Scott Allan is the CEO and Global GM of Hydro Flask
Scott Allan is the Global General Manager of Hydro Flask, where he served as CEO and President until their acquisition by Helen of Troy in 2016. Before discovering the outdoor industry, Scott was a tech executive in Silicon Valley. He successfully scaled Hydro Flask’s business and built the brand from the inside out, understanding that the right talent could make or break the company’s essential culture.
Scott has extended his work in the industry through his involvement with two outdoor companies, Cairn and Rumpl, as well as his role on the advisory board for Oregon State University Cascades’ outdoor products program.
Highlight from our conversation include:
- Scott’s career path from tech to the outdoor industry (1:33)
- Scaling Hydro Flask’s business (3:14)
- What’s shaped his approach to hiring (6:25)
- How he found the right talent for the brand (7:40)
- Why he sought out overqualified hires (11:15)
- How Scott set candidate expectations in the hiring process (13:18)
- What it was like to bring together an experienced leadership team (16:39)
- Why developing the brand’s culture was a passion of his (18:40)
- Building an inclusive culture (20:18)
- Scott’s hiring challenges and mistakes (22:30)
- How things changed once the brand was acquired (26:38)
- Scott’s hiring advice (31:27)
Show Transcript – How I Hire Podcast with Scott Allan
Roy Notowitz: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m your host, Roy Notowitz, founder and president of Noto Group Executive Search.
Roy Notowitz: Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m your host, Roy Notowitz, founder and president of Noto Group Executive Search.
Scott Allan served as the CEO of Hydro Flask from 2012 until its acquisition in 2016. In that time, Hydro Flask was named to Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing private American companies two years in a row, as well as to Outside Magazine’s top 100 places to work.
Scott himself was named the 2015 Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year for the Pacific Northwest. Today, Scott acts as the Global General Manager of Hydro Flask where he oversees the strategy and continued global growth for the brand. Scott will share his experience learning a new industry, scaling quickly, and building a brand from the inside out.
A little over eight years ago, Scott called me out of the blue. I didn’t know who he was. He called me from this company called Hydro Flask, which was early stage, and he had some hiring to do, and that’s how our relationship started, essentially. And I talked to him a little bit about what he needed, and we put together a proposal.
And ever since then we’ve been working very closely together to build out the leadership team at Hydro Flask. Scott, thanks, today, for being on the show. I appreciate you being here.
Scott Allan: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Roy. Thanks for having me.
Roy Notowitz: Maybe it would be helpful to share a little bit about your career path and how you got to Hydro Flask.
Scott Allan: Yeah. I’m kind of an accidental outdoor executive in that I spent 18 years prior, primarily, in Silicon Valley, being a high tech executive, that was kind of what my career path was in internet and payments and mobile type companies, and I would play outdoors. I’d snowboard I mountain bike, but my career was, was always in tech.
Things I did before it came to Hydro Flask: I was a CEO of a company in Australia that did mobile ordering technology for restaurants. Then I was part of a team that was working with Apple to kind of commercialize the Apple Pay technology. So that was that. When I was living in Bend, Oregon, and you know, wanted my kids to grow up me outdoors and playing outdoors and commuting to the Bay Area, the opportunity to come to Hydro Flask surfaced, and it first looked kind of like a crazy career move and not something I was certain I wanted to do, but it all worked out for the better.
Roy Notowitz: I remember our first outing together, we went to a brew pub and I just remember the enthusiasm that you had for being in the outdoor industry, and were really excited to dive in and develop relationships.
Scott Allan: Yeah it’s just neat to, you know, the learning that you do right away. When you come in, you don’t really know anything.
You know, as a consumer and as a fan, you can appreciate these brands, but you, you kind of get the backstage pass to, to see how these things are built. And yeah, I would completely geek out on going to OR and meeting other executives and getting to kind of see the industry from a different perspective.
So yeah, that was a big part of it, is just, you know, applying that passion for what I love to do and bring it into building a brand.
Roy Notowitz: You were brought in to scale the Hydro Flask business. It was relatively small when you started. When and how did you figure out what was needed on the leadership team?
Scott Allan: Yeah, that was definitely an evolution because even coming into the business the, the discussion with the investors and the board, because the founders had, had already left the business and an investment group came and bought the company and they were looking for a CEO, and I knew two of these investors and board members just were classmates at business school and we kept in touch, you know, one very much so.
We went to each other’s weddings and so forth, and I just had to stop and say, “Guys, if you’re hiring me to build a brand because you think I built a brand. I just want you to know, I haven’t done that, and I don’t think you guys have either.
Roy Notowitz: Incredible.
Scott Allan: Yeah. Just, “What are we expecting of each other here?” And they said, “Well, you know, the founders didn’t have a background like that, and they’ve already, within three years, it’s, it’s, you know, between two and three million in revenue, it’s profitable. You know, now there’s a bit more, kind of, management oversight. There’s a professional board. And if we need to get people that have built brands, we can hire him.
You know, that’s something we can do over time. And so part of it, you know, after six months, year was just saying, you know, can we go execute a strategy towards creating a brand? And as we got closer to, you know, some of the milestones and things were, were happening. Then, you know, in board meetings there’d be all these debates around, you know, “This would be best for the brand, or maybe this wouldn’t, or who knows, and where, where is this brand and what’s, you know, how do we better understand it?”
And I was pretty frustrated one day and the board lead looks at me. He goes, “What’s, what’s going on?” I said, “Gosh, you know, we… None of us have done this, so we don’t really know who’s right or wrong. We just know who argues the best.” And that became the beginning of, “Okay, I think you’re right.” You know, there’s probably a playbook, there’s domain expertise.
And I remember just one of the board members, like, “We’ll read a book on this.” I said, “Yeah, but respectfully, I disagree in that, you know, if we spend 20 years in Silicon Valley building technology companies, you can just read a book and suddenly match that 20 years of experience.” And he, he agreed. So, so that was the beginning and, and you know, we knew it would be such a pivotal and key thing for us to hire the right person, you know, the right fit for the company, the right fit for what we wanted to do, with the ability work with the board, but really kind of be a cornerstone of brand expertise.
And, and that’s, you know, where we started. That’s where we ended up meeting here.
Roy Notowitz: If you think about it, that’s been the crux of all of your foundational successes by building the brand. I mean, there’s a lot of water bottle companies that are out there, yet Hydro Flask seems to have the biggest, most well known and best brand.
Scott Allan: Yeah. And that was the early part of the strategy work that we were doing. And, and you know, seeing the supply chain and seeing the, the factories even before I joined Hydro Flask. So when I decided I would do this, I was in China for some of my mobile responsibilities. And when I saw the factories and I just saw the brands I knew and dozens I didn’t.
And it, you know, just thinking about this is not really about, you know, this technology is not, we don’t own the factories. We don’t own the, you know, much of the intellectual property. It’s basically a thermos technology, right? A hundred year-old technology. So really the opportunity is around creating a brand.
And that started to become the fundamental element of our, of our strategy and it led to all sorts of, you know, really specific things we did around the hiring process too.
Roy Notowitz: What has shaped your philosophy and approach to hiring once you realize you needed to start getting going with Hydro Flask?
Scott Allan: Yeah, I’d say there’s like two or three things.
You know, one was all the mistakes from the past, you know, just the, the Silicon Valley experience. You become a manager without a lot of management training. You start to hire without a lot of hiring and you learn through mistakes. You know, you hire people that seem great in the interview and six months later, nine months later, they’re just not working out and you’re trying to understand, you know, what happened.
I think that’s part of it. The other piece was things I learned through advisors as we were building the advisory board, which you also helped us with at that time, was just learning how important it is if you’re building a brand that people, you know, fit the culture. And as you kind of shape the culture of, of, you know, this is the brand we’re building, this is how we build the brand from the inside out by living this culture, how important it is to get the right people that kind of match that.
So not just the expertise and the stage of company, but that kind of culture piece is really important. And then obviously getting expertise that can know a network and can understand our space and can understand the nuances of our business. And I think that’s what Noto Group did well for us and kind of guide us through the talent pool so that we can find, you know, the right kind of people for, for us.
Roy Notowitz: You know, how did you develop that knowledge or awareness of what you were looking for in getting crystal clear on that?
Scott Allan: Yeah, so part of it was, you know, through back and forth conversations around what is it that we need the person to do? What are the specific competencies that they need to have to be successful coming into this role?
And that goes back to some of the mistakes earlier where you hire someone because they’re just, “Wow, it feels like I get along with this person.” But you’re not finding friends. I mean, you’re, you’re there to get somebody that you want to see, how do they perform in this, you know, work environment and what are the things they need to do and what, what specific competencies do they need to have and have demonstrated through this interview process so that they come in and you lower that risk.
That was a back and forth looking at things like OSI Polaris competency cards. Narrowing it down, yeah, wouldn’t be great if they were just amazing at all, you know, 50 of these? But that’s not, that’s not realistic. So what really matches what we need in this role at this time, and how do we prioritize that?
And then that way, if we’re looking at candidates, that’s got really great gifts and all these great compensation, but they don’t match the ones we’re looking for. Then it’s not really a fit, you know? So that was, that was a really key part. I think the other piece is tied to the size and stage of the company.
So we were a small, our, our first hire, you know, we probably had below 20 people, you know, in the teens. Revenue between five and ten million. And so, you know, we can hire a great person that has a great background, but maybe at brands that are, you know, a quarter billion and could manage a large staff and manage a large budget and that’s how they delivered results.
But they would maybe get “deer in the headlights” coming into a size and stage of, of company like we were. So part of it was that fit too. What, what have they done? Can they be player coaches? Can they be hands on? Can they also scale and build a team and grow and, and shift towards a different management model? Those were interesting things for us to spend time on.
Roy Notowitz: So thinking about competencies, had you ever used those before at this stage, or was that something that you brought in from tech?
Scott Allan: No, we learned that working with, with you guys, and it was interesting in that the VP of Product Marketing that we had hired had successfully used them at other companies.
And so as he began to build out his team, that’s what he was using. You know, he showed us even more that we can do with that internally. Like using more of a team approach to look at candidates and having different people, you know, tied to maybe their competency expertise, looking for that in the, in the candidate.
So people had specific things they were looking for, specific kind of behavioral questions and kind of go drilling down into, and, you know, make sure that it’s a fit, not just hiring because, “Gosh, they snowboard, they mountain bike, they love Bend, they drink beer. This would be great.” You know, these are our people, but maybe they’re not the person for the job.
Roy Notowitz: Getting back to looking at people from different sized companies and things you were looking for, stuff like initiative or adaptability, learning agility.
Scott Allan: Yes.
Roy Notowitz: Things that would sort of give evidence that they’d be able to be successful in a smaller margin or…
Scott Allan: Yeah, results orientation and kind of accountability around delivering results that the technical functional expertise, obviously kind of a table stakes in some of these cases where, you know, they need to have that and need to have specific things tied to our business, but then it was more about the softer skills.
Yeah. Communication, and as the company grew, more and more of it was really around team management, influence, leveraging kind of being a good team player.
Roy Notowitz: Out of all of our clients, you’re probably most notorious for hiring people who are overqualified. I think that says a lot about who you are as a leader, but how has that served you or benefited the company?
Scott Allan: Yeah, I think it helped us in a couple of ways, and again, it helped that I didn’t come from the industry, so I didn’t have to have all the answers. I just had to get good at asking the right questions and surrounding myself with really good people. And that’s something that we began to do.
And I think the other thing that was helpful was that, you know, certainly market fit, timing window, the fact that we were funded, the fact that we had kind of a really good head start on what could become, you know, the Hydro Flask brand and as that really scaled, you know, our searches wasn’t just go get a body, go get a person that looks qualified, that we like, throw them in the role, it was like, these are really important, you know, stages for the company.
So that would take time. And in the time from where we started working with your team and saying, here’s what we’re looking for to getting to candidates, the business may have evolved and the things that we’re working on are a little bit different, little bit more complicated. So we’d see candidates that maybe looked overqualified to start, and by the time we get through the process are, you know, still overqualified, but we’re, we’re growing into them.
And I think that was eye opening in that you really have to kind of look down the track a bit too. And if the business felt like it had a pretty high ceiling as to where we could take this, then yeah, it’s great if you can hire an executive that can scale with it. And there’s always an art form to that.
You can hire people that are too far off that upper end and they just can’t operate at the reality of your business. There’s certainly the risk of building a bigger team, the business can’t afford it, and you’ve got to go backwards. Those are all, you know, real risks in the business. I think for us, we were fortunate that, yeah, we’d hire people and they were initially overqualified and within a few years then we’re putting them to work at the range of their skill set just through, through the growth we had.
Roy Notowitz: In the recruiting process, to hire overqualified people, you sort of have to sell a bigger vision, right? Credibly. And then when they come in, the reality isn’t necessarily that you’re even close to that yet. So, how did you manage in the hiring process to set expectations appropriately in terms of what reality was at that stage?
Scott Allan: We didn’t want to fool anybody, you know, have them come in and say, “This is not what I signed up for.” You know, be pretty transparent about that. And that was always the piece around, can they get their hands on a bit, you know, they don’t have a lot of resources.
Some of the executives we hired, and these are our reality, you know, we have this big vision, but we have a lot of little alligator-type things, you know, in the, in the weeds right now to deal with. So, yeah, I think just being transparent, just being, being honest with people and, you know, doing the onboarding, pulling them into the team pretty quickly.
And then just fun stuff that was around, you know, like the realistic job preview technique that you guys taught us. I remember our, he’s been promoted to Senior Vice President of Divisional Sales, but he was our VP of Worldwide Sales. His RJP was how would we go to Canada? What’s the right way to take our brand to Canada?
You know, we want to focus on premium outdoor distribution. We’ve gotta think about logistics. We’ve got to think about the right starting point, the right way to service it, and the economics and everything. And, and so, you know, Mike came in and did a great job, and I think three months later, you know, we were in a meeting and you know, we’re going to Canada.
He’s like, well, “How, how are we gonna go to Canada?” And I said, “Well, we’re doing what you said. Please don’t tell me that was all a bunch of, you know what?” He goes, “No, no, no. I was just curious!” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s why we hired you. You have that expertise. You impressed us. And it seemed really solid as, as the team kind of poked holes in what you presented, everything seemed pretty solid.”
So, you know, I think if you aim it at, here’s the really the things that we need to be working on and you’re the right person to do it, then gosh, get them in there and start working on that. There shouldn’t be too many surprises ideally.
Roy Notowitz: Yeah, I remember, you know, you had to push the envelope too, in terms of trying to get these people on board from a compensation standpoint, and they sorta had to believe in the potential. And you know, that’s a delicate balance because you’re moving people and it’s a big decision.
Scott Allan: Yeah. Families, yeah. Relocating and, and big… You’re right. And I think it just keeps adding and building and your first executive hire, they’re taking a big risk potentially.
You know, the second, the third, they start to see, part of what they see is the team that’s being attracted. And you want to make sure they can all work together, you hire really strong people, then a lot of that needs to be reshaped towards, you know, creating a strong team, not just a bunch of strong individuals.
And then obviously the investors, the board, that side had to feel comfortable too. And so I think you get through the right process. You eliminate that likability, you know we had talked to before about Barry Deutsch’s book, You’re Not The Person I Hired! Where he just, you know, how does this happen? You know, we just kind of, on our best behavior, almost seduce each other and then you’d get hired and like, this isn’t the same person type of thing.
So you get through all that, you kind of know it’s the right person. They feel like this is a place I can really apply my talent skill and make a difference. Then it’s a little easier to make those decisions. You know, we’re really investing in a capability and a competency, and a leader that will help us get to that next level and if the business really… Those are the things you need. Then it just kind of solves that, the next stage of problems.
Roy Notowitz: I remember feeling like success was just inevitable because the people that you had on board were just, I knew that they could do exactly what you needed to do with 100% confidence, and yet they didn’t have, although they were very seasoned, they didn’t have huge egos.
Coming in and working together with all these very experienced senior level people in the room, how was that from the standpoint of an adjustment when they came in and working together with very strong opinions and things?
Scott Allan: It was fun to watch them all gel, to be honest. You know? So having meetings, having off-sites…
We hired our VP of Marketing, you know, and Ecommerce, Phyllis Grove. So she came in a great, just pragmatic, realistic, great chops from the brands that she’s been at. And she’d just speak and you can kind of see everyone kind of look and give her a side glance and the gears whirling, trying to read her and trying to figure out, you know, how the team chemistry’s kind of shaping and that, that’s the other thing.
It’s like making sure I didn’t hire people who are just like me. Right, that we can complement each other. And you have the kind of dreamers and the, the optimists, you have the realists and that, you know, I think as a leader, your job is to kind of blend all that and to mix that up. Because there were so many times where a few of us were just, “This is great, this is great, this is going to be huge. “
And we’re, you know, we’re ready to leave the meeting and just go execute it and start sprinting. And if I wasn’t careful, I didn’t stop and say either to our then CFO, Ellyn, or to Phyllis, or, or to Dennis in Ops and say, “Whoa, why are you guys all frowning and don’t look as excited?” They’re like, “Well, do you not see the 15 mines in the minefield on the cliff on the other side of that?”
It’s like, no, you know, we don’t see that at all. We just have, you know, this is a great idea. It looks so good on PowerPoint. You know, blending that really became, became important for us.
Roy Notowitz: So your job, once you had this great team in place, was it more around maintaining relationships in the industry? You know, building the culture?
What were the elements around hiring that you contributed to after you had that team in place?
Scott Allan: Yeah, part of it was also forcing the conversations up to our level that, you know, weren’t happening and needed to, and it wasn’t that people were just, you know, not doing what they needed to do. It just, sometimes you can kind of see things developing or hear of things developing and you just, your job is to like, have the team confront reality.
You know, this is an issue. This is an issue. This is part of our strategy. This is creating this kind of unintended consequence. What are we doing about it and what are the priorities? What are the issues? So things aren’t going to fester and start to create silos within the organization. That was part of it.
Certainly culture was a, was a big part. You know, once I hired better people than me in all these functional areas. Yeah. I took on culture and that was fun. That was a passion. It was, again, it’s like how do we reinforce our ability to strengthen our brand from the inside out through our behaviors, through how we make decisions. The more and more I learned about that, you know, the more that I just saw it as a really smart thing for us to be doing too.
Roy Notowitz: How did that translate into the candidate experience?
Scott Allan: Yeah. I think they would be able to come to Bend, and Bend has a certain vibe and culture and then they come to our office and it just feels like it’s an incubation space with multiple startups and it has a lot of energy that people pick up on, and there’s a lot of positive elements of that. And if that, that freaked people out, that might’ve been a good thing, you know, just kind of screen out those that were like, “Whoa, this is too much, too fast.”
But for those that kind of tapped into that, then yeah, the rest was really just the, the people that they met. And how much they cared about the brand and cared about what we’re doing.
And I think as we got bigger, also, it was that respect of the community and being respectful of the community. You know, Bend’s not a giant town, so for an employer like our brand, like Hydro Flask, we move the needle in our community and we’re really thoughtful about how do we give back? How do we show gratitude to the community that helped build our brand in the first place?
You know, all the stories of people buying Hydro Flasks, shipping to the East Coast as gifts or evangelizing our brand as, like, this is one of our hometown products. You guys have to discover this. That made a difference for us. So we’re, we’re grateful of that too.
Roy Notowitz: You have a lot of legitimate, authentic outdoor enthusiasts, athletes. Is everyone who works there, do they have to have that level of authenticity as it relates to being an outdoor person?
Scott Allan: That’s such a great question cause we struggle with that. You know, we’d have people come in and contract temp positions and then they’d be awesome and they’d just fit in with the team, but they don’t snowboard, they don’t mountain bike, they don’t paddle in in 40-foot surf or whatever that some of our more extreme employees do.
And I remember it became a conversation for us, and it started to lead us into a path of, you know, to build our culture, to be part of Hydro Flask, does it mean we all have to like the exact same things? And that caused us to really think about kind of diversity, equity, inclusion type topics of, of are we being more inclusive?
Is it more about, you know, the way in which they fit culture isn’t necessarily tied to an outdoor activity. That a bit of diversity within the ranks is a good thing too.
Roy Notowitz: And have you been able to accomplish that, you think?
Scott Allan: We’re working on it. We’re fortunate that at the vice president level, we’re kind of 50/50 male/female. At the director level, we finally just hired our first female director and it was really kind of eye-opening to do our, you know, VP, director or senior manager, manager, you know, front line, just gender kind of survey.
And it’s like where all the senior managers and directors, you know, what have we done wrong? And talking across the industry and finding out like, well, traditionally when it comes to childcare, if you can’t find it, you can’t afford it, somebody takes a back seat career-wise and then guess who doesn’t have eight or ten years experience at this certain stage.
So that was really eye-opening for us. And then we began to say, okay, how do we do our part with this? We’re doing the things that take time and doing the things that we feel are good for our community, good for our industry, and it’s a priority for us.
Roy Notowitz: Do you do any training on hiring? How do you build that competency at the manager level and director level within the organization?
Scott Allan: Yeah, we do, and I think we can keep doing a better job of that, but what does success look like? And then how do we go determine what competencies they have to show to be able to likely achieve that success? You know, realistically.
And then who can do what around that team interview process to determine which candidates are strongest and which ones aren’t? So we’re doing that kind of behavioral training, competencies, and we train our hiring managers around that.
Roy Notowitz: What are some of the hiring mistakes that you’ve made over the years and you know, what are the lessons that you learned from those?
Scott Allan: Yeah, so it’s been that, you know, sit in the interview, great energy, gosh, they got all the right kind of answers to the questions that you ask. And then six, nine months later, you just so frustrated that they, they’re just not taking accountability for what they’ve been given. And they always have reasons why it’s not their fault.
And you can just kind of see this as, this is a mess, and how did we do this? You know, you hire them because they, they just show, you like how they showed up, but you didn’t really get to what they have done and can do or can’t do until you see it happen. Because really, you’re, you’re trying to de-risk this.
You’re going to hire people and you’re going to put them in circumstances that are not ideal. We’re going to have challenges, we’re going to have pressure, we’re going to have disappointment, we’re going to have just all the, you know, dramas of a bunch of people working together. And how do they react to all those things is really what you’re trying to ascertain.
And that was that. And then I think the last thing we learned at Hydro Flask is you just have your kind of culture champions that embody the culture, that value it. And I remember one interview, there’s a person’s like, wow, on paper, they’re great. And one person was like, “Well, I’ve got one concern.” And he would be a peer for this person.
I said, “What’s that?” And he goes, “He never said ‘we’ ever, I don’t get the sense like he’d make a great team member. I don’t think he’d ever have my back.” And that caused us to kind of go back and replay the tape in all of our heads and like, “Oh, you’re kind of right,” and you do a bit more reference checking and a bit more looking at it it’s like, “Whoa. He’s not a team player.”
We were kind of building a culture. We’re building a sense of team and family at that point of the company. So getting people to kind of look for that culture fit and, and you know, at the time it was more kind of sense and picking up. And then we later got into specific questions that would start to get at you know, areas of our guiding principles and values specifically.
But I always think of like the scene in Terminator where the dogs can tell who’s like a real human who’s like a Terminator. They started barking. Like that. Yeah. It’s just like those people would do great in other companies, not in ours.
Roy Notowitz: I remember also having some challenges and hurdles related to timing with one or two hires because of the acquisition. Right? So one of the things I remember is that you were a really great partner in communicating the status of things to us so that we could keep candidates on hold.
Scott Allan: Oh my gosh. Yeah. That was awful. And, that, well, just awkward, I should say. And yeah, that was the time that we’re being acquired and it’s a publicly traded company. We can’t leak this information. We, you know, we can’t even acknowledge it. Nothing.
And here we have the perfect candidate to bring in, but we can’t tell her why we can’t, you know? And we, we also don’t necessarily want to… Yeah, bring her in to the company and not tell her these things. Right? So yeah, we thought it was any day it started to drag on, and I remember, you know, she was kind of like, “Okay, they’re not serious.”
You know, all the things that you don’t want…
Roy Notowitz: Starting to convince herself why she didn’t want the job.
Scott Allan: You guys did a great job of like, “No, no, it’s this,” and “No, no, it’s not that now, it’s whatever it was.” It just kept her like…
Roy Notowitz: I think we were like, “Oh, they’re just finalizing some things related to timing and compensation…”
Scott Allan: I don’t know how you guys did it. I couldn’t come up with anything else to say. And then when finally the news dropped and I think the first phone call, you know, as soon as it hit the wire, I could reach out and say, “We were excited to extend you an offer. I need you to know that this is what’s happening. And this is why, you know, we, it’s not like we can’t make up our mind. It’s not that we’re, you know, stringing other people along or whatever it, we’re not even trying to string you along, but we couldn’t, we couldn’t talk about this.” And what a relief, she’s like, “Oh, that’s it. Okay. I thought it was, you know, yeah.”
Roy Notowitz: It was a huge relief.
Scott Allan: I think for all of us, yeah. Now we can just get on and she’s like, “Okay, no, I’ve been through these things. I am comfortable.” She knew the team, you know, she was ready to pull the trigger too. So, and that’s been a great hire for us.
Roy Notowitz: After the initial acquisition and even up to the present, Helen of Troy has kept the majority of the leadership team intact, and I think that’s highly unusual.
A lot of times when there’s acquisitions, there’s this element of, you know, cleaning house or moving the leadership team to the next level with new people coming in and things like that. Can you speak to that? Why Helen of Troy has…
Scott Allan: Why they’ve tolerated us for all these years?
Roy Notowitz: Yeah, and why everyone’s stuck around too. I mean, I think it’s two sides, right?
Scott Allan: Yeah. Know there’s really so many parts of that and, and one of it was three years into the role, and we’re building the team and things are really coming together. And I’m really happy between the board, you know? And we didn’t know a lot about building brands. We were all tech people. We knew how to, how to do things quickly, and you gotta be agile.
How to make fast decisions and how to scale things. And so we built an advisory board, started building leadership team, things were really working, you know, if you pick the right priorities, a company could really knock down walls, go make stuff happen. It was really great. You can kind of see this vision being pursued.
So when the majority owner pulled me aside, one time goes, “I think we’re going to put the company up for sale. We’re gonna do a process and it’ll be great.” And he looks at me. He just said, “Why, why the long face? Like you’ll do fine in this.” It’s like we’re just getting the thing going. You know? It’s like telling Phil Jackson or the Chicago Bulls after their second championship ring, “Hey, we’re going to sell and move the franchise. Don’t worry. Nothing will change.”
So of course all the, all the concerns around, you know, sell the company or there’s new investors, things are going to change, dynamic’s gonna change.
Roy Notowitz: At that point, you had already grown the revenue by ten times though, right?
Scott Allan: Yeah. And then it kept going by the time that the transaction happened.
But that was one of the things, you know, it was looking at the leadership team and it’s like, we’re not out and we get it. I, you know, the, the investors were great. They were very supportive. You know, they challenged us, they made us better as what you’d hope for out of a board, but super supportive, you know, gave us a space to, to run the business.
So. On one hand they deserved a good outcome. You know, they deserved to come in and, and do well. And that was fine. But a part of it was then kind of just like interviewing. They’re all on their best behavior. “No, no where the boards you want. Like we’re, we’re so supportive, we’re hands off,” they’re going to tell you all the great stuff.
But what made a difference for us is meeting like the Oxo leadership team. You know, they all show up and they’re all meeting, but we can’t tell who’s a Helen of Troy person and who’s an Oxo person. Then we’d be in a division with Oxo, a great iconic, you know, housewares brand around design and premium and 30 years old versus our 10 years old and you met their senior leaders and they’ve been there since before the acquisition.
And that was something. They’re still, you know, above Chelsea, near Hudson Yards overlooking the Hudson river. Still the same company, still the same culture all these years later.
So we saw like, here’s a company that can buy a brand, support it to grow it, but you know, leave the things alone that needed to be left alone. And that was big for us. And that’s, that’s how it played out. We certainly had to deliver, we had to do what we needed to do to keep growing the business and be successful.
But then suddenly we also had access to more resources that had scaled brands and could go after things that were really challenging for us at the time, and that was nice too, is they have people that have done that. They have people that manage those things, and we can just plug into that.
Roy Notowitz: At this point, did you have to re-recruit your team to stay on board or was there an element of that as well?
Scott Allan: There was, I think in some part excitement, you know, through that process you got to tell your story over and over again. It was almost like going on Broadway together. I mean we, it’s like I would tee it off and then David would kind of do his thing and then Mike would do his thing and then we’d always run out of time cause we’re all so talkative that they’d look at Dennis and say, “Okay, here’s, you know, check, you know, grizzly, old, Ops leader. You know, been there, done that.” They look at Ellyn like, they see the numbers are all just meticulous, and can tell she ran a tight shop there too. So they’re like, good, you got all the things.
And that became almost fun. You know? It’s like, look at us, tell the story, look at the reactions we’re getting, you know? We’re basically just kind of sharing our strategy and sharing our passion for this brand and where it’s going. And as time went on, you know, they’d sit there and track us for six months or so, and we’re, we’re delivering on that, if not more.
So I think they enjoyed that, you know, once the dust settled and it’s like, Oh, what have we done? You know, we’re part of this bigger company. Things are changing. Uh, and I think then all that kind of acceptance of change starts to, it starts to hit on you. And we worked through that. You know, there’s so many things that you… Aren’t really issues, they’re just in your head that you work through, and I think we did a lot of that quickly as a team and came out the other end.
Roy Notowitz: Did they influence your hiring moving forward? Did that change any of your strategy, philosophy, or ways of hiring?
Scott Allan: Not really, what was great about that is we’d have the HR team out from El Paso and they would look around Bend and kind of look around our office.
They’re like, “Wow, you know, this is great what you guys have,” and it was good for them to help understand it. They took on some of our lower level, you know, recruiting work and have done a great job with that too. So I think for them to kind of spend time there, it was really, really important. And I think in some ways we’ve influenced, you know, mutually.
So they’re, they’re deploying, Helen of Troy’s deploying the competency, you know, models for recruiting and hiring. They’re using it for their annual reviews, right? So these are the competencies that are important for you to do well, how are we developing these competencies that are part of the kind of manager, employee performance review and career development conversations, all things that we were doing.
So I think they would look and say, okay, there’s some good practices here. Let’s, let’s not pave over it. Let’s, let’s borrow from what this company is doing well.
Roy Notowitz: Considering all your experience, what type of advice or tips do you have around hiring that you think are just fundamental?
Scott Allan: Yeah, look at it as a process.
You know, just the same as if you’re trying to get better at innovating and developing products and bringing them to market. Or get better at building your digital channel. Like all of these things are things you focus on and I think hiring just gets overlooked as a really important competency and you can even look at it and kind of the whole employee life-cycle.
From recruiting and attracting talent, the onboarding process, developing people along the way, all that, you know, needs to be prioritized in a business, especially in an outdoor brand or lifestyle brand where that culture element, that fit element is just so important. So do everything you can to learn about it.
You know, work with good recruiters, you know, learn about competency-based hiring approaches. Yeah, just think about what, what worked, what didn’t. And I think the hard thing is, you know, you can find an amazing candidate, but it’s not the right person for your company. So, you know, getting into that, yeah, specifics of this is what that person needs to be able to do.
This is kind of how we roll in terms of culture. This is what we’re looking for. Probably the other last piece is just how important that kind of learning and change agility has continued to be as a, as a competency. Because if your business is growing and evolving, you don’t really want to hire for the same role every year cause you keep outgrowing the person.
So getting people in that can be humble and learning still, even though they’ve done great things, that’s, that’s turned out to be really important for us as well.
Roy Notowitz: I mean, your bar is super high, like we have to work really hard to get people across the finish line with you. So, yeah, and I appreciate that.
Scott Allan: And we’re blessed that way, I think ,in that we can, and that’s usually one of the first things I tell people at all levels of the company.
We have the onboarding launch and we tell a lot of the stories of how the brand’s been built and how the language came to be, our purpose to save the world from lukewarm and obviously that, you know, bottles, yes. But how we do things and kind of the zest for, for life and what’s important is just not going to be left to become lukewarm.
You know, it’s going to be a priority for us. And we tell them, I said, you know, Bend, Oregon and Hydro Flask, we’re, we’re blessed. We can attract good candidates. And if it comes down to the people we hire, then wow, they’re pretty special because not only they’ve been there, done that, and they can do more, but they have the right kind of values and attitude and, and skill set that we’re looking for from a culture fit.
And when you think about it that way, we’re the lucky ones, right? We’re the lucky ones to be able to have people like that… Moved their families to Bend and sign up to, to be part of our team.
Roy Notowitz: So Scott, what is it that you’re working on or what’s next for you?
Scott Allan: Yeah. So I am coming up on eight years at Hydro Flask, which is a long, long time.
And you know, the original charters, what the investor-owners wanted me to do, like, let’s, let’s put this together, let’s work together, let’s have some fun, let’s scale it and we’ll sell it. And that’s kind of a distant memory now in the past. And you know, like I said before, we weren’t really ready to move on to something different as leaders, we were excited to what Hydro Flask could do and in the parent company said, “We’d really like you guys to stick around for three years,” and that’s come and gone too.
I’m on two boards, you know Cairn outdoor subscription box company, Rumpl, here in Portland. It makes outdoor blankets.
Oregon State University Cascades, so I’m on their advisory board, and they’re creating an outdoor products degree program. I’m getting involved with that. So I think my future is probably more of the, the board, advisory board and working with, you know, entrepreneurs that are creating something special. That I really enjoy.
Roy Notowitz: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for coming in and speaking to us today about how you hire.
Scott Allan: My pleasure, Roy, thank you.
Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit HowIHire.com for more episodes and details about our show. Sign up for our newsletter to get updates and featured career content. And if you know somebody who might be interested in what you heard today, please share our podcast with them.
How I Hire is created by Noto Group, an executive search firm for consumer brands that support healthy, active, and sustainable lifestyles. To learn more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com or follow us on LinkedIn. This podcast was produced by Anna McClain.
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