Eye on Orvis–Orvis Dads #2: Simon Perkins

Written by: Laurie Barrett

Simon and his wife, Els, have made adventures in nature a central part of their parenting.

In honor of Father’s Day, the “Eye on Orvis” team sat down with some of the company’s dads, who talk about what it’s like to work for a family-owned organization that focuses on three core values—Surprise & Delight Your Customer, Take Pride in Your Product, and Protect What We Love—and how working for such a company has shaped their own lives and the generations that will follow them.

Our second Orvis Dad, President Simon Perkins, grew up on the banks of the Battenkill River in Vermont, shadowing his father and grandfather on the water or following the family dogs in the woods. “Grampa” was Leigh Perkins, who purchased the Orvis Company in 1965 and ran it for 27 years, and “Dad” is Perk Perkins, former CEO who now serves on the Orvis Board. Leigh sadly passed in 2021, but his legacy and traditions continue through his son and his grandson, Simon.

As Simon learned to cast a fly rod and tie flies–and absorbed all the different lessons the natural world would teach him–it’s unlikely he was thinking about someday serving as President of the oldest mail-order business in the country. All he knew was that he loved to follow his dad and Grampa, watching as fly fishing and wingshooting allowed them to connect with the outdoors and fall in love with natural resources, which in turn they worked hard to protect.  

Simon shares the story of his grandfather’s bamboo rod with Pippa.

At the age of 37, Simon became President of Orvis and the third generation of the Perkins family to lead the company. Less than 15% of family businesses ever achieve third-tier ownership, and four years later, the company has experienced two record breaking years. Before joining Orvis, Simon spent eleven years as an upland hunting and fly-fishing guide in Montana, sharing his love of the outdoors, fishing, and hunting with his customers. Simon now currently serves on the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and spearheads Orvis’ involvement in advocacy for conservation projects in locations such as Bristol Bay, Alaska, and the Florida Everglades.

As a child, Simon spent most of his life outside, and childhood vacations often featured fly-fishing or bird-hunting adventures. Today, Simon champions the Orvis Vision Statement “to inspire the world to love the adventure and wonder in nature,” and through his leadership, the company fosters the sense of curiosity and awareness that now lies at the core of who he is as a father. With a fond nod to Orvis’ heritage, Simon strives to celebrate the company’s history in a way that now propels it forward. Where flyfishing was once perceived as a sport practiced predominately by wealthy, older white men, Orvis now offers affordable, entry-level rods, free fly-fishing lessons and online learning; has expanded its apparel lines for people who enjoy the outdoors as a lifestyle, beyond fly fishing; and embraces initiatives that work to expand the community and promote  gender, race, and identity parity in the sport.

A just-landed redfish is a bonding opportunity for Simon and Willem.

But in the interview for this Eye on Orvis Story, Simon doesn’t mention any of these major accomplishments, instead choosing to focus on what he terms “life in the margins” – where memories are born from those significant moments between the big events. He doesn’t focus on the monster brown trout caught in Montana or the number of birds bagged on a hunt. He is more concerned about a life best lived in curiosity and awareness. For Simon, it was about picking fiddleheads as a young boy with his dad and asking questions on how to best prepare the wild vegetable while walking back from the river, rods on their shoulders after a day of fishing. It was about his grandfather showing him what was inside crops of grouse, explaining the birds’ habits and what they ate. It was watching his father, uncle, and grandfather listen to the stories told by new anglers, sharing in their excitement and enthusiasm as if hearing about fly fishing for the first time. Simon easily recalls the joy he saw on their faces, surpassed only by the novice fly fishers as they relived the first catch or the one that got away.

And in those margins, Simon learned that listening is what makes you most successful. He subscribes to the belief that all kids are born with an innate curiosity, and as a dad, it’s his job “not to mess that up.” When he’s out on the river with his daughter and son—Pippa and Willem—watching them hunt for bugs under rocks, he remembers it’s not just about fishing. It’s about listening, answering countless questions about plants, dogs, and life, while fostering and sharing the same enthusiasm he experienced growing up. 

Simon likes to focus on those moments between big events, when true connections are often made.

Simon now brings this enthusiasm to his leadership at Orvis, leading with approachability and the ability to establish deep, meaningful relationships with both associates and customers. He knows that to be a successful “guide,” you must build connections through empathy, real conversation, and by learning what brings value – it’s different for everyone. Simon acknowledges that with passion comes blind spots, and the only way to mitigate those blind spots is to listen and learn.

Orvis is forging ahead into uncharted waters as the outdoor retail industry seeks to encourage new participants. It is an incredible opportunity to be at the helm of an organization that can make the world a better place and to inspire people to connect with the outdoor wonders of the world. And as his own children find joy in the margins, Simon knows he has learned from the best and is building the generations that will follow in his footsteps.

Laurie Barrett is the National Recruiting Specialist for Orvis.

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