Remembering Ann Krcik

Early this week we lost one of our industry's visionaries.

By Deborah Williams March 1, 2018

The collective conversation at this year’s Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show wasn’t about the hippest style trend, the newest “it” brand, a recent free-solo. It wasn’t about any particular insular thing. It was about people and about issues—big issues, bigger than retail commerce. It was about policy, equity and equality. And one of the people who started and fostered that conversation and brought it slowly and surely to the fore was Ann Krcik.

Photos courtesy of Ann Krcik’s family

Tributes to Ann this week, including this one from her family at The North Face, one from SNEWS, and this one from her dear friend and athlete for The North Face Conrad Anker, recall her career path and her contributions to the many companies, organizations and individuals she made better through her work.

“Be it an ongoing relationship or a smile and word of encouragement, Ann was always willing to take what she had learned and share it—selflessly—with those around her,” said Anker in his tribute. “She had a way of connecting individuals with communities and bringing people to groups, causes, and organizations.”

We at OIA and the Outdoor Foundation are lucky to include Ann in so many of our origin and impact stories.

“One of the things I love about our sector is that so many ‘ordinary people’ are having an extraordinary impact on our collective future,” said REI’s Marc Berejka. “Jane Goodall constantly reminds us that if we are deliberate, we are all history makers. Ann was deliberate.”

In 2012, Ann agreed to chair the newly formed OIA Recreation Advisory Council (RAC). According to the RAC charter, the mission of the group is to advocate for, provide analysis on, counsel and advise OIA staff, OIA Board of Directors and OIA members on federal public land and water policy issues, strategies and tactics.

“She was quite reluctant at first,” recalls Steve Barker, former executive director of OIA and a fellow member of the RAC. “She felt she wasn’t versed enough about public policy. But she conceded when we told her what we really needed was her leadership, openness and gravitas, all three of which she had in spades.” The truth, though, is that Ann was an incredible lobbyist not only for OIA but also for the Conservation Alliance. “The last few years she showed up, often sick, and walked the halls of Congress despite suffering from deteriorating health,” said Barker.

Ann attending OIA Capitol Summit in Washington, D.C.

Jess Wahl, OIA’s policy manager recalls that the early years of RAC formation were difficult. “But, through Ann’s steady leadership, friendships in the industry, passion for the issues and commitment to learning new things, we were able to build a successful group that has helped to steer OIA’s recreation policy in a positive direction over the past five years. Throughout Ann’s time as chair, I was lucky to have frequent calls and meetings with her when she’d first ask how she could be helpful and then would gently guide me through stressful situations and policy positions that went well beyond her voluntary chair role.”

Fellow members of the RAC, including W.L. Gore’s Tom Boyle remember Ann as a calm and steady leader. “Although my time walking along the path with her was brief, I fondly remember her calming presence in the chaotic SLC Marriott meetings as we formed the OIA-RAC as well as her focus and energy during our visits to Washington. Ann’s legacy is assured in the many lives she touched across the industry and globe,” said Boyle.

Ann featured with Hans Cole, Director of Environmental Campaigns for Patagonia and Alex Tompson, VP of Brand Stewardship for REI.

What Ann demonstrated through her dedication to the RAC was an overriding commitment to the greater good of the industry and all outdoorists and an understanding that there are issues for which collaboration must precede and outweigh competition. Ann was an exceptional example of how to represent a big company while simultaneously acting on behalf of the greater outdoor community’s needs. “She sold up well and used her position to influence company leadership. Then she volunteered her own personal time, committed TNF resources and invited the rest of the industry to join up,” said Barker.

An example of that: “Ann ensured that The North Face provided much of the support behind the original OIA Recreation Economy report and supported the updates that followed,” said OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts. “Through her many years advocating for public lands in D.C., she knew the importance of making a strong economic and jobs argument, and she made sure work like this got done that ended up benefiting the entire industry. Ann was humble in her approach, was quick to share the spotlight and always put the good of the industry as a whole as a top priority.  She embodies the cohesion that makes this a great industry to be a part of. This quality will be one of her enduring legacies,” said Roberts.

Todd Spaletto, who worked with Ann at The North Face, recalls: “When Ann came back to The North Face more than 10 years ago, it was a very important time for the brand. We were experiencing tremendous growth but wanted to make sure we stayed grounded, elevating our understanding and awareness of our roots. Ann was the true foundation of this. She had such a special ability to respect our past while representing our future. She was the steward of that balance and filter for both educating and mentoring internal team members and sharing that balance with everyone in the industry.”

It was people like and including Ann who inspired the OIA tagline Together We Are a Force. “Ann strongly believed in the power and importance of the outdoor industry, but she also deeply cared for and believed in the people who make up the industry now and those who will shape it in the future,” said Ivan Levin, deputy director of the Outdoor Foundation, of which The North Face was an early and consistent partner thanks to Ann. “Whether it was time spent establishing Camber Outdoors (formerly the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition) or being a mentor for the OIA Skip Yowell Leadership Academy, Ann invested her time and energy into making sure we have an impactful and relevant outdoor industry for years to come,” said Levin. Ann started The North Face’s Explore Fund, a giving program which awards $500,000 a year to nonprofits that get kids outside and connected to adventure. Following that example, other brands have developed their own similar giving programs. At Ann’s urging, The North Face also became an early supporter of Outdoor Nation, an initiative that focuses on getting current and future generations engaged with the outdoors.

But for all the impact Ann had on programs and policies, she will be remembered most for the difference she made with individuals. “Ann was an advocate, an educator, a mentor, a leader, a dreamer, and a friend,” said Levin. “Ann understood the importance of investing in people lives and making a difference.  Ann knew how to be a friend when a friend was needed and when to be a mentor when advice was needed.”

Spaletto and Stacy Bare agree. Ann had an ability to make business decisions that were simultaneously good for the brand, the industry and the people, said Spaletto. “I appreciate how Ann always treated me as a peer and a friend,” said Bare, whom Ann brought to The North Face as a brand ambassador. “She had a way of dropping profound deep knowledge in easy graspable ways in casual conversation. There was no small talk but it was always easy to chat and connect. ‘What do you want to do?’ and ‘What do you want out of it?’ Those are the questions I’ll always ask myself thanks to Ann. It wasn’t about being selfish, but instead about finding my path.”

It is clear that Ann’s legacy will live on through the great programs and conversations she started. It is also clear that her absence will be felt most acutely in those moments that perhaps don’t shape policy but that can and do shape individual careers and lives.

“Ann took me under her wing when I was brand new to the industry,” said Wahl. “When Ann cycled off as OIA RAC chair, we remained friends, frequently catching up on the phone and at industry events. Ann would always make me feel special, even though I was new and green and she knew so many people and was so connected. With Ann, I always felt like I was really being heard, and she gave the best advice, without it feeling like anything other than a friend who truly cared. And she gave me the chance to reciprocate, too. She’d ask me for guidance—though she didn’t need it—about how to engage with policymakers and even how to dress for meetings on the hill. Ann taught me a lot about leadership and mentorship and the importance of checking in on friends and carving out time to tend to relationships.”

The term “leader” gets thrown around a lot in corporate circles, and in Ann’s case, it’s appropriate. But perhaps even more fitting terms to describe Ann Krcik are convener, champion and friend.

We will miss her dearly.