Chris Derrick ’01
Chris Derrick, a 2001 Forestry graduate, is product line manager of the Whitetail Deer Division of Sitka Gear, a sporting goods and apparel company based in Bozeman, Montana. In 2003, Derrick followed up his undergraduate degree with a Master of Business Administration degree from Auburn’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business. He lives in Bozeman with his wife, Joey, and children Cole, 11, and Leah, 9.
Alumnus Spotlight with Chris
What motivated you to pursue your career field?
Working with things that I’m personally passionate about is really what drove me to where I am. When I left Auburn after grad school, I wanted to head out west, so I wound up in Denver working for the western apparel company CINCH due to my background in rodeo. I was coached by Greg Williams, who started Auburn’s rodeo team and who is now head coach of the National Championship Auburn Equestrian team.
Even though I started in Forestry, that’s how I got my start in apparel. Once my wife and I had kids, we came back to the Southeast to be closer to family and I took a job working for Pure Fishing in Columbia, South Carolina. During those years I led marketing for the rod and reel brands, Abu Garcia and PENN. And then Pure Fishing acquired the Hodgman brand, which developed the first pair of waders in 1838. I was fortunate enough to be asked to re-energize the Hodgman product line, which led me back into technical apparel development for outdoor enthusiasts.
I’ve just continually tried to work in fields that I consider to be consumer passion brands. I have no interest in working on products that don’t help people pursue their hobbies. Several years ago, Sitka was looking for someone who understood technical apparel gear product development and had experience in whitetail deer hunting. Luckily, God had the stars aligned, and I was fortunate enough to wind up developing performance gear for a really amazing company.
What prepared you for your career?
I was fortunate enough to have great mentors at Auburn and early in my career who helped guide me, and I valued their opinions. Also, I pursued a degree in forestry because I loved being outdoors. That’s what drove me into the field. It’s weird how sometimes things just work out. I’m not in the forestry field now, but I’m absolutely tied to wildlife and land management.
My family has property in Sylacauga, Alabama, and I still hunt there today. Aligning the skills I learned while at Auburn with my passion for working outdoors set the foundation for my career. My time spent out in the woods understanding what challenges, problems and discomfort whitetail hunters face has helped me to conceptualize products that make the overall hunting experience better.
What do you wish you had learned or experienced before you launched your career?
After college, when I moved out to Denver, I sold my truck and packed everything I had into two bags and committed to moving out west. I took an unpaid internship at an advertising agency just to get experience and worked a side job to make ends meet. I think that is something that students should know: if you’re willing to jump in and make some sacrifices, that opens so many doors to future opportunities. When you are just starting out in your career, take the steps to get your foot in the door. If you succeed and show the people you’ll be working for that you have that kind of motivation, it will open so many other doors in the long run.
If you have a passion to work in a certain field, then look for ways to make yourself stand out among other candidates. Make yourself known, even if the companies you are pursuing don’t have a position open.
What skills do you feel are most important in your career?
I think in my line of work, it is just listening to feedback from others in the field and looking for common threads that highlight issues we need to solve. The ability to take input from others is super important, and so is working with a great team to validate solutions, both through lab and field-testing.
What do you value and enjoy most in your career?
It’s just being able to be a part of the outdoor industry and ensuring hunters are enjoying their time in the field.
It’s great to see that “aha” moment people have when they invest in great gear. Usually, we all have no problem investing in a high-performance firearm or bow. However, you’ll be wearing your apparel every single day in the hunt and if you make the wrong choice, you’ll pay for it in comfort. If you are warm, dry and comfortable, then you will be more effective making that clean ethical shot with your new bow or firearm.
I try to focus on the specific needs of whitetail hunters when developing a system and enjoy educating hunters on how to get the most out of their gear. I value hearing from hunters about their memories of the hunt.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It can really vary depending on the time of year. On a typical day in the office, I may review samples we have coming in on future developments. Our team of designers and developers are already working on products coming out in fall 2021. This summer I’ll be validating textiles and designs in the GORE-TEX comfort lab. Then throughout the fall and winter I’ll be field testing the new developments. I will be hunting in the gear myself and working with a network of trusted field testers to ensure we are only releasing products that perform beyond expectations. That’s typical of what I do: planning future products and also making sure the gear is performing well before we bring it out to the market.
What advice would you give to a student pursuing this career?
I think if they’re wanting to get into specifically the outdoor industry, be willing to take the steps to get a foot in the door. Be willing to take a few risks. Commit early in your career because it gets harder to make a move later on. It doesn’t have to be hunting — it could be any field in forestry or another career. Find something you’re passionate about and look for ways to showcase how well you can do that job. If I hadn’t taken that unpaid internship at an advertising agency to build my skill set, then I wouldn’t have been in the right place to get the job with CINCH, which ultimately opened the doors 15 years later at Sitka Gear.
Find out what you’re interested in. You’re going to be working from eight to 10 hours in the field every day of your life. Be sure you enjoy what you do. Hopefully, you’ll find something you love.