Robert Julian Chooses Retail Over Retirement

As a people-first team builder, CFO Robert Julian finds a true business partner in Sportsman’s Warehouse CEO Jon Barker

The time seemed right for Robert Julian to call it a day. A thirty-two-year financial career in everything from aerospace to entertainment services, the CFO had made his mark and proven himself capable of transferring his skill set across many different industries.

Robert Julian Sportsman's Warehouse
Robert Julian, Sportsman’s WarehousePhoto: Laura Kinser

“I told my wife that if I couldn’t find a situation where I could work with a CEO who shared my vision, principles, and values, I wasn’t going to do this anymore.” The CFO credits his wife for keeping him off the sidelines, though he’s not clear on her motivations. “She told me that I had far too much to offer to retire now, but I think she just couldn’t stand the idea of me following her around the grocery store pushing the shopping cart,” Julian says, laughing.

It wasn’t just his wife’s encouragement that would help Julian find his way to his current CFO role at Sportsman’s Warehouse. Coincidentally, CEO Jon Barker and Julian’s wife grew up in the same small rural town in northern Kentucky. When they crossed paths decades later, Julian would find the partner in Barker, and the culture in Sportsman’s Warehouse, that he had been searching for.

Now, just a year into his unexpected leap into retail, he has been able to do his best work as a leader, partner, and team-builder.

So Many Opportunities, So Little Time

Julian says coming to Sportsman’s has provided a set of very unique opportunities all in one exciting package. “This space is very disrupted at the moment, and we have seen competitors that are either pulling back or exiting the industry completely,” Julian explains.

From Walmart eliminating the sale of many gun and ammunition categories, to DICK’S Sporting Goods eliminating hunting departments from hundreds of stores, to Camping World’s acquisition of Gander Outdoors and focusing more heavily on RV sales, the CFO said part of the allure in coming to Sportsman’s was the chance to grow the organization by both brick and mortar, and omni-channel capabilities. “We’re fully dedicated to this space, and I think we have the opportunity to create something special, and continue to build on that success,” the CFO adds.

But more than the business opportunity, Julian says he has found a team that is the true definition of partnership. “I think the team is a big part of what our CEO was focused on as he was repositioning the company for success,” Julian explains. “Jon was really intent on building a high-performing, world-class leadership team.”

From a new head of merchandising, to a new IT lead and Julian himself, the CFO says the company is now in a prime position to do great work, combining the existing team and a fresh influx of new talent.

When it comes to assembling teams, Julian has brought his own bag of tricks to the table. “I’ve been very fortunate in that every place I’ve worked, some of the best people have followed me from my past organizations,” Julian explains. “I’ve always believed that people come first, and I’ve assembled a great team of both new and existing talent.”

Sportsman’s is no different from Julian’s tendency to lure former colleagues to greener pastures. The CFO recruited for the financial planning and analysis, corporate development, and investor relations teams from his own rogues’ gallery of high-performing professionals.

“Robert has added tremendous value to the Sportsman’s team,” says O’Melveny partner John-Paul Motley. “He and Jon are aligned on strategy and excel at collaborating with team members and advisors to make the best decisions.”

“I’ve always believed that people come first, and I’ve assembled a great team of both new and existing talent.”

What a Year

Julian may only be in his first year at Sportsman’s, but actions he has taken are at least in part responsible for the stock’s major uptick in 2019. “I embarked on an initiative to be much more accessible and active in our investor relations efforts,” Julian explains. “I’ve had a lot of experience interacting directly with the investment community, and I wanted to make sure people knew what we were doing here. I think it’s been helpful.”

People come first for Julian, but tools can go a long way to aiding that effort. In partnering with Wells Fargo, the accounting team was able to implement both Invoice Manager and Payments Manager, which allowed Julian’s team to focus on higher-level communication with their vendor base and spend less time on transactional duties.

“There isn’t anything magical about the accounts payable function, but I think it’s a good example of our willingness to utilize technology to drive continuous improvement,” the CFO says.

Sportsman’s was also able to acquire ten Field & Stream stores from DICK’S Sporting Goods, which included some new retail markets for the company, specifically Pennsylvania and New York. While the stores themselves are a huge win, Julian says there’s an even bigger reward.

“This was certainly an excellent financial transaction for us, but we also acquired some truly talented and dedicated employees, who are excited about being part of an organization that is committed to this industry,” the CFO says.

With everything Julian has been able to help accomplish inside a year, it’s funny to consider that the CFO might have been content to play golf and run the occasional errand. “This has worked out so much better than I could have ever hoped,” Julian says. “I owe that to my wife and to Jon Barker who has really proven what can be accomplished when a CEO and CFO work together in true partnership and collaboration.”