Taking it Outside
The University of Idaho is surrounded by access to mountains, wilderness, rivers and bodies of water. Those fresh-air opportunities have led to the university being ranked by Outside magazine, Business Week and other major publications as a top college for students interested in the outdoors.
The Outdoor industry association’s 2012 economic report shows $646 billion is spent in the outdoor industry, and 40 percent of that is in the west – including Idaho. So it is no surprise that many College of Business and economics alumni end up working — and leading — stellar companies in the outdoor retail industry.
Bryan Timm '86|Columbia SportswearThe Northwest kept Columbia Sportswear’s Chief Operating Officer Bryan Timm close to home when he graduated in 1986 in accounting. The Boise native started working right out of college with the audit, tax and advisory services firm KPMG in Portland, Ore. where he stayed until 1991. He moved to Oregon Steel Mills and rose to divisional controller for CF&I Steel — the company’s largest division.
“I loved manufacturing,” Timm said. He loved understanding the process and what drove costs. He enjoyed seeing how in the melt shop — where molten steel is purified and sent for production — could be turned into any number of things.
When he moved to Columbia Sportswear in 1997 as corporate controller, he joined a company that turns out products that are icons in the outdoor gear and apparel industry — just before the company went public.
“My first week in the door was getting ready to go public,”
That was just the start to the company’s successes. Timm saw exponential growth the first five years with Columbia. “In some cases there was 20 percent to 30 percent growth — the brand was on fire.”
Being the recipient of such financial success wasn’t always the case for Timm. He worked his way through college with a combination of jobs included Albertsons during summers in Boise and odd jobs on campus. He also landed a part-time job as a health insurance representative and processed claims for a couple of hours a day.
“I always wanted a pair of Sorrel’s and couldn’t afford them when I was a student, but now I can because we bought them!” he said. Columbia purchased Sorrel Footwear in 2000.
Even though he is a lifetime away from his part-time jobs, his memories of the University of Idaho are strong. aside from meeting his wife, Kathy, who also graduated in 1986 in business, he has fond memories of his involvement in the U-Idaho community.
He suggests current students do the same.
“I would tell students ‘Do what you can to get real-world experience,’ ” he said. “learn how to study right up front. Don’t goof off. Learn how to study first, then have fun.”
Erik Amos '93 is the tax director for Columbia Sportswear. He joined the company in 1998. He previously worked for Deloitte. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from CBE in 1993.
Tom Cusick '90|Columbia Sportswear
Great leaders can follow the same path. Columbia’s chief financial officer, Tom Cusick, also worked at KPMG and briefly crossed paths with Bryan Timm. He joined Columbia Sportswear in 2002 and became CFO in January 2009. Cusick’s journey to lead a successful outdoor industry company was riddled with ups and downs.
Cusick spent five years with KPMG after graduating in 1990 with an accounting degree. He then detoured to California and held various jobs with Cadence Design Systems. He commuted from his home
in Portland, Ore. to the Silicon Valley to work for the company. He was a 28-year-old controller in the middle of the technology boom. He questions whether if at that point in his life he was even ready
for such a position. But the company quadrupled in size after he started, and was making multiple acquisitions.
However, with the dot.com bust that followed, the company fell from 1,500 employees to 250.
“Having to terminate that many people — i wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Instead, he moved into a more predictable business and found a professional home in Columbia Sportswear.
“It really resonates with my passions. it is a young and active culture,” he said. “this culture is much more in line with my lifestyle than the high-tech industry.”
It is one he has a passion for — and he encourages any student getting ready to enter the workplace to find a job they love. But, with the economy as it is, he also cautions against following a passion with no opportunity.
“What I have told my children in our conversations is to choose a career for which you have a passion, as well as one at which you can make a decent living” Cusick said.
And that is no stranger to Cusick. He has been a part of Columbia as it grew by about $800 million in revenue and has added an entirely new generation of staff. He says they have a better social network in the financial organization now than a decade ago because of the personnel changes.
“They have lunch together and spend their free time together – more so than the prior generation. it certainly makes for a healthy team environment.”
Fred Pond ’83, is the vice president and chief information officer of Columbia. He joined the company in April 2010 and was appointed to his current position in November 2011. Prior to joining Columbia, Pond served as CIO for north Pacific Group, as well as director of information services for the Schnitzer Group of Companies and graduated with a degree in accounting from CBE.
Jim Gerson '81 | Speedo
Jim Gerson has called many zip codes home in his journey to become president of Speedo.
After graduating from University of idaho in 1981, his positions leading apparel companies such as Jantzen Sportswear, North Face and Reef took him to places such as Seattle, Lake Oswego, Ore., San Francisco, New york, Memphis and Los Angeles. He landed in Los Angeles in July 2010 to oversee Warnaco Group’s swimwear division and is president of the Speedo and Calvin Klein lines.
“Don’t let geography limit you,” Gerson said. He advises people to always jump on the right opportunity. “Find a passion, and work with it. It is so much easier to go to work when you are doing something you believe in. Whether you are in accounting, marketing or design — if you like what you are doing, you will be really good
Gerson believes in what he is doing. As a sponsor of the USA Swimming Olympic team, Speedo’s mission and value is to inspire people to swim. Not only are they developing performance swimwear lines for Olympic athletes, but inspiring people to get in the water.
“When people think about swimming, they think about swimming laps, which is not very exciting,” he said.
Instead, the company works on socialization of the sport. Speedo has a pool across the street from its office building and the company works with high schoolers a several times a week. In addition, Aqua Zumba instructors work with swimmers.
Last year, the Pace Club application was released and received a positive response. The application creates swim workout routines based on fitness levels and desired goals. The user can create virtual teams and receive feedback. The virtual trainer continues to pick up followers.
“You have to look around and see the world has changed. People are not reading a lot of magazines, and there is a lot of instant gratification. You have to learn to evolve and be aware of how people are communicating,” Gerson said.
To youths, the USA Swimming Team represents their heroes and idols, so Pace Club works on integrating athletes with the application.
Gerson and his family were able to see those athletes in action this summer. Gerson was at the Olympic trials and attended the Summer Olympics in London in late July and early August. It was his first time attending Olympic events and described it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ and he was excited that his family could also attend. Gerson recently returned to campus as a speaker for the Jack Morris Executive Speaker Series.
Bruce Stratton ’71, graduated with a degree in accounting, is the president of the USA Swimming Board of Directors. He lives in Boise and owns the accounting firm Stratton & associates PIIC. He was in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics to cheer on and support swimmers sponsored by USA Swimming.
Lee Fromson '82 | REI
In the early 1980s, Lee Fromson read in the Wall Street Journal that there were more millionaires per capita in idaho than anywhere else in the country.
Fromson had been wanting to move from Ohio, where he was born and raised, to the west Coast. He decided that going to graduate school was the best way.
“I got this crazy idea that i would get all these contacts and invest their money,” said Fromson, who is the senior vice president of merchandising for REI. “I’ll go where all these rich people are.”
His research on graduate schools also revealed that because he had degrees in accounting as well as finance, he would be able to get his degree at U-Idaho in one year. But he never had been to Idaho before moving. When he arrived, he discovered many of “the rich people” had a wealth of land but not necessarily cash.
So when he graduated in 1982, he decided to wander around the west and look at the cities. He had a cousin in Seattle, and decided to make it home. His cousin, who was an accountant, connected Fromson to
one of his clients — Cascade Design, where he ended up working for nearly 20 years.
“I was employee no. 10 give or take,” he said.
Fromson was hired as the controller and rose through the ranks and left the company as president in 2006. He had decided to leave the company, sell his shares and spend a year traveling. That didn’t last.
Word got out that he was leaving Cascade Design, and shortly he got a call from REI. He was offered the job as vice president of REI Private Brands.
“It was funny because I had to think long and hard.”
Fromson said he had worked hard and wanted to take time off. But then he encountered the opportunity that would allow him to stay in Seattle and work at the REI headquarters in Kent. He wouldn’t have
to sell his house and he could remain in the outdoor industry. He was hired within two weeks of that initial call.
He did manage to get some time off. He spent about a month hiking in the Himalayas with his daughter, Casey, who was in her early 20s.
“It is the great thing about this industry — that you are involved in the products so much of your life that you also have to get out there and use them,” he said.
Being part of the outdoors is not the only thing that he feels strongly about. He also believes being a part of the community is an integral part of his job. He sits on the boards of the national Forest Foundation, the Mountaineers and Appalachian Mountain Club.
“Outdoors is a way of life,” he said. “It is part of what I do.”
Working in a field that is part of life for him is essential to happiness.
“Life is way too short to be miserable at work. You have to find something you care about.”
When Fromson’s daughter was having trouble determining her major, he brought her into his office to talk to all the executives. He demonstrated to her that it didn’t matter what degree a person had. If they found a challenge and learned to communicate — and not stress — he says life will take care of the rest.
Life certainly has taken care of Fromson. He gets to be part of a specialty player that helps create trends.
“Nothing is more fun than seeing my team buying a product or finding a category that people didn’t know about,” he said.
With those brands, REI strives to improve lives.
“We help make our customers live better lives when they go outdoors.”
John Mead '78 | A16 Outfitters
John Mead, president of adventure 16, an outdoor fitting company, found his footing in the outdoor industry when he was a child. Mead’s uncle and dad helped finance the company that originally was started in 1962 by the Boy Scouts as a project to film their adventures. Mead, who grew up in twin Falls, spent many
summers working with his uncle in San Diego where adventure 16 was based prior to finishing school. right after Mead graduated from the University of idaho in 1978 with a degree in business management,
he got married and moved to California to start his rise through the company. His hard work paid off when he became president in 1991.
“We all have a greater goal, and that is to protect our playground — and that is wilderness…if people don’t have places to go to seek solitude, we don’t have a viable business.” Mead returned last year to his alma mater and served as a speaker for the Jack Morris executive Speaker Series.
Chris Schreiber '86 | Quicksilver
Chris Schreiber ’86, senior vice president of Supply Chain, QS americas at Quicksilver is a lifelong Vandal fan. Both her parents attended U-Idaho in addition to aunts, uncles and her two sisters. She graduated with a degree in marketing and economics.
“University of Idaho is part of our lives, part of our family, part of our community,” Schrieber said. She has been with Quicksilver for 15 years. She says she loves to solve puzzles, and each day at Quicksilver she is a problem solver.
“One of the things I love about the job is that it is completely different every day. No two days are the same.” She encourages students who are interested in following footsteps such as hers to seek internships. Another piece of advice would be to work to meet the people in the industry who are doing the types of things the students want to be doing for a career. Even in a tough economy, eventually those connections will pay off,” she said.
Bill Parks | Northwest River Supply
Bill Parks, a retired professor from the College of Business and economics, turned his love of whitewater rafting and kayaking into a business when he founded Northwest River Supply (NRS) in 1972 while he was a faculty member at the University of Oregon. The company, which soon relocated to Moscow and celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, has grown to be one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of paddlesport equipment in the world. Parks began his career with University of Idaho in 1972 and retired in 1994.
NRS also has over 15 Vandals working within the company with two Vandals serving as top executives: Tony Mangini – CFO & HRM, Accounting ‘93 and Bryan Dingel – Vice President, Economics ‘89.