I was saddened to hear of the passing of Art Mitchel – one of the original gang of three at the top of the world’s greatest marine hardware company. But his legacy lives on and it’s a powerful one. Soon after the sad passing of Olaf Harken on 21 December 2019 the company, under the direction of Peter Harken and Art Mitchel, designed a unique and radical employee scheme that transferred ownership to its staff a year later in September 2020.
Ever the visionaries and with foresight that sorely lacks in much of the corporate world, Harken stands out as amongst the very best, if not THE best, with a bought-in culture that is exemplary producing products that many of us simply could not sail without. A boat without Harken is a boat without a chance in my book.
I maintain that Peter Harken is the finest individual in sailing. I was lucky enough to work for the company for a while in the UK and the culture and tone, set right from the top, is something that I haven’t seen anywhere else in corporate life. I forever hold those days as some of the happiest of my working life (the UK management were the best bosses I have ever worked for) and whilst the Harken brothers led from the front on a global scale, Art Mitchel was the calming, beating heart of the company in the background. He will be sorely missed and Harken put out a terrific statement marking his passing:
We regret to share the news of the passing of one of Harken’s finest leaders. Mitch is (we cannot yet think of him in the past tense…) old school in a never-take-the-easy-way-out sort of way. 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 & Olaf Harken covered marketing, Art kept the business on track, making the Harken brothers and the company the success it is today. This required the honest hard work that builds a business. Mitch was never afraid of hard work.
These two phrases will forever be attached to him in our minds.
While famous in our inner circle at Harken, these two words carried more meaning the closer you were to Mitch. He carried a personal moral compass that he shared generously at Harken. He served a higher purpose than just day-to-day work. Service to what was right. For Harken, it began as Peter Harken’s college roommate, eventually joining Peter and his brother Olaf to run Harken & Vanguard Sailboats as the third leader of the company, through to helping create the legacy that will live on for generations of our employee-owners. He taught us to think for ourselves. To do our best. And to do what is right – even when it is hard. If you heard ‘Good Duty’ from Mitch, you didn’t need to eat. You were nourished for days.
Rarely expressed by Art in words, but always shown in his deeds. Anyone who sailed, skied, ran, or did business with him witnessed his uncommonly strong Sisu. Sisu is Finnish—as was Mitch. It’s very hard to define completely in English. Sisu means grit. Duty. Willingness to do work that no one else is willing to do, simply because it’s the right thing. Even in silence. Even when no one else is watching. No matter how hard that work is.
Sisu & Duty. They made up Mitch’s ‘warp and the bias’: sailmaker terms for the fibre in the moral fabric of Arthur Mitchel. Fair winds, Mitch. Thank you for so many things.
And furthermore, there was a terrific quote from Art Mitchel himself that Harken posted, describing his ‘Corporate Navigator’ role at Harken which is so worthy of publishing here: “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.”
Harken is a unique company – an extended family almost – and it was touching to see the huge number of heartfelt comments on social media. Few in corporate management are held in such esteem and the lasting legacy that is left behind by the likes of Olaf Harken and Art Mitchel is something to be hugely admired whilst the corporate flame still burns with the great Peter Harken.
Sail on Art – and thank you for making the ride smoother than a Harken 150 camcleat.