In 1967, Skip Yowell, his cousin Murray Pletz, and Murray’s wife Jan founded JanSport with nothing more than a sewing machine and a fierce determination. Today, Yowell is a Vice President at Jansport and he’s author of a new business book, The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Other Mountains.
Yowell recently spoke to The Conference Board about his role at the company.
Q. I find it strange that a founder of a company wouldn’t want to be its president—why stay a VP?
A. Planting a flag on the pinnacle of JanSport’s corporate hill has never been my aspiration. As founder, I’ve been able to orchestrate my job myself. I’m very comfortable doing what I’m doing. I get to travel a lot and meet some of our key customers, and every week brings a whole different set of responsibilities, including being a mentor to many of the people working at JanSport.
You reach certain plateaus in life, and I knew I didn’t want to be at the president level because that would bring a whole set of responsibilities and duties that are not my favorite things to do. Even though a good president must be aware of what’s going on at his company, the job isn’t really hands-on. And spending endless hours on the numbers has never been one of my strong suits. I do what I’m good at. Many aspiring business-types strive to become the top dog, the head honcho, the big cheese. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But in your pursuit of the corner office, if you discover that your passion lies midway up the corporate ladder, stop climbing.
I love how he says, “I do what I’m good at.” Think how much happier people would be at work, if they simply focussed on doing what they’re good at.