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HomeHikingMember Highlight: Mike Carey - Unusual Path – An REI Co-op Publication

Member Highlight: Mike Carey – Unusual Path – An REI Co-op Publication

As an undergrad at Santa Clara College, Mike Carey was a working again: He’d obtain the soccer and rush via a sea of gamers that attempted to shove or crush him. He couldn’t simply look the place he needed to go, as a result of that might telegraph his intentions to the opposing workforce and make it simpler for them to anticipate his route and take him down. So, he relied on peripheral imaginative and prescient to discover a path, which not often adopted a straight line. He needed to leap and squiggle his approach via the melee.

After school soccer, in January 1978, he turned his consideration to downhill snowboarding. Crossing the car parking zone at Palisade Tahoe in California, Carey didn’t concentrate on the storming snow or the gorgeous girl who accompanied him (and who later stated sure to his marriage proposal). As an alternative, his peripheral imaginative and prescient tuned in to the gravel scattered throughout the bottom to enhance traction. “I guess that actually messes up folks’s ski boots,” he mused. (Carey was proper: Strolling throughout gritty pavement might injury the underfoot anti-friction plates that bindings depend on for security releases.)

He hated snowboarding on that point out, however he nonetheless left impressed. Again at house, he reduce up a rubber ground mat and crafted a slipshod sole protector product of wire and rivets. He used a skinny layer of rubber with sticky “cleats” for traction and wire clips that slipped over ski boots’ entrance and rear to attach the toe and heel. A Santa Clara professor then helped him refine his Frankensteinian prototype right into a production-worthy mannequin product of injection-moldable polyurethane.  

And identical to that, Carey grew to become an inventor.

Scientific considering was routine dinner-table discuss throughout Mike Carey’s childhood in Southern California. His father was a doctor and his mom a nurse. (Her dad had been a health care provider, too.) So Carey grew up studying about statement and evaluation. “My thoughts has at all times questioned, ‘What if?’” he says. However his dad and mom nipped any precociousness by instructing him that smarts don’t make you superior: Individuals have equal worth no matter what they do. That humanistic philosophy would later steer his administration model at Seirus and inform his “crowdsourced” strategy to innovation.

When Carey wasn’t tinkering, he was a physique in movement. He danced with the neighbor children, ran on the monitor workforce, boxed and performed basketball and soccer (his favourite). He studied biology in school, however enterprise appeared like a extra participating solution to fulfill his “what if” wonderings. So as soon as he honed the ski-boot overshoes that he named Cat Tracks, he in 1979 launched an organization referred to as Winter Mountain together with his new spouse, Wendy. Collectively, they began promoting equipment for snowboarding (together with a “Fanny Flasque” that predated the rise of hydration bladders).

Older ad showing a person walking on snow in ski boots with pink Cat Tracks on the snow.
Gross sales of Cat Tracks took off within the years after it debuted in 1979.

Ski boot and binding builders instantly endorsed their Cat Tracks, which the corporate says noticed doubling gross sales yearly for the primary 5 years. It helped that within the early ’80s there have been few equipment for snowboarding, so retailers have been glad to show a lower-priced merchandise just like the Cat Tracks. (And skiers appeared desirous to gobble up gadgets that made the game extra snug.)

Quickly, Carey met one other entrepreneur who was additionally pioneering winter equipment. In 1984, he joined forces with Joe Edwards, who had patented a neoprene face masks for snowboarding in chilly climate. The duo fashioned Seirus. Carey’s first mission with the merged firm was to enhance neoprene’s next-to-skin consolation. He laminated artificial fleece to neoprene, so it felt softer on the face, and from there, the corporate launched an array of cozy equipment for the pinnacle, neck and face. The Neofleece Combo Scarf (which mixed face and neck protection) retailed for $19.99 when it debuted in 1991, when most equipment bought for a lot much less. However gross sales spiked, greater than quadrupling into the second yr, and continued to extend considerably for the subsequent six years. It launched Seirus into prominence.

Heated gloves got here subsequent. Seirus spent 10 years growing battery-powered programs that might heat skiers’ fingertips. The corporate examined numerous wiring designs and ceramic fibers earlier than it launched heated gloves in fall 2012. Two or three different manufacturers additionally launched heated gloves that very same yr, Carey recollects. However Carey believes that none had devoted as a lot time to the event part as Seirus; the corporate had skilled failures with wires so innovated versatile warmth panels as an alternative.

Seirus, based mostly close to San Diego, now holds a number of patents. Its product line has grown to incorporate base layers and liner gloves in addition to neck gaiters and face safety. Its most up-to-date patent, secured in April 2019, contains a convertible balaclava with embedded magnets that permit the wearer to immediately connect a facemask to the hood.

However Carey realized early on that success is a workforce endeavor, and he not often claims credit score for the model’s innovations.    

Innovation at Seirus is a workforce sport. As the corporate’s President and CEO, Carey isn’t solely chargeable for producing novel concepts. Neither is Bob Murphy, who joined the corporate shortly after Seirus was established and now heads up analysis and improvement as vice chairman of operations. Even Carey’s daughter Danica, who’s the corporate’s director of promoting operations, sees innovation as a collaborative effort.

That’s as a result of early on Carey established a steering committee to brainstorm new developments. Consisting of about 12 key gross sales reps, consumers and members of Seirus’s inside workers, the committee meets 4 instances a yr to debate issues—not merchandise. “Invention comes from an issue,” Carey says. Thus, the steering committee analyzes the ache factors that skiers sometimes expertise and affords “what if” concepts for addressing these points.

“The reverence is for what comes subsequent, not who finds what,” Carey explains. “So, it’s necessary that the collaborators really feel they’ve obtained equal stature.”

Mike Carey, REI Co-op Member since 1988, together with his spouse, Wendy, and daughters, Drisana and Danica. Picture courtesy: Seirus. 

Collective innovation is usually ridiculed for producing bizarre or off-target merchandise. (“A camel is a horse designed by committee,” sneered Alec Issigonis, who created the bestselling Mini car.) However Carey insists that numerous viewpoints solely enrich the “what if” stage of design and that later phases of product improvement can depend on firm leaders with expertise choosing winners. “It does take a discerning thoughts to find out whether or not you’ve obtained a thoroughbred or a camel,” Carey says. However he maintains that small, fastidiously chosen committees play an necessary position in designing merchandise that enchantment to extra than simply their creator.

Now, Carey’s daughter Danica contributes to product creation, after a childhood spent submitting firm papers and hanging out on the workplace after faculty. She just lately focused the issue of protecting face safety sealed beneath a skier’s goggles. “I used to be always readjusting and making an attempt to maintain that seal from rupturing,” explains Danica, who’s a devoted skier like the remainder of her household. She talked out her concept throughout a chairlift trip with Carey. Then she labored with a Seirus seamstress to develop a prototype for a face masks that attaches to a neck gaiter utilizing a magnetic seam. Then Danica offered it to the steering committee and watched as her brainchild moved via the corporate’s newest patent-earning course of.

“It’s a extremely onerous factor, as a result of in my thoughts, I got here up with this,” Danica admits. Her identify seems on the patent for the Magnemasks, however its improvement right into a viable product got here from a number of gamers.

That’s rather a lot like what’s anticipated in soccer, Carey observes. “All these workforce sports activities depend on you sharing your participation and accolades with anyone else,” he explains.

His soccer involvement prolonged far longer than his school profession. Carey labored for twenty-four years as an NFL official, first as a facet choose and later as a head referee. (He was the primary Black official to name a Tremendous Bowl in 2008.) He retired from the league in 2013 and labored for 2 seasons as an NFL guidelines analyst for CBS.

Mike additionally served 19 years as a head referee within the Nationwide Soccer League. Picture courtesy: Seirus.

Over an extended profession, he served on the boards of a number of organizations just like the Boys & Women Golf equipment of San Diego; and he was previous board chairman of Snowsports Industries America, a commerce affiliation for the winter sports activities business. (His spouse Wendy is the group’s present board chairperson.)

Carey has additionally stepped again from day-to-day operations at Seirus. Though he seems to be all of fifty, he’s 72 years outdated. And he’s accustomed to fielding questions on his fountain of youth.

“I stroll on daily basis and stretch on daily basis, and I drink loads of water,” says Carey, explaining how hydration was his father’s prescription for optimum well being. Thus, primary habits can obtain grand outcomes—from staying younger to creating new gear.

Mike Carey has been an REI Co-op Member since 1988.


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