Glen Senk Fashions Excellence In All Aspects Of His Life

Nov 13, 2009 - 5:13 AM
Glen Senk considered True his once-in-a-lifetime horse, and they won numerous tricolors together throughout their career in the adult amateur hunter division. Photo: Al Cook

This Urban Outfitters CEO happily splits his time between boardrooms and barns.

For a short time, Glen Senk thought he might be satisfied without horses.

He rode as a child and competed as a junior at rated shows for several years. He even picked up the sport again as an adult and competed for a bit as an amateur on the West Coast. But when he moved east, he gave it up again, content with his full life as a businessman.

Or, he was content until a friend bought a horse and Senk went out for a visit to offer his congratulations.

“I petted the horse, and I turned to my partner Keith [Johnson] and I said, ‘My God,’ ” Senk remembered. “Literally, just the sensation of putting my hand on the horse’s nose. And I said, ‘I have to do this again.’ And I said, ‘I promise I’ll only buy one horse.’ I said I would just ride for fun.”

The one horse turned into 15 over the course of the past six years, including five current competition horses he owns under the fitting moniker of Fashion Farms LLC.

While Senk, 53, does ride for fun, he’s become competitive riding at major shows, and his horses have garnered numerous accolades under the tutelage of Scott Stewart.

As Senk’s stable of horses has grown, so have his job responsibilities. He was named chief executive officer of Urban Outfitters Incorporated in 2007, a job requiring much more than a 40-hour-a-week commitment. While he said it’s sometimes difficult to manage the different aspects of his life, it’s the balance that makes it all worthwhile.

“I love my life, and I love the balance of being outside the horse world and then coming into it,” Senk said. “I appreciate it that much more when I’m in it. Especially when I’m in Wellington [Fla.], I just feel like I’m in another world.

“And I think I look forward to it and enjoy it so much because I’m not there all the time,” he added. “In some ways it probably makes me a better competitor because I have many things that are important to me. No one thing is too important to me.”

The Best Of Both Worlds

While most amateurs find difficulty in striking harmony between riding and day jobs, Senk’s high-profile job makes that careful balancing act even more extreme.

Urban Outfitters Incorporated owns its namesake, offering trendy clothing geared toward those under 30, Anthropologie, elegant clothing geared toward a slightly older demographic, and three smaller brands: Free People, Terrain and Leifsdottir. Senk manages more than 14,000 employees between the brands and spends most weeks at his office at Urban Outfitters headquarters in Phila-delphia, Pa., though he travels frequently to New York City to see new fashion lines and meet with portfolio managers.

“I’m on a plane every few days,” said Senk.

When his horses are stabled at Stewart’s River’s Edge Farm in Flemington, N.J., Senk drives up to ride on the weekends. When they’re stabled in Florida, he and Johnson (who works as Anthropologie’s antique buyer and gallery director) fly out to their home in Wellington almost every weekend. Johnson doesn’t ride but enjoys playing golf and tennis.

“Keith travels quite a bit, but if he’s in the country we meet up in the afternoon and have dinner together,” Senk said.

Senk estimated he competes about 15 times a year, mostly during the winter season in Florida. During the week, he works out with a trainer to help stay fit for riding, though he admitted not as often as he’d like.

“If I have any self criticism, that’s probably where it rests,” Senk said. “I’m more fit than I’d be if I didn’t ride, but not as fit as I’d like to be. I try to do something probably four or

five days a week. If I listened to Ken [Berkeley] and Scott, I’d be doing it a lot more. They’re real athletes. I travel so much and work so much that it can’t always be my focus, but I wish it were.”

Moving Up The Ladder

His first job out of college was for Bloomingdale’s as a buyer. He went through their training program and stayed for nine years. He started at Urban Outfitters Inc., 15 years ago as president of Anthropologie when it was a much smaller company—at the time, there was one store.

“I’ve done probably just about everything there is to do in the company,” Senk said. “We’ve grown nicely over the last few years.”

And partly thanks to Senk’s business prowess, Urban Out-fitters proved its staying power. During the recession, while most businesses struggled just to stay afloat, Senk’s com-pany found itself comparatively thriving in the new economic climate.

“I think the environment in the past year has been challenging but ultimately is going to make us all better,” Senk said. “It’s forced us to focus more effectively on buying products our customers really appreciate and forced us to have a heightened level of discipline. I always thought we were a disciplined company, but we’re even more disciplined now. I think that we’re not going back to the pre-recessionary spending patterns anytime soon, but people are still spending money. If you’re in the business I am, you need to figure out what people want.”

Senk earned degrees from New York University and the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, but he also learned about the retail business, and success in general, from his hobby.

“Horses teach you patience, humility, strategy. They teach you showmanship. They teach you how important it is to be consistent and focused,” he said. “I can go on and on. When I interview people, I always look for someone who had excellence in something. I think that excellence is a transferable trait. Someone can take those skills and apply them elsewhere.”

The Will To Win

That quest for excellence, according to Stewart, makes Senk an apt pupil, but also occasionally makes him a challenging one.

“He almost tries too hard,” Stewart said. “He overthinks things too much sometimes because he’s a smart man. The biggest thing is getting him to relax, but he’s a great, sweet guy and a great student.”

Mainly competing in the adult amateur hunter division, Senk has seen his share of tricolor ribbons over the past few years. He has his own hard work to thank for those wins, but he still credited the people around him for helping make them happen.

In business, he believes his employees are the best. In riding, it’s Stewart and Berkeley. They’ve helped him find his competition horses, and he relies on their expertise greatly.

“I [trust] Scott and Ken entirely when I’m looking for a horse,” he said. “They’re brilliant horsemen, and they know me well. Part of what they do is not just pick a nice horse, but they pick a good fit.”

Though he mainly looks for a talented, fairly large, safe horse with excellent gaits and jumping ability, Senk admitted he also seeks a more elusive quality in his equine partners.

“I think that, like people, there are horses that want to win and horses that don’t want to win. I always look for a horse that wants to win,” said Senk.

True, a gray Belgian Warmblood (Latano—Calata), was one of those horses with which he first experienced that trait. As just one of their many accolades, Senk and True were 2007 circuit champions at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.)in the adult amateur, 36-50, division.

“True was one of my once-in-a-lifetime horses,” Senk said. “He could look a little plain at home or even in the schooling ring, and every single time he just went in to win. He was champion at almost every show he ever competed at one time or another. And he knew it. Most of my horses are like that. You look for that because it counts for so much.”

One of Senk’s favorite current mounts is a Dutch Warmblood named Highland Park (Welt Hit II—Ivola). With the gelding, Senk was 2009 WEF circuit champion in the adult amateur, 51 and over, division and champion in the same division at the Loudoun Benefit Horse Show (Va.) in June.

“As I’m not young any more, I work hard, and I don’t get to ride a lot, so I look for horses that are safe and kind and not tricky,” he said. “That’s why I love Highland Park. I just feel like I could do anything on him. He’ll listen to me unless I ask him to do something stupid, at which point he’ll correct me. I just feel so safe on him always.”

While championship ribbons are obviously nice, the actual experience of showing is the prize Senk most often seeks. He enjoys the camaraderie and the supportive amateur community, both at his barn and in the larger showing world.

“When I show, the most important thing to me is first just to be safe. Then

second is to have a good time, and third is to win,” Senk said. “I love being an amateur. The people I compete with have really become friends. We have so

much fun, and we just laugh and we celebrate together.”

And Senk very obviously treasures his relationships with his horses as well.

“On the weekends, he gets there very early in the morning, before us sometimes,” Stewart said. “He loves his horses, and he loves to ride. His horses are like his puppy dogs. They all hear his voice and come running to the front of their stalls or their paddocks. They all love him.”

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If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing to The Chronicle Of The Horse. “Glen Senk Fashions Excellence In All Aspects Of His Life” ran in the Nov. 13 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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