Bird Dogs & Training  |  04/29/2021

Corporate Culture, Orvis Style

Charley Perkins, a strategic planning manager for The Orvis Company, shares his days both in and out of the office with Romi. The two are often seen sharing desk space (as pictured), or sneaking into the office a little bit late, mud-spattered and feather-strewn. The integration of dogs and people is a core commitment at Orvis.

By Reid Bryant

I first met Simon Perkins, current President of The Orvis Company, on a sidehill above Vermont’s Mettowee River. At the time, Simon was a couple years’ back from a guiding career in Montana, and a couple years into his tenure at the company his grandfather bought in 1965.

We’d been introduced by a mutual friend, corresponded over a shared love for grouse and woodcock, and coincided on an October morning that had dawned drizzly and gray. Simon was collaring dogs on his tailgate. He turned to shake my hand, to introduce his wife Els, and to give me a good look at a pair of light-boned setters and a black lab. “Maeby, Copa, and Cece”, he’d said before letting them loose on the rosebush and popple. He slammed the tailgate and smiled. “Let’s find some birds.”

As it happened, we only found one. It was a lonesome woodcock that fell between the birch whips and was hoovered up by Cece the lab. What I remember more of the day, however, was Simon himself, soaked to the beltline from wet grass and brambles, lovingly following his dogs as they did their thing. Hunting was the excuse, but it seemed the least of his concern. He and his dogs had become part of the landscape, perfect complements to it, and to each other.

It was a fitting introduction to the company I’d come to work for, and the company I’d come to work alongside. I learned from Simon that in Orvis circles, there always seemed to be a gundog nearby, quartering between work and play, and making the scene complete.

In the years I have worked for Orvis, I’ve watched the twining of dogs and work and people, the synthesis of all three into a collective identity that fills the workday and spills out of the office and into the hills. When, in my first year with the company, I called Simon’s desk phone to discuss some seemingly critical decision or another, I was forwarded on to his cell. “Maeby’s pups are coming,” he’d said, and I could hear the panting and the squeaks in the background. “I’m sitting here beside the whelping box, and we already have three pups on the ground.”
A year or so later, Simon’s father Perk, former CEO of the company, was back in Vermont for an extended stay, working on trustee responsibilities and the onboarding of some new employees. On a bed at his feet was Anneli, the lab that seemed always by his side, the one that had accompanied him on an epic trans-continental sailing trip, surviving a catastrophic sinking in the Caribbean Sea.

Having weathered that storm, Annalee developed a cancer, and Perk had remained a steady comfort at her side, watching the hours of her life become consumed by malignant cells. We’d stop for a pat and a quick exchange in the office halls, and behind Perk’s pleasantries there lurked the sad cognition of the inevitable, and the emptiness that lay ahead.

These are bookends that hold together the volumes that comprise our lives with dogs: the days afield and the great finds, the blown points and porcupine quills, the disapprobation of a clean miss that only a dog can communicate.

I told myself a long time ago that I’d never take a job that would sell my dogs’ lives short; in my boyish idealism, it seemed a worthwhile way to keep me honest. I suppose at that, anyway, I have succeeded.

What I’ve come to know is that dogs, a fundamental commitment to them, finds space in the work I do, and the workplace where I do it. There is no separation, and none would be expected, or even, perhaps, permitted. I value those places where a love for dogs need not happen from 5-9 and on weekends. The time with them, as we already know or will find out, is short enough.

Reid Bryant is wingshooting services manager for The Orvis Company.