On a gray winter day, I hung up the phone feeling inspired after a conversation with Jason Williams, new business owner of Yellowstone Safari Company. Though our conversation took place over the phone, it took all of 30 seconds to feel the almost tangible passion Williams carries for our ecosystems, sustainability, and most of all, his employees.
Williams purchased Bozeman-based Yellowstone Safari Company after a series of serendipitous events that occurred in 2020. The wildlife guiding community is small and closeknit. “We have partnered with Yellowstone Safari Company over the years; when we had visitors in Jackson Hole that we couldn’t accommodate, we would send them to Yellowstone Safari Company, and vice versa. That’s how Ken Sinay and Williams originally met. Sinay is the former owner of Yellowstone Safari Company.
Professional Guide, Seth, picking huckleberries with a little boy in full ranger outfit during a trip.
Back in March, as COVID-19 was shutting down the American economy, Sinay called Williams to let him know he was trying to sell his business. “We weren’t looking to buy a business but had been building out a 3-day wolf-watching trip that started and ended in Bozeman over the last 4 years,” Williams said. “We almost had an employee living full-time in Bozeman to run those trips.” With COVID-19 in full swing, all international trips were cancelled for Willams’ business in Jackson Hole for the foreseeable future. “We had more time to refocus on Bozeman and simultaneously, Sinay reached out. The timing was pretty wild. We talked in March and again in June. In August, Sinay contacted us a third time. “At that point, the synergy made sense to just purchase a company rather than starting new,” Williams said. “They have a great brand and reputation – all things combined, it made complete sense. We officially closed on November 30.”
While it is clear that Willams is excited about the new business venture, it’s even more evident how proud he is of his team. There has intentionally been crossover created between the guides at Yellowstone Safari Company and Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris. Technically, there are two Yellowstone Safari Company employees in Bozeman, but Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris’ guides are plugged in with both entities. “By summer, we’re hoping to scale it up to 5 employees in Bozeman,” Williams said. As a long time, business owner and resident of Jackson Hole, Williams is very tuned into the frustrations many businesses feel around employee retention.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is my team. We’ve managed to add high-paying, year-round jobs continuously since we’ve been in business. We’ve retained people for 5-6 years, with some working with us up to 14 years. That’s something I’ve really focused on, which falls in parallel with the sustainability values of all of the businesses. I’ve been passionate about the environment as well as spreading the work over the course of a year, for a more year-round economy. It’s not about growth, it’s about the right dispersal of business so people can live her year-round and have a good quality of life, raising families,” Williams said.
Williams went on to add, “More than anything, I’m excited about the team we’ve built.” Building an outstanding team was Williams’ focus upon founding Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris in 2007. “Jody goes to trade-shows, Mary goes to trade shows, the whole office team speaks to all of our customers, Seth is really great, especially with kids, Ash and Grant, who are both outstanding, are running the company in Bozeman – that’s by design.” I could hear Williams beaming. “The culture we’ve built is about the team of people and continuously evolving the team through training and, as we hire, bringing in the highest quality of candidates we can find that are team players.”
In addition to Yellowstone Safari Company and Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, Williams also owns and operates Gallery Wild with his wife, Carrie Wild.
This story is a part of our #humansofjhchamber campaign, which focuses on the faces of our local businesses and nonprofits. Learn about their inspirations, why started in their industry and more! Find the Chamber on Instagram at @jhchamber. For information about the program, please contact Communications Manager, Andi Gollwitzer, firstname.lastname@example.org.