New Arc’teryx GM takes path less travelled

Profile: Jon Hoerauf, general manager and president, Arc'teryx

Arc'teryx general manager and president Jon Hoerauf | Photo: Chung Chow

Growing up playing hockey in Midland, Michigan, Jon Hoerauf got a taste of Canadian culture from a young age.

Located just off the shores of Lake Huron, Midland is a short drive west from the Canadian border and the well-known hockey towns of Mississauga, London, Hamilton and Toronto.

“I spent plenty of my youth going across the border getting my ass kicked and coming back,” said Hoerauf, who was born in 1975. “So I was humbled at a very early age playing hockey in Canada. I used to go to Canada to buy all my hockey gear, get beat up and come back home.”

Hoerauf is the new general manager and president of Arc’teryx, an outdoor clothing and sporting goods manufacturer headquartered in North Vancouver, replacing Vincent Wauters, who left in February 2016 after three years in the role.

Owned by the Finnish Amer Sports Corp. (HEL:AMEAS), the company has about 900 employees across the Lower Mainland and operates a research and design centre, plus manufacturing and warehousing space in New Westminster.  Hoerauf said sports and sports apparel have long been a part of his life, but it wasn’t until he finished university that his career path became clear.

Hoerauf, whose mother was a nurse for 45 years, had early aspirations of going to medical school. In 1993 he enrolled at Michigan State University in East Lansing, northeast of Detroit, with the idea of finishing his degree as quickly as possible so he could start down the road to becoming a doctor.

However, after graduating with a bachelor of science degree in human physiology in 1996, he was having second thoughts. During his second year of school, he’d started working at a running and outdoor equipment shop because he enjoyed the work and found he could use his physiology schooling to help fit people into the right gear. When the time came to formally commit to medical school, Hoerauf’s mind was now squarely in the shop and not in the classroom.

“I hustled so hard to get my undergrad in three years I think I burned myself out,” he said. “And when it came time to graduate I said, ‘I’m not 100% ready to go into medical school.’ Either my head or my heart wasn’t there, and financially it’s a big commitment. So I said, ‘I’m going to take a little breather.’”

Hoerauf took a job as an assistant merchant buyer at sporting goods store Playmakers in East Lansing. The initial idea was Hoerauf would head off to medical school when he felt ready. However, that moment never came.

“I never looked back, never regretted it,” he said. “I worked there for a good four or five years and started to get curious about the other side of the fence from the retail side to the brand side. When I made the decision not to go to medical school it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

By 1999 Hoerauf was a sales manager for outdoor gear company The North Face, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He worked for the company for 12 years, rising to global product director for the brand’s Summit Series line.

During that time he also met his wife, a Vancouver native, and the two moved to Pittsburgh, where they lived for five years. That move, however, came with a caveat.

“She said to me, ‘This is a temporary thing; it’s part of our career path and we’re going to move to Vancouver one day.’”

So when Arc’teryx came calling in 2012 to offer him the job of vice-president of commercial, it was impossible to turn down, Hoerauf said.

He and his wife knew they didn’t want the cookie-cutter lifestyle that often comes with the high-end corporate job, so instead they bought a hobby farm on four acres of land on Bowen Island. Now raising three children, Hoerauf said his commute is under an hour “door to door,” and allows him to draw a partition between home and work.

“For me it’s just a really good balance,” he added. “Come home and get your hands dirty and it kind of keeps you grounded.”

Richard Kouwenhoven, president and chief operating officer of Hemlock Printers Ltd., has known Hoerauf for 15 years. He said Hoerauf has always maintained a strong work-life balance and a facility for fitting in with new environments.

“One thing that stands out about Jon is how adaptive he and his wife, Star, have been,” said Kouwenhoven, whose company sells to Arc’teryx. “With multiple moves in very different settings as their mutual careers have evolved, they make the most of each opportunity and really apply themselves to their new surroundings.”

Changing industry

Hoerauf acknowledged the outdoor sporting goods and apparel business as a whole has become homogenized since he first started back in the ’90s. He said his company’s goal has always been getting away from the “sea of sameness” in outdoor apparel design.

“What has happened really over the last 20 years is you’ve had a lot of brands that have started to look the same,” he said. “The products look the same, the colour palettes look the same, everybody is using the same materials, made in the same factories, and in a lot of cases the industry is pretty small so you have design talent rotating around.”

While his career has involved multiple changes of employer and location, one thing Hoerauf has kept from his childhood in Michigan is his love for hockey, a sport he still plays regularly. However, don’t expect him to be wearing Vancouver Canucks colours any time soon at Rogers Arena.

“I have a rule – the rule is you can only have two teams,” he said. “And it’s the team where you grew up, so for me that’s the Detroit Red Wings. And from there, you’re allowed to have a second team, and for me it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins. We lived there for five years, we still have season tickets, so that’s it for me.”

Inside information: Jon Hoerauf

Currently reading:

Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work by Gervase Bushe

First album bought:

Van Halen, 1984

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up:

Model maker for Industrial Light & Magic

Profession you would most like to try:

General manager of professional sports team

Toughest business or professional decision:

Moving to Montreal for a job with my wife and family

Advice you would give the younger you:

Study and learn multiple languages early

What’s left to do:

Take Arc’teryx to the next level and be the best husband and father I can be