In a companywide e-mail sent Nov. 9, Carpenter revealed he is battling cancer again. The news was first reported by Shop, Eat, Surf. In revealing the situation, he mapped out the personal challenges ahead, but assured employees that the company will simultaneously carry on.
Carpenter wrote, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back. It’s the same tumor as the first time around. We just never got rid of it all. A bit of it hung out in my lymph nodes and got back into business. The odds are in my favor, but it is going to be a struggle for sure.”
Carpenter continued, “As much as I dread what is facing me, it’s easier to deal with when you know that you have a family that will carry on. I feel the same way about my company, my friends and our sport. I will be back, but regardless, everything is in good hands, which is an amazing feeling when entering this zone of uncertainty.” He signed the e-mail simply “Jake.”
Such a public admission about health is rare in the business world, but Carpenter has never been one for the conventional. Generations of nonemployees also know the snowboarding pioneer simply by his first name. Legions of professional, recreational and Olympic snowboarders credit Burton for championing their sport to the masses. Carpenter’s steadfast support of what used to be an “alternative sport” helped to make it an Olympic one at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. After finessing his first snowboard in his Vermont barn in 1977, he started his signature company, which has evolved into a $150 million brand. For the past four Olympic Games, Burton outfitted the American snowboarding team by partnering with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association. Chloe Kim, Kelly Clark and Shaun White (a.k.a “the Flying Tomato”) are among the hundreds of snowboarders that Burton has sponsored.
Last fall Burton elevated John Lacy to the role of co-chief executive officer, making him more involved with the company’s day-to-day operations. He shares that role with Carpenter’s wife Donna, who has worked for the company for a few decades.
The company’s 65-year-old namesake has faced serious medical battles in the past, including a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2011. Four years later he was immobilized by Miller Fisher syndrome, a rare form of Guillain-Barré syndrome. During that near-fatal bout, the athletic entrepreneur spent seven weeks in a hospital bed paralyzed except for his hands, reliant on a respirator and breathing tube to stay alive. After being released from the hospital, Carpenter had to spend six weeks at a rehabilitation center learning how to talk and walk again. He then spent another six months at home to get his life back on track. At other points in his life, Carpenter has overcome open-heart surgery and a knee replacement.
In an interview with WWD last year, Carpenter spoke about how getting sick “really changed me. I live for the moment now and I’ve gotten creative. I’ve always been technological and an entrepreneur, but now I’m more ADD than I’ve ever been.”
Last December, he unveiled Mine77, a limited-edition collection of apparel and gear that features innovative fabrics and cutting-edge technology. In last year’s interview with WWD, Carpenter admitted that he was looking for a get-rich-quick scheme and a way to attract women when he started his company. It all worked out: Carpenter’s wife Donna has worked at the company for most of his career. The eco-minded couple has ingrained those values in the Burton brand, which recently became a certified B Corporation that adheres to set environmental and social responsibility standards.
Known for its family-friendly and all-are-welcome approach to business, Burton was an early adopter of the take-your-dog-to-work policy. In May, Burton pledged that all female athletes sponsored by the company would be protected during and after pregnancy and their contracts will be updated to reflect that.
The couple has returned to the U.S. for treatment, after being based in Switzerland for the past year. A Burton spokeswoman, who forwarded the Shop, East, Surf post on Tuesday, did not respond to a request for further comment.