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Casting jobs overseas? - Former Winston Rod owner upset over possible outsourcing

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April 13, 2004View for printing

Twin Bridges has always been a fisherman's paradise.

Within a five-minute drive, a fisherman can cast into the Ruby, Beaverhead or the Big Hole rivers — all of which have "Blue Ribbon" fame.

By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard ... gijgieh.txt

And since 1975, fishing aficionados have made it a point to visit one of the last fishing rod building companies that could claim its product was American made.

But those days could be coming to an end.

Like so many other American companies, R.L. Winston Rod in Twin Bridges is considering sending some of its work overseas. The company may have Chinese workers build at least a portion of Winston's least expensive line of fishing rods — the IBIS.

That pending decision is creating a stir.

According to the company's catalogue, the IBIS rod was introduced last year to offer "the more budget-conscious angler" the opportunity to fish with a Winston rod. The rods retail between $295 and $345.

R.L. Winston Rod is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The company started in San Francisco and moved to Twin Bridges after Tom Morgan and Glenn Brackett became its owners. David Ondaatje purchased the company in 1991.

Management at the company told its employees recently it may outsource the IBIS line to China.

Winston Rods' President Woody Woodard said that while company hasn't made its final decision, there are reasons it's considering outsourcing the rod.

"Basically, we're out of capacity," Woodard said.

A new high-end fishing rod introduced last September has added demand "that's overwhelmed us," Woodard said. "There's also been a continued demand for the mid-priced IBIS rod … it's more than we can handle."

Since September, Woodard said the company has increased its employment by 37 percent and "we still don't have enough capacity."

Those growing pains are why the company is considering moving some of its work overseas, he said.

Winston's story does not mirror the tales of other American companies that have chosen to close shops in this country to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas, said Woodard.

Woodard said there are no plans to move Winston Rod from Twin Bridges.

"If we were going to do that, we wouldn't have increased our workforce by 37 percent," he said. "There's no thought of that at all."

If the company decides to outsource the IBIS rods, it "absolutely will not take jobs away" from the Twin Bridges plant, he said.

In fact, Woodard said if the move actually increases the company's bottom line, it could mean additional funding for the Twin Bridges plant and its employees.

Winston Rod is tied to Montana and there's no thought of changing that, said Woodard.

"It's always been our goal to building the best rod in the world," said Woodard. "We believe we our rods are the Rolls Royce of the industry."

On the front of the 2004 Winston Rod catalogue is a photograph of man's weathered hands holding a Winston Rod. Across the front of his waders is a single word — "Uncompromising." The back cover is signed by the 43 Winston employees under the statement: "Who to thank for making your Winston."

Winston's catalogue and Web site are filled with statements like: "A Winston is more than a fly rod. It is a commitment to doing things the right way. Without compromise," and "Yes, there are faster, cheaper and ultimately more profitable methods for making fly rods, but that is not the Winston way. We have no interest in being anything but the best."

Winston's employees echoed those sentiments in an open letter signed "Concerned Employees of R.L. Winston Rod."

"This outsourcing goes against everything that R.L. Winston stands for," said the letter. "We have been building rods in the United States for 75 years, and we plan to keep building them for the life of the company in the United States."

"We are one of the last fly-rod companies in the United States that does not outsource overseas," the letter said.

The decision to outsource compromises the integrity of the company, the employees said. At a recent meeting, the letter said the company's CEO told them workers in China would receive between 30 and 50 cents an hour.

"Not only are we opposed to this outsourcing, but then to send them to a country that has such human rights violations is inconceivable," the letter said. "We are now asking the owner of the company to step up and make the choice to keep all of our rods here, in Twin Bridges, Montana."

The letter said that Winston made a rod for the former President Bush's birthday last year.

"Would he have received that rod if it were made in China?" the letter asked. "We hope not."

"This outsourcing of America must stop. Large corporations and small companies all over the United States have been bleeding our country dry with this practice," said the letter. "We are asking the people of Montana and the rest of the United States to take a stand, and to know that we at R.L. Winston Rod will not go down without a fight."

Reporter Perry Backus may be reached via e-mail at


Former Winston Rod owner upset over possible outsourcing

By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard ... gijhahf.txt

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 n "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."

Reader Comments:

Im a brazilian Winston fan.
13 years ago, when I started fly fishing I saw a Winston ad at Fly Fisherman magazine, a black/white picture of 2 anglers in a river, casting to a trout and a text below "When you feel you are ready." That simple phrase changed completely my life. Since then I began a search for something more than fishing, more than just catching fish, and then my equipment, more than just a tool, something that has a soul, a Winston rod.
3 years ago I felt I was ready when a friend offered me a Winston WT rod. That was a sign from the Universe.
It was clear that I stepped to a next level, where everything is one thing, and fly fishing is a passion.

Great article, now I wont sleep! :-)

R. L. Winston Co is making a big mistake in thinking they can continue to make bamboo fly rods. They possess the materials and the tools to fashion bamboo rods but now they lack the experienced hands that put these beautiful rods together that were purchased by discriminating anglers. Any angler that buys a Winston Bamboo Flyrod after Glenn Brackett and his team leaves will be buying the name but not the expertise and the craftsmenship that produces inner satisfaction in owning the real thing.

R. L. Winston Co is making a big mistake in thinking they can continue to make bamboo fly rods. They possess the materials and the tools to fashion bamboo rods but now they lack the experienced hands that put these beautiful rods together that were purchased by discriminating anglers. Any angler that buys a Winston Bamboo Flyrod after Glenn Brackett and his team leaves will be buying the name but not the expertise and the craftsmenship that produces inner satisfaction in owning the real thing.

My plan was to win the 300 million plus dollar powerball last month, do a hostile take over of Winston, immediately stop the overseas production of rods, hire as many apprentices that Glenn and his peers wanted, bring back the Black and White Ansel Adams type ads, and give everyone at Winston a big raise. The current ownership should suggest to Mercedes Benz to have KIA build an ecoonomy car for them and put the Benz label on the hood. Good Marketing!!! Look! Winston will never be a high volume low quality company. Winston has a cult following that will, as long as the philosophy continues, keep buying Winston rods. If you want to compromise 75 plus years of tradition for a few bucks go buy a pro sports team.

Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. Full copyright retained by the original publication. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

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