The ski bum with a business plan
Big Sky Build owner John Seelye’s pragmatic and fun approach to life and business
Want to know John Seelye’s favorite ski run?
“There’s no way in Hell I’m going to tell you,” he said in his jovial way.
An only child to ski enthusiast parents and raised in small-town Connecticut, he was introduced to Lone Peak in the early 1990s and committed to the move in 1995. He spent two years of full immersion into the Big Sky skiing life but was always pragmatic about it. He would have fun, but then, he would build.
“I came with a business plan. I knew at some point I had to be serious,” he said.
Two years after his life became based in Big Sky, he launched Big Sky Build.
“Maybe I’m different from other business owners, maybe I’m a little edgier, but you don’t forget me, do you? We are a very sophisticated and very serious business in a very demanding field,” he said. “I joke with clients, I say: ‘Listen, at the end of the day, the men and the women of Big Sky Build are the ones building your house, I’m simply the pretty face of Big Sky Build.’”
His roles in the company and in the community are paramount to him. The respect and affection he feels for his employees are vast. He attributes the success and innovation of the company to the people who have helped him build it. He also credits his longtime mentor Bill Friedman for sharing his wisdom for the last 20 years: “ I’ll never forget one of the things he told me. In business, one of the best things you can do is take care of not only the employees that work for you but also the community you live in.”
He said that because of the hard work of the men and women of Big Sky Build, they are able to support local organizations.
With philanthropy built into the business model, the question surfaced a few years ago about how to get the employees more involved with those efforts. An idea was hatched.
“Every month we donate to a nonprofit organization of our employee’s choice in that employee’s name,” he said. They just cycle through the names of employees in alphabetical order. “It is amazing the pride the men and women of Big Sky Build take in being a part of that. It’s just good for everybody. It’s the right thing to do and it makes everybody proud,” he said. “I put it on social media, informing people of what we have done, hoping that other companies and people will say, ‘$%*@! That’s a good idea. We should do that, too.’”
There is no stuffiness to him and he does not have the typical business president buttoned-down appearance.
His tattoos are many – more than he can count. They are a combination of serious and silly and speak to his quest for balance, the mountains, and the sea, Ullr and Lone Peak, superheroes sitting on a ski lift. Body art spans cultures and history. According to a recent Pennsylvania State University article titled, “Probing Question: What is the history of tattooing?” anthropologist Nina Jablonski said tattoos have had a place in society for over 10,000 years. Ancient civilizations in Japan, Siberia, Egypt, Crete, Greece, Arabia, China, Celtic and Northern European tribes, as well as Samoa and the Polynesian islands embraced the practice of placing pigment in the skin. The oldest documented tattoos belong to Otzi the Iceman who died around 3,300 B.C. Sir Winston Churchill and King George V are notable historical figures that sported body art.
The rise of Christianity caused increased apprehension because tattoos were viewed as a pagan practice. Lately, Seelye is noticing a shift in society and in his own approach to them. Fifteen years ago, he would hide his tattoos. Then one day, he stopped. His tattoos tell the story of his life – and they all have meaning. He felt that to hide them was – in some ways – a denial of his story; a way of hiding a part of himself.
“At 53 years old I don't feel the need to hide my tattoos. I think they are more acceptable these days and I prefer to be around people that don’t judge me because of my tattoos,” he said. He stated they have never been an issue in his business dealings.
“My favorite tattoo is the next one I’m going to get. Because you know what that means to me? It means there’s another story to tell,” he said.
His story in Big Sky began with skiing, evolved to the inception of a business family and then a nuclear family. He and his wife Shana married in 2003 and have two children: a 14 year old son named Max and a 10 year old daughter named Frankie.
In the beginning of his journey there was no Town Center, no Spanish Peaks or Yellowstone Club and Moonlight was just getting started. He launched the company during the building moratorium caused by sewer issues. That did not concern him – he knew it would all work out. At that time his business was a way of supporting his skiing habit. Now, Big Sky is booming and people depend on him – both his blood family and his work family.
“Big Sky has changed but that’s okay – so have I,” he said. “Big Sky Build only works in Big Sky, so our work life and our personal life is here – we are Big Sky. How lucky are we to be here? Raising kids here, I can’t think of a better place. The quality of the community, the quality of the outdoors and the quality of the schools. It’s a great place.”