I find this article from USA TODAY very interesting and post it here with full disclosure that it’s a reprint of their article by Del Jones.
Fly-fishing’s allure catches CEOs’ devotion
By Del Jones, USA TODAY
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Standing in waders with his feet 40 inches below the surface of the Blue River and 8,800 feet above sea level, Edward McVaney whistles his line back and forth three times before landing his fly upstream to where trout might be hiding in the ripples. The just-retired 62-year-old CEO of supply chain software company J.D. Edwards was once a typical executive. He worked 6 1/2 days a week. He squeezed in a little golf. But when he was introduced to fly-fishing a decade ago, it became a consuming passion to stalk, outsmart and conquer. Just as alcoholics remember the day they get sober, McVaney says he got hooked on fly-fishing on Aug. 5, 1992. He’s not unique. There’s something about fly-fishing that attracts people who rise to the top.
Charles Schwab fly-fishes, as does Martha Stewart, Bill Ford of Ford Motor, Meg Whitman of eBay, Phil Satre of Harrah’s Entertainment, banking mogul Hugh McColl, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Bob Dickinson, AOL Time Warner’s Ted Turner and Timberland’s Jeffrey Swartz. So do retired CEOs Don Kendall and Roger Enrico of PepsiCo, and Lew Platt of Hewlett-Packard, who has fished the Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska.
When Targeted Genetics CEO H. Stewart Parker is at work at the Seattle headquarters, she is surrounded by scientists looking for cures for arthritis and cystic fibrosis. “I work with really smart people and fish for really smart fish,” she says. “The fish don’t do what I say.”
A favorite Internet bookmark of AOL Chairman Steve Case is a fly-fishing site. If you go online to find the book Search for The Longest Cast: The Fly-Fishing Journey of a Lifetime, Amazon.com’s computers will tell you that those who bought the book were common buyers of Primal Leadership and Now, Discover Your Strengths, two best-selling management books. Remember when Vice President Cheney, formerly CEO of Halliburton, disappeared for days at a time to an undisclosed location after the Sept. 11 attacks? His office now confirms that quite often, he was fly-fishing.
Fly-fishing goes upscale
Fly Fisherman magazine estimates that there are 50 million to 60 million fishers of all types in the USA, of which about 1 million fly-fish at least 21 days a year. Fly-fishing is not for everyone. Of the tens of thousands of people who took it up after the 1992 Robert Redford-produced movie A River Runs Through It, about 90% have dropped out, says magazine editor and publisher John Randolph.
Originally a blue-collar sport, fly-fishing can still be enjoyed for $100 a year by those who tie their own flies, repair their own waders and cast their lines in local waters. But for those who can afford it, there are $3,000 bamboo fly rods, $500-a-day guides and $20,000-a-week trips to Norway and other exotic places worldwide.
“Fish don’t live in ugly places; they’re very well-trained that way,” says Parker, who has a special place in Montana, but has fished in Alaska, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. “I’ve fished in downtown Spokane, and even that was pretty,” she says.
In Russia, the salmon of the Ponoi River are so isolated that it takes a helicopter ride to travel the last leg from Murmansk. But waiting chefs ease the hardship with gourmet meals and wine-tasting at a tent camp version of the Four Seasons. There are fishing clubs in Canada that look like rustic log cabins on the outside and like the Waldorf-Astoria on the inside, says Nick Lyons, author of a dozen books on fly-fishing.
Fly Fisherman magazine’s 130,000 subscribers are mostly middle-aged, white and male, with an average household income of $131,000. Many celebrities, including Harrison Ford and Dan Rather, fly-fish, but the magazine’s readers are heavily “doctors, lawyers and captains of industry who have been overachievers all their lives,” Randolph says. “They find fly-fishing the way President Carter did in middle age, and they do it until they become infirm and can’t wade anymore.”
Real estate developer Ron Saypol, a New York native, now lives in Jackson, Wyo., where he subdivides land along Rocky Mountain streams, placing boulders and trees to create the fish habitat of ripples and deep holes. “It’s easier to build a golf course than good fly-fishing,” he says.
His most recent project was a 3,200-acre subdivision along the Green River. Of the 19 parcels, 18 sold to CEOs and investment bankers for up to $2.5 million each. Owners seldom build, opting to pay another $16,000 a year for room and board at a common lodge. Saypol would not identify the landowners, but says they are “names you’d recognize.” It’s a rather expensive fishing license, he says. And for all the money, CEOs don’t leave with a trout dinner. Covenants require that all fish be released.
McVaney says fly-fishing is like a religion, and his TYL Ranch is an acronym for “Thank-you, Lord.” It’s 500 scenic acres in the heart of Colorado ski country, bordered on all sides by the Arapaho National Forest.
Why CEOs like fly-fishing
It was McVaney’s competitive nature that hooked him on the sport. He still frets about the fishing trip 10 years ago when he and an old high school buddy stood 15 feet apart casting an identical fly meant to mimic an insect. His friend caught 20 fish before McVaney landed one. That’s when he concluded that fly-fishing, like business, was not something to do but something to master.
“You learn to cope with rejection,” he says.
CEOs say that fly-fishing is about solving a puzzle. It’s not the passive sport of putting a worm on a hook. It’s a graceful athleticism, the back-and-forth casting in the air of fishing line and feathers tied tight to a hook and the skilled landing of the fly atop the water, insect manna from heaven to a finicky fish.
Success requires going to school on everything from the straight-wristed cast, to the scope of a trout’s vision, to knowing what local insects are transforming from what nymphs on a given day and how they move in the water. There are more than 40 books published about the entomology of trout streams.
“It’s plotting between me and the trout. It’s very intellectual,” says Dickinson, Carnival’s president.
Many CEOs speak of fly-fishing as being more Zenlike than businesslike. The river’s roar is the opposite of a golf course. Shop talk is impossible, which enables complete focus on the complexity at hand. CEOs say that clears their mind and frees them of stress.
“The level of concentration allows you to abandon all thoughts about self,” Harrah’s Satre says, and into the vacuum of diversion rush creative thoughts.
Fly-fishing is far more brain than brawn — not unlike business — and another female devotee is Arrowood Winery co-founder Alis Arrowood. She says fly-fishing is non-competitive and far removed from buyers, wholesalers and other trappings of her business.
“Even the movements involved in the casting are almost in slow motion. It forces me to slow down,” Arrowood says.
But just when she’s certain that fly-fishing has nothing in common with business, she remembers that her husband, Dick Arrowood, teases her that the sport plays to her “manipulative nature,” which she describes as a coaxing version of manipulation that has made her a successful marketer of high-end wine.
“If I cast and imitate a fly that has fallen into the water, I can see the trout leave a hidden spot,” she says.
A lot like sales
Fly-fishing has more in common with business than other CEOs pretend, McVaney says over the white noise of the Blue River. It’s a lot like sales, he says, in that success requires persistence. You can’t sit in a boat, get bored and hope for luck. The word prospecting is used for finding pregnant parts of the stream just as it is used in business for finding customers. “It’s stalking a fish, rather than having fish stalk the bait,” says Satre.
McVaney prides himself on changing flies as fast as an Indy pit crew changes tires. Like sales, the more a fly is in the water, the better the odds at catching a fish, says the owner of 2,000 flies. Proving his point, he catches nothing with the first three flies he tries, then lands a pair of 4-pound rainbow trout within minutes of each other as soon as he switches to a fly called a zug bug. “Once you make the sale, there is lots do,” he says, kneeling in the river because he enjoys being closer to his fighting catch. When the trout gets close, he pulls out a surgical tool to remove the hook and release the fish without touching it. “There’s a lot to do once you’ve hooked the fish.”
Retired CEO Kendall, 81, says he would never have gone to work for PepsiCo had he not been on a salmon fly-fishing trip to Nova Scotia after a World War II stint as a Naval aviator. While on the East Coast, he decided to stop off for a job interview. The man doing the hiring turned out to be an avid fly-fisher. He gave Kendall a job as a fountain-syrup sales representative, which led to his rise and the eventual 1965 merger with Frito-Lay, one of the most successful corporate marriages.
He was CEO for 21 years and paved PepsiCo’s entry into Chile by developing a fly-fishing friendship with Chilean bottler and media magnate Agustin Edwards. A similar fly-fishing friendship paved Pepsi’s way into movie theaters in the 1950s. The only corporate board Kendall still sits on is for hunting and fishing mail-order company Orvis, and he says it’s only because board meetings include hunting and fly-fishing in such places as England. He now owns land near Jackson, where he says he can cast into 65 holes, deep parts of the stream where the fish are thick because there is no current to fight. “Golf is fine, but I’d take fly-fishing over it,” Kendall says.
Timberland CEO Swartz says his cell phone once rang when he was fishing with his sons. It was a customer complaint. Swartz says he listened politely, said his good-byes, then threw his phone into the Florida bay.
McVaney, who so much believes fishing is like business, says it probably hurt his. “I stopped working on Saturdays and Sundays,” he says. “I became a fanatic. It genuinely changed my life forever.”
On the Denver campus of J.D. Edwards, McVaney erected a life-size sculpture of himself fly-fishing, his granddaughter perched on his shoulders. He says the sculpture is meant to remind the troops of the proverb: “Give me a fish, and I will eat today; teach me to fish, and I will eat all my life.”