Kim Miller is a lifer. The current CEO of SCARPA North America has been climbing and skiing in the mountains for most of his life. He’s had just about every job in the industry, which have taken him from the humble beginnings of shoe repair to the state of the art in telemark boot design, and everything in between. Though he studied to become a teacher, he eschewed that path, instead following his heart along its natural stream. We got him to share a little about his long ascendance through the outdoor world – from outdoor retail to sales rep, Chouinard Equipment to Black Diamond, and now his role at SCARPA.
You grew up in the Denver area, and were exposed to climbing and skiing early in life. How’d all that get started?
I was really active in outdoors since I was a kid. I started alpine skiing when I was young. Then I was really lucky. I started out as a Boy Scout, and one of the dads was a really good climber. He was part of the Alpine Rescue Team, one of the local operations. Through him, I started climbing early, something I totally fell in love with.
The outdoors really became a major outlet for me. I got in a bit of trouble when I was a teen, and was sent on an Outward Bound course for adjudicated youth. And when I look back on my life, it was a tipping point, coming back from 30 days in the San Juan Mountains, saying ‘I need to get myself together here’—quite an epiphany for a teenager.
Then, when I went to Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, I was really exposed to the most awesome environment for anybody with my kind of dreams could ask for. People like Michael Kennedy and Lou Dawson, who really appreciated my skills.
Where did you get your start in the outdoor industry?
I first started in college as a cobbler in a boot store, repairing climbing and mountaineering boots. Then I had a retail store in Denver for five years. I sold it in 1987, and moved out to California to join my friend Peter Metcalf, whom I’d met teaching with at Outward Bound, to work for Chouinard Equipment. I thought it was going to be a two-year sabbatical, learn how to surf, but it turned out to be 17 years working with my best friends at Chouinard, and then building Black Diamond.
When you were at BD, weren’t you one team member working on the project to develop the Terminator plastic telemark boot?
Yeah, everything at Chouinard [and then Black Diamond] was designed and built by a small community of people who worked there. I was one of the most avid skiers there and I spent a lot of time working on those kinds of products—T1, all the bindings, all the skis.
It seems serendipitous that you would end up being CEO of SCARPA North America. When I worked for Chouinard we were the U.S. distributor for SCARPA. But we were more like partners, and we had so many big projects. The tele business was exploding. I worked a lot with SCARPA when I was at BD too. It was a great experience.
You’ve been on many climbing and skiing expeditions. How have those experiences influenced the evolution of your perspectives on SCARPA?
As a lifelong climber, skier and adventure person, it’s almost like a way of life, and now, raising children, I realize that is my way of life because that’s what I’m projecting on my kids. It’s something that’s important, and it affects everything I do.
With regard to business, I’m really lucky in that something I’m so passionate about is what I get to do for work. It’s the same philosophy I apply to my climbing and my skiing life that I apply to products and business, friendships, relationships—everything really.
From a product standpoint, there’s nothing more important than to be a user of the products you design, make and sell.
With such a variety of outdoor industry related jobs, did you ever think you’d end up in a CEO role?
No. But I didn’t think I’d end up in a lot of positions I’ve had. I’m really fortunate that I followed my heart, dreams, and my career. I’m really fond of that childlike energy that is so common through outdoor sports. Because I grew up in that, it just feels natural being here and working with SCARPA, and doing the job I have. My biggest success, and what I think is an important legacy, is to instill a really important culture in a brand.
Being a climber and a technical person, and wanting really good products, I want them to be really functional, really efficient, but also really practical and aesthetically pleasing. And to be proud, have pride in what we make, and that’s a big part of the culture.