Industry Leaders: Chris Carlson
April 30, 2012
Filed under Features
“Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation; it is the reward of constant collaboration.”
That phrase greets readers of emails sent by Chris Carlson. Started in 1994 as a family business, Sportech, Inc. is a leader in OEM thermoformed plastic products.
Based in Elk River, Minn., the company founded by Carlson saw tremendous growth. In fact, the business grew at a rate which Carlson had never experienced. Carlson focused on the demands of that growth, particularly on capacity issues.
The company added more than 20 full-time employees, and increased its manufacturing capacity by more than
40 percent, all while securing additional manufacturing space.
What is the biggest opportunity for the industry, and how can the industry take advantage of it?
I think our industry needs to do a better job of integrating families into powersports. I see parents running feverishly with their kids to soccer, hockey and a myriad of other activities, and while it’s great to stay active and keep our kids involved, I see a problem with families being fragmented — one child is at the rink, the other is at the soccer field and the other is at the gymnasium. If some of these families were introduced to powersports, I think they’d be amazed at not only how fun it is to ride, but also by the quality family time which occurs when the whole family is on the trails or at the track, together. We need to work together as an industry to evangelize the sport we all love.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position and how have you dealt with it?
The biggest challenge for me has been adapting to the ever-changing conditions of a rapidly growing company. We started out as a home-based family business, which was essentially a fun little side gig. As the company has grown and changed, I often find myself wondering what in the heck I’ve gotten myself into! I’m incredibly grateful for the growth, but it’s been challenging from a leadership standpoint because as the company has changed, I’ve been forced to grow and change with it. I think it can be difficult for entrepreneurial types to evolve with their organizations. Instinctually, we are drawn to those processes which we’re most comfortable with, and in many cases organizational growth forces us into entirely different areas. The key for me has been surrounding myself with great team members who challenge and inspire me on a daily basis.
What’s the best advice you can give to others in the industry?
I think the most important thing that any of us can do in business is to continuously look for ways to simplify things. We often get caught up in the game of thinking that in order to be successful, we need to develop the next big thing or discover some new breakthrough in technology. And, while these things certainly can help a business grow, it’s often the simple, back-to-the-basics thinking which is most significant. We need to treat people fairly and with absolute integrity, we need to surround ourselves with quality people who will challenge us and lift us up and most importantly, I don’t think any of us can afford to take ourselves too seriously. I think it’s important for all of us to occasionally laugh at ourselves; a little humility goes a long way.