A little over a decade ago, Dennis Leedom '82 launched Bern Unlimited, a Massachusetts-based company that develops helmets for snowboarders, skateboarder, bikers, and other non-motorized action sports athletes. Focusing on both safety and style, Bern has grown out of Leedom's enthusiasm for the outdoor industry, a passion he says was apparent even before he arrived at Berkshire.
What are your fondest memories of Berkshire? There are a bunch. I can't say enough about the character of the students, teachers, coaches, faculty, and friends that I still have. Teachers like the Kinnes, Mr. Kellum, and Twiggs taught me life lessons that I use every day. The Mountain and access to the environment is a huge complement to the community and was a big escape to keep me balanced in my time at Berkshire. Of course, sports were a lot of fun. Some of my favorite times were ski days at Catamount. We really all cared about supporting each other. It's awesome at alumni events to see some of those faces again, which brings back great memories.
What are the most important life lessons that you learned as a student? The value of friends, mentors, and teachers, which you can not put in words.
Can you tell us about your career and hobbies, and why you are passionate about them? My passion is action sports like windsurfing, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, and biking. My career has always been geared toward following my passion. When I was about 12 years old, I told my dad that I wanted to be a ski bum when I finished school. After I graduated college, I got a job at my local shop, bought new equipment, and drove to Squaw Valley, Calif. to try out as a ski instructor. I made it, and I spent the next three years teaching at Squaw and having the most memorable days of my life to that point. In the summer of 1987, I pursued my passion to follow the Tour de France and rode over 2,600 miles while witnessing 16 starts and finishes of the 24-stage, four-week event. Even though I never had a car or much money, I was super fit and enjoying the great outdoors and my passion for skiing and biking, traveling, and meeting new people from different cultures. I would recommend everyone take a period to travel and explore in order to discover what you are passionate about before you get locked down into a full-time job.
After Squaw, I took my first real job as a sales trainer for a ski retail chain. I was approached by someone about the idea of selling kids ski helmets in 1989. We were pioneers when we started a company called Boeri Sport USA. At the time, I was working three other part-time jobs: one at a windsurfing shop, some carpentry, and some at restaurants which I could never hold down. Eventually, we grew from less than 1,000 lids in the first year to over 80,000 helmets in year eight. A lot of our success was attributed to grassroots marketing and development. I founded Bern Unlimited in 2004, and we developed a market-changer (helmet) out of the gate called The Baker, which was worn by Seth Wescott in the Snowboard Cross at the Torino Olympics (Feb. 2006). He won Gold and put Bern on the map and our sales started to take off. Today, we continue to strive and are in process of reinventing ourselves again... you never can stay stagnant. I'm proud of the Bern team, and we are trendsetters, not followers.
How did Berkshire help you shape and pursue your goals? By recognizing that we all are fortunate to have the education that Berkshire provided in life, sports, and academics to get out there and figure out what we are passionate about and what goals we could set for ourselves. A lot of people never are positioned to have that opportunity.
What advice would you give to today's students? Explore, research, and take your time to figure out your passion before pursue a career. Take time off before you go to college, or after, and travel. Activate and execute your dreams by going after them; don't wait for them to come to you, they never will. Don't be focused on monetary things like money, cars or a house. Focus on adventure, health, your relationships with people, and your environment. Be proactive to spend time doing things you love with your loved ones, like your parents. You never know how long you can all be healthy together. Focus on your 'Stay Out There' plan.