When he became acting executive director of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance last fall, Jon Kennedy inherited an organization that had lost its balance and was heading for a tumble. As it turned out, Kennedy was the right guy for the job. Anyone who has watched Jon guide a bike on a skinny or over a drop can see he knows how to regain balance and ride a tricky section out. That’s what he did for Evergreen.
Last week Evergreen announced that Kennedy is leaving. On Mar. 1 he will take over as marketing manager for the resurgent Diamondback Bicycles conglomerate (with Raleigh) based in Kent. Ironically the commute from his West Seattle home will be about the same as it was to Evergreen HQ at north Green Lake in Seattle. Which is fortunate, because Jon expects to maintain close ties to the club he helped guide back from the brink.
“I love Evergreen, I love the organization, the people and the agenda,” Jon said by phone after the announcement. Any rumor mill suggestions that he is leaving out of disenchantment would be “absolutely wrong,” he added.
Jon was recruited by Diamondback after working with its brand manager, Mike Brown, on Evergreen sponsorships that resulted in a bike giveaway and $2,500 commitment to the club. The compensation package offered by Diamondback, which is seeking to re-establish itself as a leading name in mountain biking, was too good to pass up.
At 35, “I have my family to think about,” said Jon — wife Ilana, son Erez, 3, and daughter Lilah, 18 months. Anyone who has worked for a non-profit understands that it’s typically not a career but a stepping stone. Despite Jon’s short tenure, it probably seemed more like an entire staircase — but it’s to his credit that so much got done to carry Evergreen forward.
It was Jon’s work with Evergreen that impressed Diamondback. “His energy and dedication, combined with his organizational skills, will be a big plus for us,” Brown said.
A cornerstone of Diamondback’s marketing agenda is working with local, active leadership groups like Evergreen to build and maintain trails. “It’s called ‘Places to Ride’,” Brown noted — a seemingly obvious mission for bike-related companies everywhere, but one which often isn’t acted upon.
Kudos to Diamondback for recognizing a golden opportunity. “We’re in a very competitive space. so getting our message to riders can be a real challenge.” Brown acknowledged, referencing Diamondback’s long-travel Mission, XC Sortie and expanding dirt jump lines. (For drool factor, check out the limited edition Scapegoat.) Key liaisons like Jon and Evergreen and the base they bring along do word-of-mouth wonders.
With Jon at the helm, Evergreen helped get marquee projects on track, from Duthie Hill to South Fork Snoqualmie to Black Diamond. Colonnade got much-deserved attention. New sponsorships rolled in, including Gregg’s, Home Depot and Black Diamond. And Evergreen’s name was prominent in events like the Feb. 5 premiere of “Women of Dirt,” a cinematic look at mountain biking femmes.
A number of the goals outlined at the Duthie Hill gathering last fall are being addressed, including balancing the club’s twin missions of advocacy and recreation. Although the 2010 season is still a couple of months away, the ride calendar seems on the way back to health. And the mtb scene is popping locally — with Evergreen’s involvement every step of the way.
To be sure, challenges loom. First will be finding a replacement for Jon — he says not to worry, several well-qualified folks are in the hopper. Then there’s at least one goal mentioned at the gathering that hasn’t seen much traction — to wit, spreading Evergreen responsibilities across more than one set of shoulders.
Evergreen’s board needs to move a bit faster to address the org’s needs. Despite his yeoman service, Jon never officially had “acting” dropped from his title. It’s on the board to get his replacement named summarily (Glenn Glover has been appointed interim) and take action on other leadership issues.
In a non-profit, Jon joked, “there’s only one way to find out how much you’re appreciated — and that’s to quit.” He’s been “blown away” by the surge of well-wishes and expressions of gratitude. He may be moving on, but not away.
“Diamondback is tremendously committed to local advocacy, so I expect to stay involved with Evergreen,” Jon says, adding that Evergreen is like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you want, but you never get to leave.
Jon’s departing letter to Evergreen.