Fortune.com editor-at-large Michal Lev-Ram wasn’t just surprised to learn that the CEO of Cotopaxi, a successful outdoor gear company, was stepping away for three years to serve as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In a profile published Tuesday, she used the word stunning to describe Davis Smith’s decision. Then she wrote that she personally was shocked. All three words came in within a few sentences of each other.

Lev-Ram wrote that Smith and his wife “had been asked to commit to this religious role before being told where they would be stationed. This shocked me, for so many reasons, including the simple fact that of all the founders I’ve interviewed, not one had ever even brought up their faith, let alone cited religion as a factor in any kind of decision-making. Or the fact that committing to relocate abroad without knowing where you’re moving is highly unusual, to say the least.”

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Episode 122: Cotopaxi founders Davis and Asialene Smith on stepping away from their company to serve as mission leaders in Brazil

As Lev-Ram worked on the feature article, Smith let her know when his assignment arrived. He took over as the president of the Brazil Recife Mission on July 1. He told the Church News in February that he and the rest of his family were nervous about learning and speaking Portuguese.

Cotopaxi CEO Davis Smith stepped away to serve as president of the Brazil Recife North Mission with his wife, Asialene.
Cotopaxi CEO Davis Smith has stepped away from the business for the next three years to serve as president of the Brazil Recife North Mission with his wife, Asialene. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The lengthy profile engages both with the business and spiritual sides of Smith, which the writer found to be inextricably linked.

“Smith’s willingness to drop everything and take on a volunteer role for his church, however foreign to me and to the broader business world, wasn’t just on brand for Smith. It was core to who he is,” Lev-Ram wrote.

On the business side, Smith handed the reins of the company to Damien Huang, former CEO of Eddie Bauer, whom he had hired as Cotopaxi’s president with an eye on making Huang into Smith’s successor. Smith had been adding leadership to the company as it grew. Cotopaxi has been profitable for four years and revenue at the expanding company is expected to reach $160 million this year.

Still, watching one of the two co-founders and the company’s CEO walk away isn’t easy when “both he and the company are picking up speed,” Lev-Ram wrote. She posed the big questions.

“What is Cotopaxi without Smith?” she wrote. “And what is Smith without Cotopaxi? And even more complicated: What happens when his overseas mission is complete?”

Cotopaxi’s slogan is “gear for good,” and the company dedicates a percentage of its profits to communities experiencing poverty in an effort to reduce global inequality. Cotopaxi also implements sustainable design in its products.

Both ideas were generated in part by Smith, who grew up all over the world while his dad oversaw Latter-day Saint construction projects. Some of Smith’s ancestors were Utah pioneers, including one couple for whom one of the state’s famed ski resorts is named.

Mission presidents receive stipends while they serve, but that will be a fraction of what Smith earned as CEO.

“He has nothing to gain from this financially,” his Cotopaxi co-founder Stephan Jacob, told Fortune.com. “He is giving up three years of prime earning potential.” 

The 5,100-word feature also explores the lessons Smith learned when he served a two-year mission for the church in Bolivia from ages 19-21, the successful ideas behind Cotopaxi and much more.

The Fortune.com article is behind a paywall, but the link is here.

Smith and his wife, Asialene, spoke to the Church News Podcast in February about their call to serve in Brazil. They had been on a previous Church News Podcast in 2022 to talk about member missionary work.