Tommy Millner is president and chief executive of Cabela’s Inc., a hunting, fishing and outdoor gear retailer based here, in Nebraska’s Panhandle, and this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The title embroidered on his company shirts could read “Top Gun” or “Big Fish.” But Millner prefers “Chief Outfitter.” It’s sewn into his shirt — and his leadership style. Cabela’s calls its store clerks “outfitters.”
“I truly have the best job in the world,” he says.
Millner, 57, recently completed his second year at the Cabela’s helm. He formerly was chief executive of the parent company of Remington Arms Co.
Millner, a Virginian, spent the bulk of his career in the furniture business, starting as a sales representative and working his way up to owner. In college, he studied classical languages and minored in philosophy.
He and his wife raise Briand herding dogs and live along Lodgepole Creek on a farm once famous for Saturday night dances with music by Lawrence Welk and others.
As the company prepares for a June 8 annual shareholders meeting — expected to draw 600 to 800 people to the Sidney High School auditorium — Millner took time with The World-Herald to reflect on Cabela’s first half- century and look to its future.
Q. Cabela’s started as a catalog company and then added retail stores and online shopping. What’s the future mix?
A: The common thread that runs through our 50 years is an absolutely maniacal approach to customer service. Being the best at customer service has simply taken us where the customer wanted us to go. … So where our (sales) channels go in the future, our customers tell us and we will follow them there. We listen.”
Q. What are you hearing now?
A: Email, as you and I know it, has become less and less relevant to the generation in high school and college, and maybe just out of college. For that generation, it’s all about social media and texting. … Plugging into that stream will be the next thing. We track it. We’re on Facebook. We have more than 600,000 Facebook fans. We’re involved with Twitter.