[Note: Orvis CEO Perk Perkins is a member of the board of directors at the World Wildlife Fund. This article originally appeared in the World Wildlife Fund 2015 Magazine and is republished here with their permission.]
Perk Perkins is an outdoorsman. He is never happier than when he is hiking, fishing, paddling or diving. And while he has traveled to some of the world’s most glorious landscapes—from Belize to Raja Ampat to the banks of the Battenkill River—in pursuit of his passions, the place that made the most lasting impact on him is not quite as well known: Hoyt’s Pond, just southeast of Cleveland, Ohio.
“My earliest memories of being in nature are there, on camping trips with my dad and brother,” he says.
“We would head out in a row boat and go bass fishing. I can still remember seeing this enormous bass swimming in the pond, and just being so excited. I grabbed my rod and threw it at the bass along with this huge bird’s nest of a tangle. Luckily I’ve improved my technique a bit since then.”
The experiences Perkins had at Hoyt’s Pond kicked off a lifetime of fishing adventures and formed the foundation of his appreciation for nature, “which is at the heartbeat of why I am motivated to do more for conservation.” Today, Perkins considers his environmental work to be an obligation—but in the best possible way.
“It’s my pay-to-play—my price of admission,” he says. “I am lucky enough to enjoy some of my most meaningful life moments in great landscapes, great waters and marine environments. So I consider my work with WWF to be my rolling admission fee. I’m contributing energy and resources to conservation, helping to keep the wonders of nature alive and healthy and hopefully protected for future generations. It’s the least I can do.”
As CEO of Orvis, the outdoor equipment and apparel company owned by his family, Perkins seamlessly blends his appreciation for the natural world with how he runs his business. He institutionalized the company’s commitment to conservation—leveraging customer philanthropy with 5% of pre-tax profits to support conservation projects and effective organizations—and his professional mantra is that Orvis succeeds when people connect with the outdoors. He believes that without a healthy environment, Orvis wouldn’t have the successful business that it does, so he considers the company’s support of conservation to be a long-term investment in their market.
“Our customers love and respect the natural world, just like we do. And our belief is that lots of people want to help, but there are so many ways to get involved that it can be difficult to make a decision,” says Perk. So each year Orvis sets up several matching grants and encourages its customers to support conservation through those grants. Through this program and others, Orvis has supported WWF’s work on tiger conservation, on rights-based enforcement of MPAs in Indonesia, on combatting elephant poaching in Malaysia, and on conserving the Northern Great Plains.
“I am so inspired by people who devote their lives to promoting and protecting nature,” says Perkins. “So I try to do a little bit every day to make my life, and the lives of others, more compatible with the natural world.” That ongoing effort is a price of admission he is more than happy to pay.