Tim Bantle ’95 was recently named the Chief Executive Officer of the clothing company Eddie Bauer. A lifelong outdoorsman, he points to his curiosity about the world around him as a marker for his success.
Bantle took an unconventional path to where he is today. He never attended business school, and his college degrees are in Philosophy and English Literature.
“The most interesting people in business are not the people who exclusively focused on business when they went through school. They're people who had rich lives outside of business and rich experiences outside of business, and then they apply that to business.” he said. “I think it's really important to be able to think in order to be successful in business, and I don't know of a better discipline for helping you interpret your environment and think than philosophy.”
The common thread that runs through Bantle’s career path is his passion for nature. He got his first job at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood so he could receive their employee discount to buy gear for skiing and mountain climbing. By simply following his passions, Bantle was preparing himself for a career with outdoor clothing companies.
“I think it was really outdoor experiences with a mix of backpacking and climbing and snow sports and kayaking and pursuing those activities and then the corresponding gear that was required, it ended up becoming kind of a blend of my passion and business from the very beginning.” he said.
Instead of jumping into the business world after college, he started training people for various wilderness experiences.
“I got a job offer to go live and work in the Tetons and take high school students climbing, paddling, and mountaineering. I went for it, and that kind of set a trajectory for me,” said Bantle.
After two years as a wilderness director, Bantle was hired as a sales representative for Patagonia. He was captivated by the mission of the company to prioritize quality products, and he became fascinated by the development of products in the outdoor industry.
“I remember thinking to myself about how they never tell you in school that there are jobs like this. It's somebody's job to figure out what the company is going to make and then oversee the process of going from an idea or a drawing on a piece of paper to a garment that people are climbing a mountain or skiing a mountain in,” said Bantle.
Since then, he has worked at Black Diamond Equipment, The North Face, and VF Corporation, which owns Vans, The North Face, Timberland, and Dickies. His career has taken him around the world: he has worked in four different countries and several U.S. states.
“My wife has been super flexible, and we've just gone where the opportunity is for me in my career,” he said.
Bantle recognized that succeeding in his industry meant hard work and dedication. From a young age, he committed to push himself professionally, and he attributes much of his success to this ambition.
“There is this period in the early part of your career where you have to go out and earn your way in the marketplace. It's a very competitive world, and there are lots of smart, hard-working people, so whether you become a physician or a professional athlete or a CEO, you're going to spend from 20 to 40 working the hardest you've ever worked.” Bantle said.
Bantle learned about business from the inside out. He has found that the most important skill in the business world is to work well with others and develop long-lasting connections and friendships with those around him.
“One of the things that I've learned over time is that people like doing business with people they like. It's a really simple idea. You just genuinely have to put everybody's interests at play in business. Everybody needs to win,” he said.
As CEO of Eddie Bauer, Bantle has to manage a lot of moving parts. In order to ensure that the business thrives, he has to make sure that everyone in the business is also succeeding.
“My job is largely to make sure that the goals are aligned among all of the teams, so they're working together. And that's actually pretty fun because you never have a dull day when that's what you're dealing with,” he said.
Bantle’s role extends beyond the parameters of a typical job description. As CEO, Bantle has to adapt to whatever is thrown at him, tackling whatever the situation may be.
“The higher you go up in organizations, the less likely you are to have a job description, your job becomes, as a CEO, essentially whatever the situation requires.” Bantle said.
Bantle attributes much of his success to the foundational experiences he had at St. Louis U. High. In particular, he was inspired to make a positive mark on the world by the Jesuit priests who taught him.
“It's a group of men that were largely committed to contemplative action and being aware and doing good work in the world. I think that those fundamental ideas and values I internalized very deeply during my years at SLUH have been a big part of my approach to business and life in general,” he said.
An English major, Bantle also fondly remembers learning from the SLUH English Department. He remembers his English classes as having a large influence on his outlook on the world.
“The process of studying literature at SLUH was really a process of encountering the world and interpreting it. I just see that as a substrate for success in life. If you combine what happened in those literature classes with the Jesuit philosophy, it's a pretty powerful force.” said Bantle.
Bantle also attended Saint Louis University. Overall, his Jesuit education helped him to recognize the importance of being an active global citizen.
“I always saw the Jesuits as a sort of Jedi. The fact that grown men would curate their life such that they could go anywhere at a moment's notice with two suitcases is something I've always carried with me. That notion of not being attached to the physical things and being more curious about the work you do in the world has been a big driver for me personally,” he said.
From staff at the Alpine Shop to CEO of Eddie Bauer, Bantle’s unconventional career has taken many twists and turns. He has reached where he is today only through a willingness to leap into the unknown.
“When I left home after high school, my goal was to be able to put everything I owned in a backpack and go wherever I wanted,” he said. “And in some ways, although I’m married and have kids now, we've sort of lived by that ethos for the last 25 years, and we've just been fortunate for it to work.”
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