Consulting Associate Professor and Director of Executive Education, Stanford d.school
Perry Klebahn is a true entrepreneur and innovator. He is also a natural teacher and a co-founding member of the faculty at the d.school.
Perry received his master’s from Stanford in the Product Design program in 1991 and left with his master’s thesis in hand–a high performance snowshoe (yes a snowshoe!). Perry was hell-bent on starting his own business and left Stanford with the expectation that the world would beat a path to his door to get his modern snowshoe. That didn’t happen, at least not right away. Perry had a new product idea yes, but it also required him to build an entirely new sporting category around snowshoeing. This experience engaged disciplines well beyond engineering—think innovation and design thinking well before they were hot ideas in business. Perry ultimately turned his thesis project into a business, Atlas Snowshoe Company, which still manufactures and markets the best snowshoes in the global category it created. Through this experience Perry learned two things: you can’t do anything significant on your own–you need a team, and engineering something is not nearly as much fun alone and it is combined with manufacturing and marketing what you have engineered.
In 2000, Perry decided it was time for a change. He sold his snowshoe company and moved to Southern California to run Sales and Marketing for Patagonia, an outdoor clothing brand. There, Perry became Executive Vice President and got a chance to develop new marketing and operations on a global scale. The challenge of balancing the need to drive sales while building a brand with important environmental commitments and a sustainability message which Patagonia has radiated since its inception was exhilarating. The trick, if there is one, is staying close to the customer and using their insights as the key motivators for change and innovation in any product design.
In 2007 Perry jumped into yet a new challenge. As CEO of Timbuk2 in San Francisco, he led not only the original bike messenger bag company, but also one of the last true manufacturers in San Francisco. Perry used core d. school techniques like rapid prototyping and deep consumer ethnography to help the company get back to its roots and transform the brand into a solid retail icon.
Perry currently teaches some of the d.school’s core classes: Launchpad (a class that brings design thinking to Start Up’s), d.leadership ( a class that takes a select group of d.school students each year and trains them to lead innovation inside of organizations) and Design Thinking Boot Camps (short but intense programs that give students a full understanding of design thinking and how to apply it to their work), and is also the Director of the Executive Education program at the d.school. Perry has a keen focus on implementing the learning (he can regularly be heard telling students in the classes that he teaches, “Get out there where the answers are.”) and for his signature entrepreneurship class Launchpad – any student who gets a legitimate sale for their startup product or service business by the end of the 10 week quarter aces the class.
When not at work on the next big thing, Perry can usually be found away from land –surfing the waves at Ocean Beach, swimming in the Bay or watching his kids sail and windsurf.