Skip Yowell Leadership Lesson 2: Sometimes You Find Success By Taking a Detour

A side job and happenstance led this Future Leader to his work-life happy place.

By Devon O'Neil July 19, 2016

It sounds simple enough. Ben Christensen, a lifelong fly fisherman and native Montanan, wanted to work for a company he knew and loved. But the route he took was anything but straightforward.  

 For much of his professional career, Christensen had specialized in Chinese markets and investments. He lived in Beijing and worked in commercial real estate, then focused on investment opportunities in Shanghai for a $60 million VC fund. Along the way, he took a side job translating for the Chinese minister of technology at a conference in Bozeman and crashed with an old friend, who happened to work for Simms Fishing Products. That friend introduced Christensen to Simms owner K.C. Walsh, and they agreed to stay in touch. 

Eighteen months later, after having their first of three children, Christensen and his wife moved back to Montana to raise their family. He took a finance job at Simms. A couple of promotions later, he’s Simms’ director of global sales and financial planning 

Christensen still spends four to six weeks a year in Asia, visiting Simms’ factories in China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia (the company also manufactures in South Carolina, southern California, and Bozeman). He uses his Chinese regularly to conduct global business but from a ski town not a skyscraper 

[The job is] the center of my Venn diagram,” Christensen says. “It gives me the opportunity to work in the fly fishing industry, raise a family in Montana, and work for a growing company.” (Simms has enjoyed steady double-digit growth since he started working there, Christensen says.) 

[The job is] the center of my Venn diagram. It gives me the opportunity to work in the fly fishing industry, raise a family in Montana, and work for a growing company.”

During a flight home from China last year, Christensen applied to the Skip Yowell Leadership Academy and eventually became one of 22 members of the inaugural class.  

Applications for the 2017 class of Skip Yowell Future Leaders will open up later this Fall. Watch out for more stories and news about the program. 

The connections he’s made have not only been good for networking but directly beneficial to his business. Early in the program, Christensen got to talking with Ali Kenney, director of global sustainability at Burton Snowboards and an expert on responsible manufacturing. Christensen knew Simms’ factories held compliance certifications, but he’d always wanted to do more to ensure maximum sustainability. He worried how much it would cost to assemble an internal team, however.  

Kenney recommended he consult a third-party compliance office. “There was a personal passion that [Ali] brought to that conversation that made me feel like it’s not just a box you check in your job, but something bigger,” Christensen says. “I feel more confident doing this knowing I can talk to people who’ve done it before.” 

Inspired and empowered by Kenney, Christensen put compliance audit outsourcing on his to-do list, and he hopes to have revamped guidelines for all of Simms’ vendors by mid-August. Such is the power of casual conversation among young industry change agents