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Debbie Steinberg-Kuntz

“Personally, I think the most important thing Altrec.com can do is make people’s lives better by helping them enjoy the outdoors.”

Title: Vice President of Merchandising
Previously: Owner of an import/export company dealing in outdoor goods

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What were your expectations for the Altrec.com off-site?

I didn’t really know what to expect. I had done things like Outward Bound and I found them very useful. I was a counselor at a camp that did ropes courses and things like that, and I know the adventure team building can be a very powerful tool. So I knew we’d get some kind of results, but I didn’t know what they would be. Overall, I’m really happy with what we got from it.

What were the most valuable lessons learned on the river?

The trip really brought out the reality that we needed to decide the level of authority that each person should have.

Have you seen those lessons in authority and decision making manifested?

Oftentimes, before we start hashing out a topic, we’ll establish who is giving input and who is going to make the decision. We don’t do it all the time, but the fact that we are trying to teach ourselves is a really positive step.

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Was decision-making a lesson introduced by the organizers? Or did it come about organically?

It came about organically the day of the infamous portage. It became clear that when we give the go-ahead to a leader, that we don’t always let them do what they need to.

Another key lesson for me came out of a little test we took on our personalities and how we could characterize ourselves. Everybody on the strategy team had similar personalities except me, and I thought that was really, really interesting. Everybody was the dominant personality type, and I was 50 percent dominant and 50 percent analytical. That made sense because we’re all drivers and big picture thinkers. But I always seem to get into the details. I finally understand why I feel like I’ve been speaking a different language.

But everyone values that we are coming from different perspectives. We know that we’re valid. We just know that we process information differently.

Did the off-site give you a chance to meet some of the newer Altrec.com team members?

Katherine was pretty new at that point and we were the only two women on the strategy team. We were really able to bond and to get know each other. I’d been the only woman for a long time before she came.

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What have you done to pass on the off-site’s learning and objectives to Altrec.com employees who weren’t present?

We set a tone by modeling the way we want Altrec.com to be. We don’t say these are the ten lessons we learned on the river that everyone must know. It’s more like we’ve absorbed the lessons into the way we conduct business here. Altrec.com has a reputation for integrity, for following through on promises, and for being committed. We consider that very, very important. When my team has choices to make, they always take the high road because they know that I value that.

What needs to be done in the next six months to keep those norms and values alive?

There has got to be one person accountable for making sure that the message gets out there. We are on such a quick timeline and we change so much every month, we are executing so many different projects that somebody has to be keeping a thread alive and just reminding us all.

Personally, I think the most important thing Altrec.com can do is make people’s lives better by helping them enjoy the outdoors. If we were to lose sight of that and just go for pumping the volume and selling the gear, then we would have no differentiating factor and we would not be serving our purpose. First and foremost, our dedication as humans is to help other humans.

Does Altrec.com encourage its employees to embrace nature?

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It’s tough as a startup. We have company fun days where we’ll go on a hike together. We all enjoy the outdoors together. And then in our free time some people go skiing together. There are running groups at lunch. But we work lots of hours, too. I guess it’s work hard and play hard right now.

We’re keeping the long-term in perspective and we know that this work craziness is for a limited time and then there’s going to be a big shake-out in our industry and we’ll know who the winners are. And then we can’t totally slow down, but life can at least be normal and a little more balanced.

What Did Happen on the Salmon River?

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