Scott Fairbairn Makes a Career Move
Dec 18th, 2010 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Dec 18th, 2010 at 12:00 AM
Scott Fairbairn, MBA
Scott Fairbairn’s “fish-sense” pushed him to the top of the pro walleye fishing ranks. His business-sense allowed him to be a full-time pro angler for a dozen years.
A couple years ago he traded lucrative sponsorships, a consistent record of qualifying for national walleye championships, a seminar schedule at major sport shows, a partnership with The Next Bite, and 150 to 180 days on the road annually for an MBA program at the prestigious Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis. He graduates in a few months and will begin a new career at 3M.
He will be involved in the consumer and office products marketing department of 3M, which is only a 40-minute commute from his Hager City, Wisconsin home. He said, “My previous career has been instrumental in my studies. It was a prologue to what I’ve been learning.” He pointed to the marketing objectives of large companies like Brunswick and Bombardier to start-up companies like Wave-Tamer.
“I saw the challenges of each company I worked with, and was able to understand and help them achieve their goals,” Scott said. He was impressed that in the MBA program one of the most important elements of success is networking. “It’s amazing, but my fishing career was just like that. Building long-term relationships is what I did all those years,” he said.
During the interview process, questions arose about running a business and dealing with the financials. “My answers proved that I was qualified based on business experience,” he said. “I managed my own business, made my living from 1997 to 2009 from fishing, did my scheduling, budgeting, organizing, ordering, training store staff, filing reports and offering marketing, product and sales recommendations as a sole proprietor. I also told them about my partnership with The Next Bite, being a board member with a non-profit (NPAA), my role with a start-up company as a board member where I sold shares and handled finances (AIM), and a breadth of similar experience.” Scott felt all these experiences were a huge advantage over other candidates.
A brief glimpse of his pro fishing career – it’s the only job he had after graduating from the University of Minnesota – started by fishing the MWC with his dad in 1992 and 1993. He fished the NAWA tour in 1994, and jumped into the PWT in 1995. He also fished the FLW when that circuit appeared on the scene. He scored a couple PWT wins, including an improbable comeback on the third day at Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana in 1998. He leaped from 49th place to victory, and also captured the Angler of the Year title by a pound over Mike Gofron. “You know, I racked up so many second-place finishes, I felt like Daryl Christensen after awhile,” he said.
In hindsight, he said he made a really good decision to move from fishing, and some would look at this transition as forced by the economic climate. Not true with Scott. He said, “I notified my sponsors of my decision which was based on what was occurring within me more than what was happening around me.” He explained that in 2007, he realized he wasn’t enjoying competitive angling as much as previously.
“It wasn’t the adventure it once was, and I needed to be on the steep edge of the learning curve,” he said, “Like it was in the mid-1990’s with walleye tactics exploding at every new stop on tour.” Scott said after a decade of so much fast-paced development, that for him, tournaments became repetition (same lakes, same times). It also meant a consistent pro had to be good at executing well during tournaments. “The learning curve had leveled out,” he said. What really kept him excited was a full slate of promotions, sales training, marketing and working with manufacturers.
He knew that to be valuable to sponsors, full-time pro anglers needed tournament credibility, and he began wondering what else he would do if he backed away from competitive fishing. Since he enjoyed the business-side of the equation, he began exploring the possibility of a MBA program. This required exams to judge analytical skills which he passed with flying colors.
Giving up his fishing career meant missing friends and the time spent traveling with the guys who shared his passion on the water. “The camaraderie was a big part of that life,” he said. He also weighed in on the “team” debate taking place, and said, “One of the reasons teams exist is that with so much time on the road, it’s nice to have friends at the end of the day; compare notes with them; see what they’ve learned; help them with tackle or boat problems; share the excitement of discovering something.”
When asked his advice for those considering a pro angling career, Scott offered these words of wisdom, “Pro fishing is incredibly hard work for a low return. There isn’t a lot of money out there, and to make it work, it’s what a pro does outside the competitive arena at seminars, writing, show-days for sponsors, etc.” He continued, “The reason people get to the big sponsorship level is purely out of passion for competitive angling.” He commended those veterans and newcomers making a living at it, and said “hard work” continues to be the key.
Scott and wife Heather have two kids, 7 and 10 years old. Being gone nearly half of each year, often for weeks at a time, required a major adjustment for the family. “I was on this hectic pace for a decade and the initial transition with me being around all the time created an interesting family dynamic which has proved to be for the better,” he said.
Not giving up his fishing time completely, Scott now takes his family to places like Isle Royal, Rainy Lake and lots of Mississippi River spots. “Fishing is way more fun for me now, and I’ve been doing a lot of it.”
Author’s Note: The entire fishing fraternity wishes Scott the best as he completes his MBA studies and moves into his 3M office. He said, “At 3M, they’re driven by innovation and technology, which fits my mindset perfectly.” Indeed it does.