If you think of Arctic Cat as a family, then it would be accurate to consider Pam Cwikla (right) as something of a mother figure. Her career at Arctic Cat began in 1967 and has included everything from switchboard operator to executive secretary for the company president to her current role in the Call Center.
Pam has always been awesome, yet she achieved extra-greatness with this interview about her career and some of her interesting experiences from over the years.
AI: What’s your job title, and then explain what it is you actually do.
Cwikla: For the past four years I’ve been a Marketing Coordinator in the Arctic Cat Call Center. Like others here with the same role, I assist our dealers and sales reps with the day-to-day issues that arise with our business, including both snowmobile and ATV product lines. The communication is on the phone or email.
That typically involves helping a dealer who might be missing a part on an order; helping to track down availability on back-ordered items; changing the model mix of an existing order; and things of that nature. My assigned territory is the Southeastern U.S. and a couple of territories in Canada, but I also fill-in and assist with other areas and dealers when needed..
As coordinators, we also work with our inside Techs, whose jobs are focused on technical issues.
The Call Center is the front line for information, both coming out and flowing into Arctic Cat. Every call is logged, with notes about the conversation attached to it. Reports are created from the logged calls which create a network of information.
AI: You’ve held a number of different jobs over the years, what are some of them?
Cwikla: My career at Arctic Cat began in 1967 as a receptionist/switchboard operator (see above). I worked for the Arctic Cat distributor in St. Paul for a short time and then returned to Arctic Enterprises and worked in the Warranty Department.
In 1971, Edgar Hetteen asked me to be the hostess at the Arctic Cat display building. When Edgar asked me if I would do that… well, I couldn’t say no to Edgar. I had so much respect for him and I was honored that he asked me. So I did that job until shortly before my second son was born, then I stopped working to be a stay-at-home mom.
Below: The Arctic Cat Circle Newsletter from Nov. 11, 1971, featuring the Arctic Cat Display Building and staff.
I returned to Arctic Cat in 1985, working in Parts Department when the company purchased the inventory from CPC. After that I was a secretary for Brian Espeseth, who was manager of the Parts Department. About a year later, I became the Executive Secretary for Chris Twomey when he was the President and CEO, a position I held until the company moved its senior management, sales and marketing to the Twin Cities four years ago. I didn’t want to move, so it was time for a career transition to my current role.
AI: Describe what it’s like being the assistant for the company President and CEO.
Cwikla: Chris was great to work with. I really enjoyed my job and had great respect for him. His greatest strength is how he relates with people. He cares for and connects with people on a personal level, whether it’s people from our own company or people from outside. He always took time for people and had an open door policy. He knew most of the employees’ names, which always reminded me of [past Arctic Cat president] Lowell Swenson. They both strived for Arctic to have a “family” feel.
It was interesting being his secretary because he worked with so many different people, from Arctic Cat employees to media, politicians, dealers and more so. I got to work with those people too.
When you’re the secretary for a company president, you get the inside line on a lot of different stuff that’s happening. That was good and awkward at times, because sometimes I knew information before it was public. I trained myself to forget some things… basically the info that I didn’t want to leak. I never wanted to make a mistake like that, so I never discussed that stuff with anyone, including my husband.
AI: I can imagine there were some interesting things that you had to force yourself to forget. Is there one that you can share with us now?
Cwikla: Hmmm… well, one situation that happened in 1986. I got the stack of Chris’s mail for the day and began opening and reading the letters, as I did every day. There was a letter from Polaris. It was an offer from them to buy Arctic Cat! Needless to say, it was quite a shock to read.
So, as was typical of each day, I went into his office to brief him about the various mail he’d received. When I told him about a letter from Polaris asking to buy our company, he reacted calmly, as if I had told him it was a letter about a Boy Scout troop that was requesting a tour. (Laughs).
Chris was always calm, even when big things were happening to him or the company.
AI: Wow, well I’m glad he ignored that letter from Polaris!
Cwikla: (Laughs) Well, I’m not sure if he exactly ignored it. But yes, I’m glad nothing ever came of it.
AI: Is the pop-culture characterization true, that assistants do all the work while the executives just play?
Cwikla: (Laughs) Not in the case of Chris. He worked every day from 7am – 7pm. And he traveled so much. He’d take a briefcase full of work with him wherever he went whether it was a family event, a business trip or a vacation. He worked most Saturdays. Work was on his mind all the time.
AI: We’ve talked before about how Bill Ness (former Arctic Cat President/CEO) was another key colleague of yours. Explain that.
Cwikla: Maybe more than anyone else, Bill Ness influenced my time at Arctic Cat and its affect on my life. I worked with him when I started in 1967. He was very involved in the rebirth of Arctic Cat in 1982 and, when I came back in 1985, he was so supportive and encouraging. At that time he was Chairman of the Board, so I worked for Bill and Chris until Bill retired in 2007. His whole career was focused on Arctic Cat and he helped make the company as great as it could be. We remain friends and we keep in touch. Bill still stays in touch with all of the old gang and he keeps us all connected.
AI: Has the culture of Arctic Cat changed or evolved over the years?
Cwikla: It might be because I’m one of the “old” employees who was here close to the beginning, but I think the hometown, family atmosphere has changed here somewhat. For the first 20 years, and even after Arctco started, everyone that worked here was originally from Thief River Falls or the surrounding community. Towns like Gatzke, Middle River, Karlstad, Red Lake Falls… places like that.
And during that period, the people here were largely the same group that started and created the company. This group of people had a passion unlike any other, because they literally dedicated their lives to the company. And their lives revolved around snowmobiles, both professionally and personally.
For me, I was always so close to these people. But over the past 10 years many of these people have retired or moved on, and for some… their lives don’t revolve around the sport the way they once did. As time marches on, the pace of this transformation is accelerating.
All of this was inevitable, of course, but it still saddens me.
AI: I know that the original core of employees who still work here is dwindling, and I can certainly understand how it would be a tall order for a new crop of employees to replicate that same passion and dedication. But what I see in many of the younger people who work here is an undeniable passion and care for Arctic Cat. And even though the original cast of characters will one day be gone, the culture and legacy that they created will always remain.
That’s also why I believe that, while Arctic Cat’s bankruptcy in 1981 was sad and terrible, it was also great for the company in the long run, primarily because the re-launch required a dedication and fortitude and effort that has shaped the company ever since. And I believe that’s forever embedded in Arctic Cat’s DNA.
Cwikla: I like that… I think that’s true.
Here's a shot of Pam from the "50 Years of Arctic Cat" Movie (AVAILABLE HERE and at the dealerships that advertise on this site).
AI: You did an awesome job on the “50 Years of Arctic Cat” movie, really conveying the human aspect of the company. Did that project and/or the entire 50th Anniversary celebration cast new light on what you know or think about the company?
Cwikla: The movie project and the entire 50th Anniversary party were so much fun and so important, because it opened the door for so many of us to think about and identify what this sport and company are all about.
At the 50th party itself, the best part for me was seeing so many people that I hadn’t seen for years. I realized how lucky I’ve been to meet and know hundreds of wonderful people. Of course, it was also great to see snowmobiles like the Boss Cats; the Charlie Lofton display; the Arcticwear clothing display; and all the collections that people had.
I also had my picture taken with Vern Adamson (who owned RV Sports) and Wayne Konickson (a longtime Arctic Cat employee), both of whom passed away last month. Those pictures are special for me.
When I was young I didn’t think about that. But now that I’m part of the older generation, I see that it’s the people and relationships that matter the most. The 50th happened when most of the original Arctic Cat community was still alive to participate.
If we do another celebration in five years, which I sincerely hope we do, many of those people will hopefully still be there, but this group will continue to shrink.
AI: You have a long, fascinating history with Arctic Cat. Is it even possible to sum up how you feel about the company?
Cwikla: Wow… probably not adequately! (Long Pause) I’m very proud of my history here. More than the machines and accomplishments, it’s the people who make Arctic Cat. I’m friends with the people who work here. There have been so many people through the years who have impacted my life in a great, positive way. I grew up here! My life and Arctic Cat are so tied together… I can’t begin to explain its impact. All the memories, the history and the passion… it’s staggering.
AI: What’s your all-time favorite Arctic Cat?
Cwikla: Probably the Boss Cats, because of nostalgia associated with them. I remember how exciting that project was for everyone at Arctic Cat, and for Charlie Lofton, who was a friend of ours and who was one of the drivers. I was connected with that sled and the people around it. To see them restored and at the 50th was fantastic!
Pam and husband Al Cwikla graced the cover of the Sept. 1999 issue of Arctic Cat PRIDE magazine.
AI: Tell me a good Roger Skime story.
Cwikla: All stories about Roger are good because he’s one-of-a-kind and a longtime friend!
One thing about Roger is that he does everything with passion and speed. And anything that’s been connected to snowmobiles… Roger’s done it. Riding, racing, engineering – whether it’s been the highlights and successes or the occasional rough patches – he’s lived and participated in every bit of it.
One seemingly small thing that Roger does is actually a really big thing: Once a week he makes his rounds around the Arctic Cat plant and talks with so many of us. It’s mostly just chit-chat, and I know he does it because people are so important to him. He has such a big heart.
I feel fortunate to know and have worked with Roger.
AI: I don’t usually ask this, but you might have one…tell me a good Chris Twomey story.
Cwikla: One time, maybe a decade ago, the Minnesota United Snowmobilers [the state snowmobile association] Governor’s Ride was held here, in Thief River Falls. Being a snowmobiler, Chris of course participated in the ride. He rode in our group, along with Marilyn Helgeland who works in the Arcticwear department.
For some reason, Chris did the ride in a plain jacket and white helmet. They were probably Arcticwear items, but ones that were non-descript and totally outdated. He looked so funny that we forced him to ride in the back of the group! Here’s the president of the company, riding in this high-profile event in our hometown, and we forced him to ride at the very back. (Laughs) From that point on, Marilyn made sure he had the newest Arctic Cat gear wherever he went.
AI: Thanks Pam, it's always great talking with you.
Cwikla: You're welcome, I enjoy talking about these things.