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Posted: November 01, 2010

Executive Edge: Ryan Wood

Ex-Dallas Cowboy trades Under Armour success for cattle ranching

Lynn Bronikowski

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Ryan Wood played fullback for the Dallas Cowboys, co-founded the billion-dollar Under Armour apparel company, and today the Longmont native is following his dream - ranching on 652 acres at his Sweetwood Cattle Co. in Steamboat Springs.

"I don't come from generations of ranchers, but I've always had a passion for it," said Wood, who left Under Armour in 2007 after 10 years, including two years running its international operations out of Amsterdam.

"The greatest thing about Under Armour were the early years," said Wood, 38. "We sewed. We were bookkeepers, IT guys, sales and manufacturing guys. We did everything from cutting fabric to boxing products in a warehouse. That was so cool looking back on it. Worldwide, there are 2,500 employees, and you think of all those lives that you affected and opportunities you provided."

But Wood was ready to come home to Colorado - to ski, fish, hunt and start his new company producing artisan beef. Last spring his ranch became the first in Colorado to receive the "Verified Green" award from the USDA for its sustainable practices. Sweetwood even ships its steaks across the U.S. in recycled, recyclable or reusable packaging as part of its environmental stewardship.

"When I started with Under Armour, I didn't have huge expectations but knew I was going to give it all that I had and learn as much as I could," Wood said. "It's the same with my beef business. I try to learn as much as I can from local ranchers - people in this valley who have been doing it for a long time. There's a whole culture of ranching here, and everyone comes together to help."

While working in Amsterdam, Wood spotted his ranch on the Internet, bought the land and built the ranch over 2½ years from the ground up.

"I don't think you can ever get the mountains out of your blood once you grow up here," Wood said. "We saw everything as kids - we would go hunting, fishing, camping, and Steamboat was our getaway."

Just as Under Armour continually grew by adding products, Wood is contemplating adding poultry and pork lines. He's working on a beef jerky product, and he and his wife, Beth, have plans to turn the ranch into a guest ranch, renting it out for special occasions, weddings and corporate retreats.

"I want this to be a 50-year project - to do this for the rest of my life and really turn this into something special," Wood said.

Sweetwood gets its name from a combination of Wood's name and the special sweet feed made from sugar beets and spices that his cattle eat each winter.

"I came up with the idea for a supplement to get the cattle through winter," Wood said. "We give them a little bit of sugar and natural herbs to enhance growth, which are a lot better than harmful chemicals. It's unique for us, and the cattle love it. Our cattle are very healthy, happy animals."

Wood traces his entrepreneurial spirit to his athletic roots when he was a standout on Fairview High School's state championship football team. He won an NCAA Division 1-AA championship at Youngstown State and was drafted by the Cowboys in 1996.

"Both at Under Armour and here, it comes back to having that drive to want to succeed and be the best in whatever I do," Wood said. "At Under Armour we were all athletes at a high level who competed with some of the best athletes in the world. I don't think that ever leaves you."

For information on Sweetwood, visit www.sweetwoodcc.com .
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Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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