Passion To Profession: Women in the Active-Outdoor Industries | Lauren Guthrie
Lauren Guthrie, Head of Regional Merchandising for The North Face, gives insight to her professional trajectory and personal values that drive her. This interview is part of an ongoing series with Backpacker Magazine featuring careers in the active-outdoor industries.
Lauren Guthrie is the Head of Regional Merchandising for The North Face. She was recently honored as a DiversityMBA Top 100 under 50, a prestigious award presented annually to emerging and executive leaders with advanced degrees.
We sat down with Lauren to learn more about her takeaways from dancing, her father, connection with others, and reframing failure.
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Did you ever have an “aha” moment in your career? What was it and how did it inform your career path?
Lauren Guthrie: My biggest “aha” was that I do not have to be great at everything. So often we are coached to improve our weaknesses, instead of strengthening our strengths! Build advantage by developing expertise. Lean into the places where you have competitive advantage, and partner with others who have strengths that are different from your own.
Tell us about a mentor who has impacted your life, your carer, and your outdoor adventures for the better.
My father has been my most impactful mentor and living example of authentic leadership. I learned from him that leadership is truly about humanity, connection, trust, and curiosity.
What drives you – what’s your “why”?
Interestingly, all of my activities have one thing in common: CONNECTION! I am an avid salsa dancer, equestrian, loving mother and wife, and yogi. In each of those examples, the ability to connect with someone or something else is critical to the success of that thing. In the case of yoga, that connection is both internal and universal. In the case of dancing salsa, you get to enjoy one pure moment of spontaneity, creativity, and emotion with a perfect stranger.
What is one piece of advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
Trust your instincts, and lean into the things that feel uncomfortable. Failure is not something to fear, but the greatest teaching tool we have.
How would you describe the importance of the outdoors as a force in your life?
The beauty and expansiveness of the outdoors is incredibly humbling, yet nurturing as well. To return to nature is to take off the armor we put on to survive society every day, and to rediscover the essence of ourselves in the most simple and honest way.
How did you get involved with dance and equestrian activities? What have they taught you about yourself?
I was a lesson child… meaning, my mother exposed me to dozens of activities and disciplines before I hit first grade. The benefit of this is that I discovered the things I was really good at early in life. More importantly, I fell in love with a few activities as well. Dance and music will always be my lifelines. They are a part of my identity, and also are the gateway to me creating soul connections with others. I still dance regularly, and occasionally sit down to play the piano as well. I haven’t ridden regularly in many years, but my dream is to retire on a working horse farm.
What is your “special place”—your favorite place in the world to be outside, and why is it important to you?
I studied abroad in Australia when I was in college, and the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney are one of the most ancient and beautiful places in the world.
What do you see as the most prominent active-outdoor industries trend of 2018?
I think the most prominent trend in the outdoor industry is the continued prioritization of experience over consumption, and the increased connectivity to wellness and mental health.
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What was your first outdoor memory?
Lauren Guthrie: I don’t have one clear first memory, but I grew up surrounded by nature. We had 300 acres in Okemos, Michigan, and we would go for hikes and even camping trips in our own yard. We had a natural spring, and we’d constantly see deer, wild turkeys, fox, coyotes, and other wild animals. We had a peacock who just showed up one day and stayed with us for five years, and we went for hikes sometimes with the dog, the cat, and the peacock. When I was in middle school, I got a horse, and from that point on all my free time was spent out in the barn and training with my horse. I loved it.
What was your most defining outdoor moment?
I’ve been on a pretty impactful yoga journey. There’s something really powerful about getting on the mat. But there’s something even more powerful about participating in the act of yoga on Earth, on physical ground. You can connect all the way to the Earth, to the planet. There’s nothing more powerful than that.
What the best perk of working for The North Face?
It’s absolutely the people. The people who are attracted to this brand are some of the most genuine, connected, passionate people that I’ve ever worked for. There’s genuine, authentic love of this brand and passion for this industry, as well as a commitment to doing better.
We show up to work every day recognizing that, ultimately, our job is to basically make stuff. But we are making stuff in the most responsible way. We’re really trying to do good, and the mission behind that is really to support and love the outdoors and exploration. You feel that in the people who work here—it’s not something we just say, it’s something that we live and breathe every day.
What’s your advice for women seeking careers in the outdoor industry?
My advice for women is the same for anyone: Be who you are and show up as the best version of yourself. If your passion is the outdoor industry, there’s absolutely a place for you here. Success today is not just about what you do, but how you do it.
Networking can be a scary term for people—I know it certainly was for me. But the best way to think about it is that it’s relationship building. It’s a conversation. There are so many events where people in the industry show up, so put yourself in that place and initiate conversations. Don’t be afraid of cold calling, either. There are so many tools now to help you reach out and initiate a dialogue that can lead to opportunity.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be my team. I don’t want it to be about my own personal accomplishment, but what we’ve been able to accomplish together. I have a really strong commitment to people’s development and teaching coaches how to coach their own team. I hope that by prioritizing that and leading with love, our enduring legacy will be that we continue to build a high-performing team that continues to prioritize the triple bottom line. It’s not just about profits. It’s about people and planet, too.
What’s your super power? Love
Outdoor adventure of choice for daily release? Yoga on my deck, every morning
What’s in your thermos? Green tea
If you had an intro song, what would it be? Probably something classical, like the Debussy Reverie
Your number one outdoor hack? Being prepared
One word that you think of when we say outdoors? Freedom