This isn’t the kind of thing I usually choose to write about. After some thought, I wanted to express how sad I was to hear about the recent passing of SPY CEO Seth Hamot. For years before I met Seth, I gave him a hard time. As a public company, SPY was a valuable source of information for us all into how a smaller industry company competed. So every quarter for years I would write about how SPY was doing.
Like clockwork, I would review Spy’s balance sheet and criticize some of the problems they had created for themselves. As things evolved, and as Seth got more involved, I’d still critique their upside-down balance sheet, but over time I began to become a supporter of what I considered to be realistic and appropriate strategies. It felt like they were doing most things right. But SPY was still an experiment in a small company building a brand niche in a highly competitive market. I didn’t know if they could pull it off and said so.
One day at a trade show, some years ago, I was at the SPY booth and somebody said, “Hey! You should meet Seth.”
Yeah, great. I always have terrific meetings with CEO’s of public companies I’ve criticized in print.
It didn’t come down that way. Seth was engaging, funny, and open minded about my take on the company. And smarter than I am- a trait I always love to run into.
That conversation lasted as long as we had time for. Over the years that followed there were more phone calls, informal meetings at shows, and occasionally I’d get together with Seth and perhaps a couple of other SPY people to talk about the company.
Damn. Just realized I did all that for free. Nice work Seth. Well, the secret of getting me to work for free is to make sure I learn more from you than you learn for me.
Seth and I didn’t always agree, and that was okay. If you only talk to people you agree with, you aren’t likely to learn much. What was important was the quality of our conversations. Coming from outside the action sports/active outdoor industry, Seth wasn’t burdened with the baggage of preconceptions we all carry around. I’d spew some industry common knowledge that “everybody” knew was “the way you had to do things,” Seth would ask me why, and when I didn’t have a solid answer Seth would suggest an alternative that I, in my brainwashed, industry groupthink mind set, would never have thought of.
Seth tried a bunch of such things at SPY. Some worked, and I imagine some didn’t. But if you’re trying to differentiate a small brand in a market dominated by big guys what possible reason could you have to do anything else?
And that is Seth’s legacy to me. And maybe to you. Question every assumption you ever had and talk to people you don’t agree with. And have fun doing it.
Had Seth and I lived near each other, I imagine we would have been good friends and I regret we didn’t spend more time together. If I’ve turned this remembrance into a bit of a business lesson well, sorry. But you know what? Seth would be fine with it. I hope he might even laugh a bit.