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Alumni Spotlight

Outside Chance

Jackson, Wyoming—the gateway to the grand Tetons—is almost always bustling. Snow-capped peaks and expansive horizons draw crowds to this tiny outpost in the American west.

Each summer, outdoor thrill-seekers and hard-core hikers, city slickers and self-proclaimed gastronomes descend on the town to soak up the views, savor the latest cuisine, and, of course, pull on some cowboy boots.

But in the summer of 1984, Jackson was abuzz with something different for fourteen-year-old Shane Jones: opportunity.

Jones was fascinated by the development of home computers and wanted his own—an 8-bit Commodore 64. But his parents—a Forest Service ranger and school lunch worker—wouldn’t splash out $600, the equivalent of nearly $1,500 today, for a hobby. So Jones took matters into his own hands.

“I went and knocked on doors of businesses and said, ‘Hey, I don’t have any experience, but I have a lot of desire, and I’ll work really hard for you. Will you hire me?’” Jones recalls.

His sincerity paid off. He scored a busboy job at the Cadillac Grille, adjacent to the city’s antler-festooned town square. After a summer’s worth of work, he purchased the computer. The next summer he picked up a disk drive, adding component by component until he had the full setup.

“That experience was formative for me,” Jones says. “I was not going to sit back and wait for other people to tell me what to do. I was going to have to forge my own way, piece by piece.”

That can-do spirit has carried Jones far. After earning an MBA from byu Marriott in 1997, he crisscrossed the country working for some of the biggest names in business: Koch Industries, Limited Brands, and Amazon. Along the way, he and his wife, Nanalee, supported each other through the highs and blistering lows that accompanied building their family. In 2015, Jones brought things full circle by returning to the Mountain West to take on the role of CFO at outdoor retailer Backcountry.com.

It’s his biggest adventure yet.

Destination known

When Jones first heard about the Backcountry gig, he was vice president of finance and strategy at Nexeo Solutions, an industrial chemicals and plastics distributor in Texas.

Backcountry offered the opportunity to get back into retail—which Jones missed—with a fast-growing company. And the focus on outdoor gear? “That was the icing on the cake,” says Jones, an avid mountain biker who has never shaken off his childhood love for the great outdoors.

Most importantly, the job spec was exactly what Jones had been working toward for nearly two decades.

“From the start of my MBA, I knew I wanted to be a CFO of a middle-market company,” Jones explains. “I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Just like his quest to nab that first computer, Jones has stayed laser-focused on his goal. In fact, each move was calculated to propel him closer to his target. “My wife says I plan too much,” Jones jokes.

Needless to say, he took the Backcountry job.

Internal compass

Jones and his family made the move to Draper, Utah, in 2015, and in the nearly two years he’s been with Backcountry, he’s made big strides—and hit a few roadblocks.

“One of the toughest things we’ve dealt with as a leadership team is recruiting really good talent to help us accomplish some of our great goals,” he says.

A key objective: transforming today’s $600 million business into tomorrow’s $2 billion company with the potential to go public.

That type of change, Jones says, requires finding strong leaders. “We want people who not only have a passion for the outdoors but who also want to make an impact,” he explains.

Passion and grit feature heavily in the copy on Backcountry.com. And for Jones, those words aren’t just the fluff of marketing hacks; they’ve got real-world implications.

As an MBA student, Jones interned at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan. One of his coworkers was the kind of person who radiated on-the-job excitement, and he said something to Jones that stuck: “If you can find a job that you’re passionate about, everything else will work out. That passion will feed your success.”

Jones’s passion for analysis, data, and planning paid off. “It took me twenty years of work to reach my goal, and there was a lot of being in the right place at the right time too,” he says. “I’ve been blessed tremendously. But it helps if you have a deliberate plan and go after it.”

Team perseverance

Dedication has also played a large part in Jones’s family life.

As he was nearing the end of his LDS mission in Anaheim, California, Jones promised a family he’d grown close to that he would meet up with their daughter when he returned to BYU to finish up his finance undergrad.

The rest is a tale as old as BYU: Boy met girl. Boy married girl’s roommate.

Shane and Nanalee have supported each other ever since—managing job changes, cross-country moves, and the difficulties of infertility.

After trying a myriad of medical options, the Joneses decided to build their family through adoption. It turned out to be a heart-wrenching endeavor, with seven adoptions falling through after months of anticipation.

In one particularly painful instance, the Joneses got the call that a baby was available. When the couple arrived at the hospital, the birth mother’s family was gathered in the recovery room. “It was really awkward,” Jones remembers. “There was a lot of crying and back and forth.”

That night the Joneses took the baby back to their hotel room, spending their first joy-filled night as parents of a newborn.

The next morning there was a knock at the door. The birth mother had changed her mind.

“It’s amazing how quickly you can get attached,” Jones says. “Even before you get that baby in your arms, you get attached.”

During this difficult period, Jones was working for Yum Brands, managing financial planning and analysis for the Pizza Hut division in Dallas, when a recruiter contacted him about a position at Limited Brands in Columbus, Ohio.

He wasn’t sure he would be interested—moving to another state would mean starting the adoption process over—but he decided to fly out for a chat with the CFO of Bath and Body Works anyway.

The interview changed his mind. The role was exciting, and most of all, Jones felt like it was the right move for his career. “On the flight back, all I’m thinking about is how I’m going to explain to Nanalee that I think we need to move,” Jones recalls.

But when Jones got home, Nanalee directed him to sit down and said, “We just got a call, and we need to go get a baby tomorrow.”

That baby was their son, Rayden, now seventeen.

“I started my new job about a month later,” Jones says. “It was a miracle the way it came together.”

Heading west

The family spent seven great years in Columbus before an up-and-coming website, Amazon.com, came calling.

The job came with big risks: the cost of living was higher in Seattle, the company’s potential to be anything more than an online bookshop was unproven, and the job—senior director of worldwide financial planning and analysis—was outside of Jones’s comfort zone.

And then there was Kairi.

A few years after adopting their son, the Joneses started talking about adding to the family again, but the thought of more adoption setbacks was unbearable.

So they turned their attention to international options. At the time, an adoption in China was more expensive and time-intensive than in the United States, but the Joneses wouldn’t have to experience another baby being taken from their arms.

After completing the two-year process, the couple traveled across the globe to collect their daughter, Kairi. A local doctor gave the little girl a clean bill of health, and the family flew home to check in with their own health professionals.

It wasn’t good news.

Kairi was severely underweight and had a quarter-size hole in her tiny heart. The insufficient circulation had caused global brain damage, and their baby girl would need open-heart surgery to repair the defect as soon as she was large enough to handle the operation.

That news was incredibly difficult on its own. But facing the move to Seattle, the Joneses wondered how they could find the right doctors, juggle new health insurance, and even manage hauling their stuff 2,400 miles west.

“We found out that Seattle had one of the best hospitals in the world for cardiac catheterization,” Jones says.

Instead of invasive open-heart surgery, this technique involves inserting a long, thin tube into a vein or artery in an arm or leg and then threading it up to the heart.

“When I told our doctor about our move, he was like, ‘Yes, absolutely go. This is the best thing that could ever happen for your daughter,’” Jones remembers.

So the family moved, and Kairi received the lifesaving treatment she needed. Today she’s twelve years old, and though she still requires specialized care, for the Joneses, it’s a miracle to have her.

Things worked out well for Jones’s career too.

“Going to Amazon was the best thing that ever happened in my career,” he says. “It was one of the toughest jobs I’ve had, but I grew tremendously better because of it.”

Jones witnessed the birth of the Kindle, helped guide the company’s international expansion, and ushered in the growth of the company’s signature subscription service, Amazon Prime.

Leadership landscape

Another perk: getting to watch Amazon founder and tech visionary, Jeff Bezos, at work.

“Even in the early days, he never worried about financial results on a quarterly or even an annual basis,” Jones says. “He was always looking to the future.”

For example, when Jones joined the Amazon team, the company was worth $15 billion. But at that time, Jones remembers, Bezos was talking about what things would look like when Amazon was a $100 billion company. “The companies that do really well are the ones that have visionaries leading them,” Jones says.

Vision isn’t the only thing that Jones believes makes a quality leader: “I think you’ve got to be in touch—emotionally and intellectually—to help bring out the best in the people around you.”

For Jones, that skill was honed at the BYU Marriott while working with his MBA peers on group projects. “The academic side of things I could handle,” Jones says of the program. “The toughest thing for me was learning how to work as a group to get to the right answer.”

In the early years of his career, working as a group was a muscle that Jones had to work hard to flex. He often found himself trying to do a lot of work on his own, thinking he could move faster if he didn’t get other people engaged. Luckily, he course-corrected, realizing that building long-term connections with colleagues could have an impact on future opportunities.

“A lot of people do what their dad did,” Jones says. “For me, it was a very different path. My mentors absolutely gave me the confidence and assurance that I was going in the right direction.”

For instance, Jones’s first boss at Koch Industries, a former investment banker named Colin Myer, appreciated that Jones had talent and worked to help him cultivate it. It’s been twenty years since they first met, but Jones still reaches out to Myer when he’s looking for advice.

“One of the biggest things that mentors can do is show you that they believe in you,” Jones says. “It’s easy to lose that confidence in those early years. Colin made sure I remembered what I was trying to accomplish and where I was going.”

At his core, Jones has always remained that working-class kid from Jackson, Wyoming—the one who would do whatever it took to plug in that 8-bit computer.

In fact, his advice to other career climbers is as rugged as the terrain he was raised on: Decide what you want to do and push for it; don’t settle. The only way you don’t get to your goal is if you give up.

_

Article written by Megan Hendrickson
Photography by Bradley Slade

About the author
Megan Hendrickson’s childhood dream: work for a real-life magazine. Following editorial stints at Family Circle and Marriott Alumni Magazine, the 2010 BYU grad crossed that goal off her to-do list. She currently lends her red pen to a Los Angeles–based tech company, where she oversees content marketing and social media efforts.

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