Quiksilver COO Sean Pence illustrates the importance of guiding one’s own destiny.
By Christine Gatuiria
Some say a dream job is an oxymoron, but Sean Pence does not buy into this line of thinking. As the Chief Operations Officer (COO) – Americas of Quiksilver Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of outdoor sports apparel and accessories, Pence genuinely loves his job.
The role, however, did not just fall into his lap – Pence actively sought out the a position that fit his ideals. “You can’t let life happen to you,” Pence said, “you have to make life happen for yourself.”
A University of California – Hastings College of Law graduate, Pence started out as a lawyer doing mergers and acquisitions and general corporate law. He enjoyed the work but felt there was something missing from his career outlook. An active surfer and snowboarder, Pence was familiar with Quiksilver products and knew he possessed the right skills to be successful with the company. So he made it his mission to land a job at Quiksilver and began networking in earnest.
Pence eventually was introduced to Quiksilver’s Global General Counsel, Charlie Exon, and over a few years they got to know one another over lunches and meetings. In 2005, Pence achieved his goal of joining the team when Exon offered him the opportunity to take over the General Counsel – Americas position. Although it may seem like a case of good fortune, Pence worked hard to be in the right place at the right time.
“You have to be proactive with career and life decisions,” he said.
Pence is now living his dream at Quiksilver. He was promoted to COO – Americas in 2012 and currently oversees several departments, including Sales Operations and Customer Service, Footwear & Apparel Production and Sourcing, Central Marketing, Distribution Operations and Logistics. It’s a heavy load, but Pence manages it well.
“I’m a hyper-communicator,” Pence said of his management style, “but in a good way.”
He doesn’t believe in micromanagement, though makes an effort to meet with his staff often to ensure that they understand the strategic vision and feel empowered to make decisions. It helps that Pence is a good judge of character and knows how to motivate his team. He understands that people respond differently to incentives, and he takes the time to sit down with each of his employees to learn what motivates them and to find ways to help them achieve their objectives.
“My people don’t work for me, they work with me,” Pence said. “It’s my job to help them succeed.”
Steering the Ship
A metaphor Pence frequently uses to describe his leadership role is that of a ship captain: “Any business is like a big ship, and we are custodians of the ship. We have to improve upon the status quo and [steer] toward strategic opportunities.”
As such, Pence works hard to create a positive professional environment that stimulates creativity and encourages productivity. Mike Reilly, VP of Logistics and Sales Operations at Quiksilver, speaks highly of Pence’s efforts: “Overall the reason why I wake up at 6 a.m. and work to 7 p.m. is because of the subculture [Pence] has created within his team. It is infectious and drives many of us to work harder, and, most importantly, smarter.”
Pence is a great example of the notion that truly understanding your passion in life and proactively seeking it out can be the building blocks of a successful career. He has no regrets about his current journey and looks forward to a future in which he may one day be in charge of his own company.
Pence’s parting words of advice to those looking to follow in his footsteps are simple but poignant. “Life is not a dress rehearsal. You only get one shot to perform the play, so make it count.”
Christine Gaturiria is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Mo.