Pic of Week: Perk and the Idaho Boys

August 26, 2010

Frenzy

Orvis

When Rudy and I went up to an Economic Summit in Star Valley a month ago we met Orvis CEO and Owner Leigh Perkins.  We talked to him for a bit and snapped a photo.  Seems like a great guy!  Rudy asked him where his favorite place was to fly fish in Idaho and he said …..

Sorry, we can’t disclose that!  :)

Anyways, here is a cool pic of Rudy, Perk, and I! Followed by a cool article.

Also, I found a cool article on Perk and Orvis here.  “Profiles in Business

“The first thing that greets you when you enter the Orvis Company’s 23,000-squarefoot lodge-like flagship store in Manchester Center is a huge, liquid-eyed, horned, fake bison’s head mounted on the wall. Between that, all the fieldstone and hunter’s green, the buttery men’s leather jackets, the $9,000 hunting rifles, the reels and fly rods, the elegant canoes, the bronzed animal statuettes, the actual trout pond in the rear of the store – stocked with actual trout the large variety of hunting and fishing photos on the wall, plus the motto, “We provide our customers with products, knowledge, experience and services that define and support the distinctive country lifestyle,” you might expect Orvis’s owner and CEO, Leigh H. Perkins, Jr, to be an eight-foot tall Hemingway clone who rides into interviews on a moose.

Instead, Perkins, universally known as “Perk,” turns out to be a fine-boned, small, handsome, casual, thoughtful and friendly man who looks much younger than his 51 years and enjoys telling funny stories – many of them on himself.

We meet not at the store, or the at fishing rod factory behind it, or at the American Museum of Fly Fishing next door, or at either of Orvis’s two Manchester outlet stores. Instead, we meet at Orvis’s five-year-old, $7 million, 53,100-square-foot headquarters down the road in Sunderland. Overlooking a pond, the building sits on 330 acres, 25 of which are permanently protected through conservation. With its high ceilings and open, airy floor plan, the building is, once again, designed to look more like a hunting lodge than an office complex.

This is because the great outdoors is not only Orvis’s raison d’etre but also it’s bailiwick. The company was founded in Manchester in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis to sell his high-quality, hand-made fly-fishing equipment. In 1874, Orvis developed and introduced the ventilated fly reel, still the prototype for modern fly reels. The company he started is now the oldest fishing rod manufacturer in the world, and its catalog business has been operating for over a century.

“There have been three families that have run Orvis since 1856,” Perkins told me. “The Orvis family ran it for two generations. Then in 1939, a fellow named ‘Duckie’ Corkran took it over. He had no children and developed no heirs in the business. So when he got into his 70s, he sold it to my father. That was in 1965. My father ran it until 1992. When he retired, I took his position and my brother took a vice-president’s position. Most people here would probably describe Orvis as a family business.”

Orvis remains a privately-held company today. Perkins and his brother, David, 48, a company vice-president and the head of the “sporting, traditions” division, own equal shares; their two sisters, who do not work in the business, also own shares.

Since Leigh H. Perkins, Sr. retired in 1992 and Perkins took over, Orvis has grown from having $88 million in sales a year to $250 million. As a catalog company, Orvis pre-dates Sears. It mails over 50 million catalogs annually. It also operates about 30 retail stores in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has about six outlet stores. It serves an international market with a network of over 650 dealers in North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. Its award-winning Web site (orvis.com), launched in 1998, saw a 400 percent increase in sales during its first year of operation. The company employs approximately 2,000 people during its peak (pre-holiday) season. Although Orvis is known for its upscale outdoors gear, by the 1980s the company had decided to diversify. It shifted its image to “country living” and now sells men’s and women’s clothing, gifts and woodsy-hued furniture as well as rifles and rods.

Perkins himself is defined by his great love of the outdoors. As a boy, he went all over the world on hunting and fishing trips with his father. Hanging next to the receptionist’s desk, for example, is a 1963 photo taken of Perkins, age 10, standing next to – and being dwarfed by – the enormous, 183-pound Nile Perch he has just caught.

Perkins is an accomplished fly fisherman, wingshooter, canoeist, cross-country skier and bird watcher. He serves as the vice president of the board of the Nature Conservancy. He is involved in many conservation issues across the country, and he donates 5 percent of Orvis’s pre-tax profits every year to conservation causes.

A friend of Perkins, Joe Miles of RK Miles, Inc, a building materials supplier in Manchester, talks enthusiastically about going on fishing trips with him.

“He’s a great teacher when it comes to fishing and the natural world,” Miles said. “It’s wonderful to float down a river with Perk and have the benefit of his humor and knowledge of the surrounding, area, and what’s going on under the water, and in the trees with the birds, and what’s growing on the ground. And he always has great stories from his personal life about every location.”

When we meet, Perkins is dressed casually in tweedy pants and a dark blue sample shirt from Orvis. His vest, he admits with a laugh, comes from one of his catalog competitors, Eddie Bauer.”

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