Q&A with Royal Robbins’ Co-Founder

Trailblazer Shares Lessons Learned From Then to Now | Q&A with Royal Robbins’ Co-Founder

Liz Robbins is a legend in the outdoor industry. As co-founder of the heritage apparel brand Royal Robbins, she helped introduce the concept of clothing as gear to the outdoor industry. First in importing wool sweaters from England and then in designing and creating the rugged Billy Goat shorts. In 1967, she became the first woman to climb a Grade VI when she climbed Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley. Liz recently rejoined the brand she helped create as Senior Advisor.

CAMBER: You were one of the early women entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry. What was that like?
LR: Being first is always challenging and fun.  There was no outdoor industry when our company was founded.  We were skiers so we were comfortable and pleased to be able to tag along on the tail of SIA with a small homemade booth housed outside at the Snow Show.  We had no expectations and weren’t self-conscious.  Just simply wondering what it would be like to reach out for some recognition.  Now, the Outdoor Industry has grown to be like other big institutions.  Less spontaneous, more sophisticated, less originality, but still exciting because it embraces the outdoors.  My advice to other women, or men, starting a business is follow your dreams, observe, listen, and develop perseverance.

CAMBER: What is your favorite thing about working in the outdoor industries?
LR: The best thing about the outdoor industry is that there are still many who genuinely love nature, and are there for that reason. 

CAMBER: After stepping away from the business, you are now back. What brought you back? What are some of the initiatives you are working on at Royal Robbins?
LR: After many years away, I’m back because I believe in the new CEO.  Michael Millenacker worked with Royal and me in the 90’s.   He understands the culture, which is the soul of any company.   When that is missing a company loses direction.  Michael understands the value of teamwork.  Teamwork was our strength.

CAMBER: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about being a leader?
LR: There is something to learn from opinions that differ from my own, if I stay grateful for the conflict.  Creativity requires tension. 

CAMBER: What is the most important quality of a leader?   
LR: Good leaders need to be grounded in strong values that support the team, while setting the course of the business.  

CAMBER: What’s the best management advice you’ve received?
LR: Follow your heart.

CAMBER: Why are you a member of Camber Outdoors?     
LR: Royal Robbins has supported OIWC [now Camber Outdoors] for a number of years. The OIWC was just forming as we were exiting the company.

CAMBER: What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership roles in the active-outdoor industries?
LR: Don’t approach the job in exactly the same way as a man. Women bring the balance necessary to create the whole. We are built differently, and because of that we function differently.  We see, hear, and process differently.  This balance is essential for most areas of our life. Royal and I climbed differently, we parented children differently, and we had different roles as leaders in the company.  

CAMBER: Who inspires you?
LR: My husband.

Formerly the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC)


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