The Art of Art

While the Harken brothers may get all the glory, this is the man who kept the busi­ness rolling.

Sailing World - - Starting Line -

O Art Mitchel is old school, in a never- take- the- easy- way- out sort of way. Art, the “cor­po­rate nav­i­ga­tor” of Harken ( yes, it’s on his busi­ness card), is the third mem­ber of the com­pany’s orig­i­nal af­ter­guard. While Peter Harken cov­ered prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and Olaf Harken cov­ered mar­ket­ing, Art kept the busi­ness on track, mak­ing the Harken brothers the suc­cess they are today. This re­quired the hon­est hard work that builds a busi­ness. He has never been afraid of work.

Art, a long­time Wis­con­si­nite, traces his fam­ily roots back to Fin­land, where sisu trans­lates to “en­durance.” My first in­tro­duc­tion to him out­side the Harken of­fice was in the Laser class, 20 years ago, when I had just started at the com­pany. There were many sun­set evenings when I would see the name of his Laser, Sisu, on the tran­som and won­der what it meant. In his un­der­stated style, Art didn’t dis­close much about it. I think the most I got once was, “It’s a Fin­nish word that I like the sound of.”

Sisu is a fit­ting il­lus­tra­tion for ev­ery­thing he does. He’s raced sail­boats his whole life — and al­ways put in more ef­fort than the peo­ple on the start­ing line with him. He skied 34 se­quen­tial Amer­i­can Birke­bein­ers, the largest, and one of the long­est ( at 50 km), cross-coun­try ski races in North Amer­ica. To stay fit, he con­stantly ran, biked and pad­dled his car­bon- fiber ca­noes. He ran more than a dozen marathons. For fun, he once joined a group that cross- coun­try skied across the en­tire width of Fin­land — yes, the en­tire coun­try. Never take the easy way out. That’s sisu.

Sisu also de­scribes his abil­ity to en­dure the ugli­est parts of run­ning a busi­ness in the ma­rine in­dus­try. We Pe­wau­kee young­sters have freed him of this bur­den lately, and while we’re man­ag­ing just fine, we still rely on his guid­ance. No one will ever be bet­ter than Art.

Art grew up with a re­mark­able win­dow into mod­ern sail­ing. In Hunt­ing­ton Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, he raced Stars against the likes of Low­ell North be­fore ship­ping off to the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, Madi­son. As luck would have it, he met Peter Harken, and the two were room­mates all four years. As a sidekick to Peter, you can bet he earned a mi­nor in good times too. Harken al­ways smiles when de­scrib­ing his sense of hu­mor: “Of­ten­times, I’m the butt of the jokes from him, or I’m caught for some­thing he thought up. Only Mitch could get away with that.”

Art also went to school with Peter Bar­rett, a two-time Olympic medal­ist (1968 gold in the Star with North, and ’64 sil­ver in the Finn), and he was the first man­ager hired by North to run North Sails, along with an­other close friend and con­fi­dant, Char­lie Miller. As a sidekick to Bar­rett and Miller, Art learned a lot about hard work and do­ing the right thing.

It was Art’s law de­gree from the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin that landed him the rank of judge ad­vo­cate in the U.S. Air Force, at the Strate­gic Air Com­mand Base in Michi­gan. A suc­cess­ful ca­reer at First Wis­con­sin Trust Co. fol­lowed, but a suit and tie would only last so long.

“Olaf and I had been beg­ging him to come help us at Harken,” says Peter Harken. “We’d show up at his bank of­fice in our grubby clothes and tell him he didn’t be­long there. He had a great job ready for him, and took a huge pay cut to come work for us and help us with the dirty work. On his first day, he said, ‘I know where to start,’ be­fore pick­ing up a broom.”

Art today could pen vol­umes on the brothers Harken, and they could do the same of him. “Be­cause of our fam­ily name, Peter and I get all the hoopla and recog­ni­tion,” writes Olaf in his me­moirs, “but Mitch has spent his ca­reer in the trenches, keep­ing us out of real trou­ble ( though some­how we still al­ways man­age to find some).”

There are a few words that de­fine his im­pec­ca­ble char­ac­ter and his sim­ple Mid­west­ern traits: smart, hon­est and hard­work­ing. Val­ues grown right out of the Pe­wau­kee soils. I lost my fa­ther when I was 18, and his pass­ing forced me to grow up and seek ad­vice from other role mod­els. As a young and im­pres­sion­able in­di­vid­ual, I was forced to learn a lot from the peo­ple with whom I spent time. For­tu­nately for me, that time was spent with him. He has un­com­mon sisu, and he in­vested a lot to put me, and Harken, in a bet­ter place. That is the art of Art. Q

“I fill the clas­sic role of the nav­i­ga­tor. Just like on any boat, the nav­i­ga­tor knows ex­actly where we are, and where we should go. I know ex­actly the way things should be done so they’re done right. And like every nav­i­ga­tor, the skip­per lis­tens to me, con­sid­ers his op­tions and then does his own damn thing!” —ART MITCHEL

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