Bruce Akin won our company Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing league for the past two years in a row. I’m a little on the competitive side, so I chalked up the first year to luck. Getting shellacked by him this year was just downright aggravating. After all, Akin, CEO of B.A.S.S. for the past 10 years, had never held a fish when he took the reins of this organization. He should not be beating me in the Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing contest, right? But like every corner of the B.A.S.S. business, he dove headlong into the competition and came out on top. Well, he managed to upset me again. This time, I’m somewhere between sad and forlorn. Akin announced that he was taking down his shingle at the B.A.S.S. corporate offices to enter the wonderful world of retirement. His last day was Sept. 30.
Akin joined B.A.S.S. in 2011. Don Logan, then a new owner of the company, hired him based on 24 years of their working together at Time Inc. At the time, I was somewhat skeptical about this new guy who’d occupy our corner office. He wasn’t a fisherman, after all. But it didn’t take long for me to realize he was exactly the leader B.A.S.S. needed. We were coming off the heels of our ESPN ownership, which, I can admit now, was a hot mess. Akin was able to flip the culture from corporate to caring. He oftentimes walked the halls and asked about family, football (as long as you were an Alabama fan) and fishing. He knocked down organizational silos, empowered all employees to make a difference in our sport and was simply approachable. Of the five CEOs I have worked for over my 22 years here, Akin has been the best. And I’m not the only one who thinks that.
“The past decade has been a tremendous time of growth for B.A.S.S., and that is in large part due to Bruce’s direction,” says Dave Precht, former editor-in-chief of this publication and a 40-year employee of the organization. “I feel truly blessed that my final years with the company were under the brilliant leadership of Bruce. He was dealt some really tough hands. He pulled us through an angler defection, a pandemic and was somehow able to grow our audience and engagement when the dust settled.”
There is a long list of achievements I could identify here that could define Akin’s success as the CEO of B.A.S.S. (not including his fantasy fishing dominance), but I think it’s more interesting to hear what he is most proud of.
“First off, I didn’t really accomplish anything,” Akin says. “B.A.S.S. is blessed with incredible employees who truly care about the organization and the sport. I was just lucky enough to help steer the ship for a while.
“But, if you are asking me what the company has accomplished that I’m most proud of, that’s a tough one. I think the development of Bassmaster LIVE has changed the industry. We put a lot of resources into that, and it has helped fans follow our sport in a way that didn’t exist before. Our sport is now live on television with the new Fox partnership. Many thought this would never happen. Being one of only two sports leagues to finish our season during the pandemic was miraculous. And the efforts of B.A.S.S. to grow youth participation is a real source of pride for me, from our high school and college programs to our partnership with Get Hooked on Fishing, which introduces a lot of urban kids to the outdoors.”
To summarize Akin’s impact on B.A.S.S., Precht likely put it best. “He wasn’t an angler when he arrived, but he became one. He wasn’t familiar with the fishing industry, but now he is considered an important part of that family. B.A.S.S. was not healthy when he arrived, but now the company is flourishing. It sounds strange based on his background before joining B.A.S.S, but it’s like he was made for this.”