’s interesting I talk about being from New York area people think you’re from the city but Oyster Bay was actually pretty rural. We had lots of trails and hiking and eventually I scored a job when I was 11 or 12 mowing the lawn at Sagamore Hill which was Teddy Roosevelt’s family home. Boy that was certainly inspiring, I got to go in the house and it was like a museum of exploration, certainly was very inspiring.
Things we talked about
Fredericks Skiing and Hiking
2/10 net 30
Outdoor Industry Association (ORCA)
I was involved early with the Future Leaders Academy and and that was certainly one place where the industry said hey we’re we’re seeing a lot of the boomers are aging out of the industry we’ve got a lot of young people that are excited about getting in. Since companies are now more medium to large size companies we have siloed up our organizations and we have the what my daughter calls cubicle refugees out working for us that may not be looking at the broader picture because they end up in a marketing silo or a product silo sourcing silo and don’t really see what’s going on in sales or branding. So it’s much harder to get a general education and even harder to figure out what kind of institutions to get involved in outside of work that could support your career. That was the genesis behind the Future Leaders Academy. So I guess it starts out with suggesting that people that are interested invest in yourself. I don’t see where companies are spending near enough time developing employees, they’re having a hard enough time just competing. So you’ve got to take that on yourself and have an equity mindset as far as what are you getting out of your job that will give you a long-term payback. What are you learning, are you actually getting equity. I think you can look at it as real equity. If you’re not getting anything good, if you’re not learning at your job find out where to learn it yourself. There’s plenty of resources out there now. Start with an annual planning and goal setting process and figure out where you want to be in a couple years. Be honest about your self-assessment and say here’s the things that I need to learn. Ideally that can be done with your supervisor or your boss but it’s really on you to develop that plan. Then go get that knowledge, go get that experience. If you can’t get it in your work go get it by volunteering. I have learned probably as much, maybe more volunteering with nonprofits, it’s really broadened my experience and my knowledge from volunteer fire department to working in local conservation or working with groups that are getting kids outdoors. You have a lot to help them with, you’ll always get more back volunteering than you give. So that’s a suggestion look at the nonprofit area as a career as well, there’s a lot of real and opportunity there, maybe more entrepreneurial opportunity in non-profit than there is in the profit community. If you’re interested in product, though I think we probably have enough product, looking at how to add value in the supply chain or figure out how to continue the life of a product or a material. Reuse it, recycle it is a key area that if you’re interested in a career in product well then make some product, learn something about the supply chain. Simply being able to draw something pretty in Illustrator, I don’t think that brings anything new to the table these days and as I said, we’ve probably got enough product. So figure out how to either how to make a product and/or understand the supply chain.
I also would say find mentors. Once you figure out here’s where I want to be figure out who has the knowledge and can help you. It takes a little hutzpah but reach out to those people and ask them if they will talk to you, have a conversation over coffee and find your own mentors don’t wait for them to find you. Then take some risks and fail. I think I talked early on about having a huge failure which I thought my life was ending when we failed at mountain people. It was extremely sad but I learned so much from that, Eagle Creek never would have happened if I hadn’t failed at mountain people. So really embrace your failures. Then look around the industry be it the OIA, Conservation Alliance, Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, Camber, Sustainable Working Group, Adventure Travel Trade Association, every single one of those organizations has an opportunity for you to learn. Volunteer, get involved and meet your future mentors and understand more about the industry, the area of public land and sustainability. There’s just so much more resource today for somebody in the industry than there was when we started and it’s shame on you if you’re waiting for somebody to come to you. We’ve laid it out, we’ve developed all these institutions for you. Everybody in my age group wants our industry to survive and thrive and we know that it’s going to take switched-on young people to see this legacy continue so there’s a lot of people waiting for you to show up.
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