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Virginia City, Montana

Former Winston Rod owner upset over possible outsourcing
Story and Photo By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard

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April 13, 2004

Glenn Brackett has been a part of the Winston Rod family for more than 30 years, including a stint as a co-owner. He’s disappointed in the company’s decision to consider outsourcing one line of rods to China, he said.  

In the 1950s, a young Glenn Brackett used to tag along with his grandfather to the R. L. Winston Rod Co. in San Francisco. He hung around the shop, met the rod builders and developed a passion for fishing that would continue throughout his life. After receiving a college degree in fisheries and exploring the far reaches of the world with his fly rod, Brackett joined Tom Morgan as a part owner of Winston Rod.

Now more than 30 years later, after helping to facilitate the company's move from California to Twin Bridges in 1975 and later selling it to David Ondaatje in 1991, Brackett still spends long hours carefully creating bamboo rods in a small shop tucked away off Main Street.

The walls inside of the shop are lined with photographs of family, friends and fish. Bamboo rods, some finished, some not, lean against one wall. A shrine to a former Winston rod builder occupies other space. It's an intimate setting.

Brackett is a big believer in the extended family of Winston Rod.

"People come from all over the world just to pay their respects," said Brackett. "It's almost like a right of passage experience for them to come here … it's a dream fulfilled."

"I'm here because I want to make sure that I keep that dream alive for everyone," he said. "I want them to be able to experience the same thing that I did when I stepped through that door as a kid … re-experience that whole childlike experience when I see them walk in." 

"That family has always been there since I first stepped into the world of Winston," said Brackett. "It's full of credibility. It has a heart, personality and soul. Winston has a family of supporters around the world."

"It's a legacy that we all work to try and live up to," he said.

And now he worries that legacy, that personality, that heart and soul are threatened by the possibility of management at Winston Rod outsourcing work overseas to China.

"It saddens me, of course. It deeply saddens me," Bracket said.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of R.L. Winston Rod Co. The theme the company has chosen to honor the anniversary centers around a single word: "uncompromising."

The first page of its catalogue reads: "When you hear someone say ‘They don't make them like they used to,' too often it's not a rueful reminiscence, but a brutally truthful statement of fact. Most things are not made like they once were. Not with the finest materials. Not by hand. Not with passion. Not with a laborious, time-intensive attention to detail and craftsmanship. Today, when one comes across something that is superbly designed, beautifully made and not compromised in any way at all, it comes as a bit of a surprise. A wonderful occurrence that reminds us ‘the right way' is still alive and well. That reminds us not to settle. That reminds us to raise our expectations."

Brackett said the company's unwillingness to compromise has been its greatest strength — until now.

"It's been what Winston is all about," said Brackett. "It's never been about putting profit in front of people … I think that compromises the heart and the soul of our business."

The decision has affected the people who work for Winston.

"It's almost like a slap in their face," he said. "It's like the company is saying they're not capable of doing what they feel like they have the skills to do."

"I think the moral integrity of the company is very much in question now," said Brackett. "Its credibility is in question."

The fact the rods are built in Twin Bridges, Montana, has added to the allure of Winston Rod.

Brackett remembers trade shows in places like New York City and the milling crowds of people who would often stop in mid-step when they saw the sign "Made in Montana" or "Montana made."

"Just that word Montana would make them stop at the table," said Brackett. "They'd often tell us that it was their lifetime dream to make a pilgrimage to Montana … it was important to them that Winston Rod was made in Montana."

Brackett said he's not opposed to a company making a profit. But both when he bought into the company and later sold it, Winston Rod wasn't a profit-making venture.

"You have to ask what were the attributes that attracted people to Winston. What was it that really sold the company?" said Brackett. "When you start putting profits ahead of people, what are you really accomplishing?"

Winston's customers have bought into the company because they know about the tradition and they know that there will be knowledgeable people on the other end of the telephone to talk to them about fishing and their Montana-made rods, Brackett said.

"That's what people buy into," he said. "They want something real. They don't just want a great rod, they want the people behind it."

Brackett thinks that connection to the men and women who work at Winston has been gone astray since he and Morgan sold the company.

"If I had to resell the business again, I would not have sold it to a person who wouldn't live here with the business," he said. "That was my biggest mistake."

That connection between management and employees is incredibly important, Brackett said.

"There's nothing like being a key part of something that you really believe in," he said. "If you can't get people behind what you're doing and make them a believer, then the rest of it is just gone."

"It isn't just about rods, it's about people," said Brackett. "If you're not involving people like they should be involved, then the workplace becomes demoralizing and dehumanizing. You lose that incredible creativity that comes with having everyone fully connected."

"Right now it's very painful," he said. "I can feel people's hurt and struggle."

Winston's success is tied to its image. Over the last 75 years, Winston has developed a reputation for excellence.

"I've always felt that was most important," said Brackett. "It's everything. It's what people are so attracted to. It's what they want to buy into … you should never vary from that. You should stay true to those very important values."

© Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.


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