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[caption id="attachment_10881" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Sally McCoy"][/caption]

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Sally McCoy

President and CEO

CamelBak

200 S. McDowell Blvd. Ext.

Petaluma 94954

707-792-9700

www.camelbak.com

PETALUMA - Since her first backpacking trip at age 5, Sally McCoy knew she loved the outdoors. Her passion for business came much later.

But the combination produced a one-of-a-kind individual: a woman who is equally at home in a boardroom or on a mountaintop.

"What you learn in the outdoors is to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Of course, making mistakes while climbing a mountain can be fatal, but making business mistakes can be almost as devastating," she said.

Today, Ms. McCoy is president and CEO of Petaluma-based CamelBak, one of the world's leading makers and innovators in hydration systems for athletes and the military.

CamelBak products first proved to be very popular among mountain bikers and motocross riders because they "allowed them to drink without taking their hands off of the handlebars in technical terrain. The product began to cross over into other sports when scientific studies showed athletes drank more fluids and performed better when they wore a CamelBak," the company's Web site says.

CamelBak's state-of-the-art hands-free packs and hydration systems have benefited athletes, outdoorsmen and soldiers around the world. The company and its approximately 90 North Bay employees last year moved into new LEED-certified quarters in Petaluma's South McDowell Landing.

After graduating from Dartmouth into the teeth of the '80s economic slump, Ms. McCoy worked for awhile with the Student Conservation Corps in Arkansas but couldn't resist the lure of world travel.

"In those days you could buy a ticket on Pan Am and as long as you went in one direction you could just keep going."

She made her first visit to Nepal on that trip, and China, which was just opening up to visitors. Later she returned to both regions to climb their highest peaks, including Everest, where high winds forced her party to retreat at about 26,000 feet.

But it was in China that her latent business instinct kicked in.

"The Chinese struck me as having natural business acumen, with the potential to be very entrepreneurial," she said.

Ms. McCoy returned to the U.S. determined to learn more about starting and running a business, preferably one that involved the outdoors. Business school she ruled out, believing that that path led to Wall Street, a destination she didn't have in mind.

Instead, she joined Berkeley outdoor product seller North Face, starting in retail and working her way up to vice president. Later she followed one of the North Face co-founders to Sierra Designs, where she served as president. At the same time, she served as president of Ultimate Direction, both outdoors retailers.

Meanwhile she did research for Paul Hawken's groundbreaking book, "Ecology of Commerce," before traveling to South America, where she started Silk for Life, a silkworm collective as an alternative to coca farming. Using her connections in the outdoors apparel industry, she found outlets for a line of silk and woolen socks. Forty families are still silk farming for the collective.

At Sierra Designs she made a major business error. Believing the market was ripe for rugged outdoors apparel for women, she launched a line.

"The market was at least two years away. There were consequences. But that's how you learn," she said.

Deciding her greatest business skills lay in providing services to retailers rather than retail itself, she founded Silver Steep Partners, a financial advisory firm specializing in the outdoor and active lifestyle industry.

"Startup and mid-range retailers need investment capital, but most are too busy running themselves to think about things like exit strategies. Yet the industry is maturing, and it's peopled by innovators," she said. "Our idea was to foster that innovation."

CamelBak approached her to serve on its board of directors, ironic because Ms. McCoy had been instrumental in the sale and growth of one of CamelBak's major competitors.

But she was impressed by the CamelBak product and staff, and in 2006 agreed to assume the role of president and CEO.

"My goal is to make an environment where people are happy to come to work," she said.

Another goal is to nudge the textile industry, traditionally polluting and low-paying, toward a more responsible, sustainable future. To that end she was a founding member of both the Outdoor Industry Association and the Conservation Alliance.