Spotlight: Chris Jensen
Feb. 24, 2015
In 2004 when a young entrepreneur with investment dealings in software, agriculture and emerging market companies from Arizona to China bought a majority share of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, he forever changed the lives of two families: his own and the Turennes.
Long before Chris Jensen was a successful entrepreneur and majority owner of PV Capital, he was an 18-year-old kid going on a fly-in fishing trip with his father to some lodge near Winnipeg. The trip was his high school graduation gift. One evening during that fateful first trip to Aikens he caught a 32-inch walleye.
He fell in love with the place, naturally, and became a “regular” returning to Aikens every year. A decade and a half later, when Gerry and Lorraine Turenne decided to retire from owning and managing Aikens, they asked Chris and his family to consider becoming majority owners of the lodge.
“We immediately said yes,” Chris recalls. “Under one condition: That Pit and Julie stay on and run the lodge, forever.”
A deal was made, unbeknown to Julie and Pit, who would find out later they must quit their budding careers to run Aikens (an opportunity cherished by the second generation of Turennes). Chris and the new partners immediately began infusing capital into Aikens to ensure the fly-in would have nothing but world-class accommodations and equipment to match its renowned fishing and customer service.
“You don’t buy a fishing lodge to make money,” Chris said. “My objective was to preserve and enhance Aikens. It’s such a special asset and resource, I just want to protect it and make sure it never falls into the wrong hands.”
Much like Pit and Julie feel blessed to raise their family at Aikens, Chris is delighted his sons Logan, Hunter and Cole now have the opportunity to spend countless days in Atikaki Provincial Park.
“Last year at Aikens I had one of the best big pike days of all time with a buddy of mine, catching trophy pike on this trolling rig we came up with just playing around in the boat,” Chris said. “It was like jaws––the pike were just shredding these frozen ciscos, and I caught a 45-incher. But the highlight for me was watching my 5-year-old son Hunter catch a 24-inch walleye off the dock all by himself, and seeing his twin-brother Cole land it for him.”
“The other most rewarding part of this for me is seeing our young dockhands, guides and staff at Aikens mature over the years and grow into fine young adults,” said Chris, who is recognized as an outdoor maven in his home state of Arizona. “Our staff takes a lot of pride in our work ethic so spending a summer at the lodge is an excellent experience for a young person to have. I take great pride in seeing these young men and women evolve into adults, and I enjoy helping them in their careers after Aikens whenever I can.”
“At its core, Aikens is a family-run business,” said Julie, whom Chris called the perfect woman to organize and manage camp logistics. “Chris and his family are now a part of the extended Aikens family. Chris loves coming to Aikens with his boys, and the reality is we wouldn’t have been able to get where we are today as quickly if we didn’t have his support.”
As for Pit, his friendship with Chris dates all the way back to guiding at age 17 for Chris and his father.
“We were the ‘young punks’ amid the large group of 50-somethings that Chris’ dad brought up, and Chris and I would have a great time fishing like buddies even though I was officially the guide,” said Pit, who credits Chris with helping the Turennes formalize and execute their vision for enhancing Aikens over the year.
“In later years, when Chris started coming up with his own buddies, they would offer the guides a ‘free lunch’ by doing the whole shorelunch themselves and letting us guides catch a few Z’s on the shoreline. It was usually late nights in Big Molly’s with them so it was a welcome break during the workday. The most interesting fish they made us was a breading with a mix of Cheezies and Dill Pick Chips,” Pit recalls. “It was actually really good!”
Shorelunch recipes notwithstanding, Pit said the big lesson he’s learned from Chris is how to run a business. “Chris has a business acumen that we don’t,” said Pit. “He’s also shared many of the same visions we had for the lodge: better cabins, better boats, catch-and-release outside of shorelunch fish. Now we are the total package, and Chris and our partners help us make decisions based on what’s best for Aikens in the long run, because this is a lifelong passion for all of us.”
“I did see a lot of value that could be unlocked when I became a part of Aikens, because the lodge had been a bit capital constrained,” said Chris, who successfully fished pro-am tournaments and pioneered the idea for Aikens to host In-Fisherman’s Professional Walleye Trail celebrity charity trip in 2006. “I’ve been fortunate in the early part of my career to have success and connect with some amazing people, and I was glad to bring some of my new-world vision and expertise, including things like web marketing and SEO in the early days of the web, coming from a high-tech background.”
“In hindsight, Aikens has been one of my best performing assets in the last 10 years and that goes to show that you’re more likely to be successful if you’re involved with the things you love,” Chris said. “I can’t take a lot of credit for Aikens’ success. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that are put in by Pit, Julie and the team to make it such a special place. I’m fortunate to be a part of something I love as much as Aikens.”