Kansas’ own son, Skip Yowell, was recently back in town to share his journey from small town boy to one of the founders of an international company. He spoke to the entrepreneurship class at Great Bend High School, juniors and seniors, and did a library presentation to community members.
“It’s great to be back in Great Bend,” said Skip Yowell, one of the original founders of JanSport. He went to Park, Central, Roosevelt and Great Bend High School in his growing up years.
“We used to ice skate at Cheyenne Bottoms, sled at Barton Hills and water ski and fish at Kanopolis,” said Yowell. The outdoors had always been important to the Yowell family and serving as a starting point for Yowell’s travels of the world.
Yowell, author of “The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains”, co-founded JanSport with his cousin, Murray Pletz, and Murray’s wife, Jan. Nearly 45 years later, JanSport continues to be a well respected name in the outdoor industry.
“Some of our success was timing,” he said. But the company has been flexible, understanding the consumer and their needs, and experimenting with colors and fabrics and trying to improve equipment along with the givens of treating people right and working hard.
They came up with the dome tent after an experience climbing Mt. Rainier. The cotton tent that Yowell and Pletz were using, which was common at the time, was very ineffective. They experimented until they came up with something better.
“Have a passion for what you do,” Yowell said. They weren’t afraid to try new things while admitting to lots of mistakes.
Interwoven with savvy business advice, Yowell showed pictures and told stories of his mountaineering experiences to Mt. Everest, Kangchenjunga and Kilimanjaro as well as Mt. Rainier. The pictures were of places most of the audience will never travel to, including the small country of Bhutan.
The entrepreneur also always believed in a quality product. JanSport backpacks come with a lifetime guarantee.
The lectures were a part of the Community Ambassadors leadership program that encourages entrepreneurship and promotes hometown pride among high school students, sponsored by Sunflower Bank.
“Yowell was a perfect match to speak at our Community Ambassadors class because he is the epitome of what the program is about,” said Becca Maxwell, customer service manager of Sunflower Bank’s Great Bend and Ellinwood locations. “We’re excited to provide students with an opportunity to hear from someone who has been in their position. Not only is Skip from Kansas, but he’s travelled the world and found great success while remaining true to his roots.”