Industrial Profile 8/30/2018

The Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy

Skip Yowell, co-founder of Jansport, was a charismatic, inspirational, and respected figure in the outdoor industry for decades. In honor of his memory, the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy (SYFLA) was formed to educate and mentor professionals in the outdoor industry in preparation for them to one day be the industry’s leaders. The program is designed to prepare, unite, and amplify the voice of future outdoor industry leaders. It’s a six-month program that combines overnight retreats, one-to-one mentorship, online learning, and a capstone project for program graduation. Kristen Freaney from OIA tells us a little more.

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What’s the persona or profile of the person who wants to be in and will benefit from participating in this program? And what professions is it oriented toward? (Design, Ecomm, Sales, etc.)

SYFLA is great for ambitious, knowledge-hungry professionals who are committed to the outdoor industry and are driven to move up into leadership roles in outdoor organizations. The program is designed to help people who want to lead outdoor brands and companies through the next generation—seeking innovation, tackling challenges head-on, and championing the causes that are critical to the industry’s longevity.

The program curriculum is broad so it’s a good fit for folks in a wide variety of roles. We’ve had participants from a variety of functional areas at brands, retail stores, manufacturers, nonprofit and advocacy groups, and outdoor-focused professional services including law, PR, marketing, and business intelligence firms.

What do participants of this program leave with that they didn’t bring in?

The program focuses on a few areas: personal development, professional development, and industry education. We help participants understand their strengths, their values, how they approach problems, how to set strategic career goals (and achieve them!), and then we dive into industry trends like sustainable business practices, the Higg Index (which is huge right now, given REI’s recent directive), policy issues that affect the industry, and the importance of getting more kids and families outside.

While the curriculum is certainly valuable, I think most past participants would tell you that their favorite parts of the program are the sense of community it provides and the relationships they take with them beyond the program. Members of each cohort and their mentors (each participant is paired with an executive-level mentor in the outdoor industry) become sounding boards and advocates for each other, not to mention friends for life. The networking and relationship-building aspect shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to this program.

What does the program syllabus look like?

This year’s program will run from late January (kicking off at Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show 2019) until mid-June (culminating at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2019). There are four, required in-person events that will take place in Colorado: two aligning with Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, the Camp Retreat in March, and the capstone presentations and graduation on Day 0 of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. The rest of the learning modules will take place online through webinars, assigned readings, podcasts, and videos. This is certainly an intensive program that requires dedication and time management on the part of participants, but it is absolutely doable for working professionals.

What’s involved in the application? What type of information needs to be provided and what questions are asked?

First, let me give you a sense of our baseline requirements for applicants:
1. Must be working at an outdoor industry company or organization
2. The applicant’s company or organization must be a member of Outdoor Industry Association (we’ll accept applications from staff members at non-member companies, but the company must sign up for a membership before that person can accept a slot in the Academy)
3. Must be working in a position that is director-level or below
4. Must have at least three years of experience in the outdoor industry

The application itself is pretty straightforward. We require a copy of your resume and then there are several short-essay questions that dig into things like why you feel like SYFLA is a good fit for you, who influences and inspires you, and where you see your career path taking you. The application fee is $35.

Have participants in any of the first three classes reported back with significant changes in their careers?

Quantitatively speaking, over 50 percent of participants move into a higher-level role within two years of graduation. But I think it’s important to keep in mind the qualitative aspects of this, too. We hear from so many past participants about how going through the program helped them bring more innovation and energy to their company and feel more fulfilled by their work.

How will the program evolve in the coming years?

I think this is an exciting time for the program, as I’m rather new to this role and am taking the reins from SYFLA co-founder Stasia Raines Walker. She developed a phenomenal foundation and infrastructure for this program, and now our team gets to build upon that with new curriculum initiatives, creative ideas to expand program reach, and efforts to keep SYFLA alumni engaged with each other and the program.

Applications for the 2019 class of the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy are open now through September 28th.

To find out more about the program and access the application, please visit