Skip Yowell Leadership Lesson 4: Enterprise Will Get You Everywhere

You can tell them you're the right candidate for the job. Or you can show them. Initiative and resourcefulness put this Future Leader on the fast-track to her dream career.

By Devon O'Neil October 18, 2016

When Carrie Watson was growing up, she idolized a person who didn’t exist. Not in real life, anyway.

Watson always wanted to be like Rachel, the character played by Jennifer Aniston on the sitcom “Friends,” because Rachel worked as a buyer for Ralph Lauren. “It was kind of a silly dream,” Watson says, “but it piqued my interest and sparked something in me. I could use my creativity, and the planning really appealed to me too, because I could crunch numbers, and crunching numbers makes me happy.”

A native Texan who grew up on the family cattle ranch in Brady (“The last time we slaughtered an animal, I had 667 pounds of beef in my freezer,” she says), Watson never wavered from her childhood ambition. After college at Texas A&M, she worked as an assistant manager at a Fossil Watch retail store for two years. “But my dreams were bigger than the storefront,” she says.

Learn more about the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy

When she and her husband decided to move to Austin, Watson used Google to find the phone number for the corporate headquarters of Backwoods, an Austin-based outdoor retailer with 10 stores around the country and annual revenue between $15 million and $20 million. Then she cold-called the office and asked if they might be looking for planners or buyers.

“I’ll never forget it,” Watson recalls. “The receptionist said, ‘Yeah, actually we are. Send over your resume, and I’ll pass it along to the CEO and owner, Jennifer Mull.’”

There was no job posting online, but Watson got the gig as an assistant buyer. Five years later, she is Backwoods’ director of purchasing at age 29. She and her team buy everything from women’s swimsuits to mountaineering boots.

Watson is also among the 22 members of OIA’s inaugural Skip Yowell Leadership Academy, a program that she says has “pushed my threshold for comprehending worldly things.” She cites an assignment on animals that the class tackled earlier this year, when they were asked to explore the issue, form an opinion, then write a paper about it.

Among the materials they examined was a podcast on baby cranes in Florida that ate from bird feeders in people’s yards. Residents were asked not to feed the cranes, so as not to build up their reliance on human-supplied food. One woman refused to stop feeding the cranes. The audience later learned it was because the woman’s husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, came alive whenever he watched the cranes eat. Suddenly what seemed like a simple solution—stop feeding the birds—wasn’t so simple.

Watson sees a parallel in her work at Backwoods and in the outdoor industry as a whole. “For us to really reach the next level of leadership and influence the higher parts of this industry,” she says, “we have to exercise these harder decisions and start developing the capacity to make them when there’s not a black and white answer.”

As with other Yowell class members, Watson appreciates the perspective she has gained from other young leaders in the industry—whether it’s how to source materials for a private hammock label that Backwoods just launched or why it’s important to be involved with activist organizations like the International Mountain Bicycling Association or the Outdoor Alliance, each of which has a representative in Watson’s class.

Read these other profiles from the inaugural class of the SYFLA:
Lesson 1: The Myth of Seniority
Lesson 2: Sometimes You Find Success By Taking a Detour
Lesson 3: There’s Strength in Numbers

The assignments they undertake are valuable for learning, she says, “but whenever we have free time together, that’s when the real-world applications start to shine.”