SNEWS: What prompted you to start OIWC, and how was it received back then?
AK: In the early 90s there were woman creating careers in the Outdoor Industry—like Kitty Bradley from Nike, Sally McCoy at The North Face, Niede Cooley at Marmot, Karen t’Kint from FiveTen, and Joan Alvarez at Outdoor Retailer–but for the most part we didn’t know each other. We just didn’t have the opportunity to meet.
When I met Carolyn Cooke, then a VP at Karhu/Merrell, we decided to do something about that. We planned a no-host reception at an art gallery in Reno at the summer Outdoor Retailer show in 1993. We had a little bit of catering, a bar, and nametags (money collected at the door just covered our expenses). That was it. There was no programming; Carolyn and I just welcomed everyone and encouraged them to mingle. Much to our surprise, it was a full house. The place was buzzing with conversations and laughter – it was super fun. That night, people were already asking if we could do it again the next year – and we did.
In 1996, Carolyn and Frannie Huff, president at Wyoming Woolens, organized a small group of women to convene in Jackson Hole to make some next steps. They agreed on a name, a mission statement, and it all started from there. Carolyn was the first president.
The OIWC was really just born out of the idea that we wanted a platform for networking. It’s hard to believe, but that didn’t exist for women back then.
SNEWS: How the landscape of women in our industry has changed since the birth of OIWC?
AK: The industry has matured, and so have groups like OIA and OIWC. It’s all evolved. I don’t know statistics on women in leadership, but my perception is that when I’m doing business for The North Face I’m seeing more women in leadership positions. In the late 80s, it was, (hands down), a “guys club.” It’s not as locked down that way anymore. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people who are looking to make a career in the outdoor industry.
The key is to see yourself as not just having a job, but as being part of an industry. If you do that there are so many ways to participate. At Outdoor Retailer, I always encourage my team to get up and go to the 7am breakfasts (OIA, Conservation Alliance, OIWC) to see the industry banding together around important issues. The time before the presentations begin is a great time to talk with people, set up meetings – introduce yourself to people you want to know. When workloads permit, I encourage them to join committees and working groups and participate in events like the Futurists or the Outsiders Ball. Whether you’re a woman or man, that sort of engagement is both educational and community building.
SNEWS: The concept of mentoring gets a lot of lip service. What does mentoring mean to you, and what advice do you have for women who want to be really strong, effective mentors?
AK: Change starts at home. In my position at The North Face, my number one responsibility is to meet the goals of the company and my close second responsibility is to support and mentor my team to help them grow in their positions and in their careers. I take that responsibility very seriously. I am also participating as a mentor in The Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy to continue that philosophy. It’s an OIA sponsored nine-month immersive leadership program. Participants receive personal and professional development opportunities that include education about important outdoor industry issues, leadership training and mentoring.
SNEWS: Who was an important mentor to you?
AK: I was lucky to have Sally McCoy mentor me when I first joined The North Face. I was about 6 months into my job and Sally was Director of Equipment. I was working in customer relations and not reporting to Sally, but she asked me to lunch. She sat me down and told me that I was at a crossroads. She saw me attributing my accomplishments exclusively to the greater team, but not communicating my personal achievements or impact on the company. She advised that if I didn’t start advocating for myself, I would get pegged in my current position. Sally probably doesn’t know it, but that conversation elevated my thinking and got me started on my career path. To this day she remains one of my go-to people for perspective, advice, and inspiration.
SNEWS: Any other pivotal moments in your career?
AK: I ran my own business, Extreme Connection, an agency representing athletes for speaking engagements, sports modeling, sponsorship contracts, for 18 years. I had no problem asking for top dollar on behalf of the athletes I represented, but in the marketing and event production consulting part of my business it was almost beyond my ability to talk about what I should be paid for my services. At a point in time when I transitioned to more consulting than representing, I ran into an old friend Chris Goddard, owner of Chris Goddard Public Relations (CGPR) at a tradeshow. She asked me about my business. I told her that I was at a loss as to what to charge my clients. She sat me down and gave me a very stern talk about how to look at my fee structure and how now was the time to be paid what I was worth. It was a difficult for me to approach clients with my new rate – but nobody pushed back. The impact on my income and career would have been significant if Chris hadn’t pushed me to step up my rates and advocate for myself. We can be our own worst enemy – so I pass on Chris’ advice: Do not undervalue yourself.