OIWC Member Profiles: An Interview with Sally McCoy
By Elizabeth Train
Sally McCoy has spent more than 20 years as an operating executive in the outdoor industry. Before taking the lead as president and CEO of CamelBak in 2006, she was vice president of The North Face and president of Sierra Designs where, in 2002, she was named one of Outside magazine's top innovators of the past 25 years for her role in developing women's clothing and product for the outdoors.
Sally has also served on the boards of several industry nonprofits, including ORCA, OIA, and the Conservation Alliance, where she is the current president. She's an avid adventurer, passionate about the environment, and a staunch advocate for conserving and preserving it. To this end, she hopes to drive disposable plastic bottles to extinction by reinventing the way people hydrate.
I called Sally on a Friday afternoon. She graciously took time to talk—her slight southern drawl (she came to Berkeley as a seventh-generation North Carolinian) never betraying the fact that she was also preparing for a board of directors meeting and a business trip. Balance—whether she's scaling the side of Mount Shasta or sitting behind her desk—seems to come naturally to Sally.
What motivates you in work and in life?
In work, I'm really focused on reinventing how people drink and abolishing disposable bottles for water. I get to be very creative, there are lots of challenges, and I work with great people. All that really motivates me.
What do you like about yourself?
I like that I've retained my sense of humor. I'm able to work with and enjoy a variety of people.
Where is your favorite place to be?
The Sierras with my seven-year-old twin boys.
What is the last book you read?
I just finished A Happy Marriage: a Novel, by Rafael Yglesias, and War, by Sebastian Junger. They're two very different books.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
Well, the funniest advice I've ever gotten was: "Don't go into the outdoor industry! It's competitive and you'll work too hard and you won't earn much money.” But the best advice I've gotten was from woman who is now a Buddhist lama. She told me, many years ago, that when someone you love dies, your grief never gets smaller—but eventually your world gets larger.
If you could have dinner with someone famous (past or present) who would it be and why?
Sandra Day O'Conner—not so much because she was the first woman on the Supreme Court but because she was a Western pragmatist who became the swing vote on the court…a fascinating position.
OIWC members are busy women with lots of balls in the air. What are some strategies you use to balance your work life and your personal life?
I try not to get too stressed when things get out of balance, and I focus on how to get them back in balance as soon as possible. I also spend more time planning family events and vacations than I used to—and I'm not really a planner. But I get things on the calendar early and make sure to do them, because work can expand to fill every crevice if you don't make plans ahead of time.
What is your favorite sport or outdoor activity?
That's changed over my life. I loved mountaineering, but I haven't done as much since I've had kids. I look forward to getting back into it and sharing it with them. I also love mountain biking, hiking, and snowboarding and telemarking in the winter. I'm really an omnivore of all outdoor sports!
Is there a sport/outdoor activity you haven't done and want to try? I still haven't kite skied or tried to stand-up paddle—I really need to get out and do that.
When you were little, what did you want to be or do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a naturalist, or a park ranger, because I thought it would mean being outside full time.
What was your first job?
I had my own business mowing lawns when I was young, but my first real job was picking up trash with a stick and a bag.
What is your favorite thing about working in the outdoor industry?
Our industry is blessed with a lot of smart, competitive people. It's really fun to make a difference together, and come together as a community to make things happen.
How did you become an industry leader?
I've always worked hard and really made an effort to get to know other people in the industry. I also got in on the ground floor at the Outdoor Industry Association and the Conservation Alliance, and I've been able to grow with them, which has been great. I have opinions, and I'm not afraid to express them.
What do you enjoy about being a leader?
It's great when we can—as an industry and on the company level—put ourselves in the context of making a difference, having fun, and inspiring people. The fact that, as leaders, we can help change people's habits and what they enjoy is really exciting.
What is the most challenging aspect to being in a leadership position?
There's always more that you can do! Making the choices and being clear about what you can and can't accomplish is hard.
What is the most important quality for a leader to express?
Be authentic. Be yourself. That's just important to being a human.
How does CamelBak work to bring more women into outdoor sports and activities?
We make a commitment to women's products. The Racebak is new apparel that's integrated with hydration—and we launched with designs for men and women. We wouldn't think of making a product that only functions well for men.
What are some key strategies your management employs to bring more women into the company?
We have women executives on all levels of management at CamelBak, which helps attract more women to the team.
What is the most innovative product or program your company has launched for women?
We just launched the Groove, a great product that isn't exclusively for women, but is targeted towards them. It's a bottle with a built-in, sustainably produced carbon filter, so you can have freshly filtered water anywhere you go. We're creating a category that will help us reach our vision: to make disposable bottled water obsolete.
What do you see as missing, in terms of women's products, for sports/activities you enjoy?
I still think there's a long way to go in cycling in terms of women's products. It's evolving, and there are some really good pioneers out there, but it's got the most opportunity for growth and improvement, too.
Why are you an OIWC member?
Education and networking are key to professional development—OIWC provides both.
How does OIWC membership bring value to your business?
The outdoor industry as a whole needs more women in key management positions, and OIWC is one way to support that development.