Let me introduce myself – my name is Dan Ventura and I’m the Marketing Manager at Spark R&D (That’s not me in the picture, that is Ryan, our interviewee today). I’m relatively new here and over the last few months I’ve been enjoying getting to know everyone at the company. This is certainly a dedicated and talented group with interesting backgrounds and personalities. So I thought that as I get to know these awesome co-workers, the heart of Spark R&D, I would share some of their stories with you. This is the first segment of Inside Spark, an interview blog series that offers a way for the splitboard community to connect with the people that make the magic happen – the folks that bring our bindings from concept to your splitboard.
I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off this blog series than by taking a hot minute to speak with the longest tenured employee at Spark (not including our owner and founder), the adroit master of machines, Ryan Leadbeater.
Ryan, thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
They told me I have to and that I get a gift certificate…(laughs)
What is your job title?
Lead Machinist and Shop Foreman.
How long have you been working here at Spark R&D?
Since 2010, so five years. When I started, Will (Owner/Chief Designer at Spark R&D) was the machinist. I had a little machining experience, so I began running machines with him in the shop. I quickly added more responsibility and took over the shop as Will needed to spend more and more time designing.
Can you explain a little about what your job entails?
Simply, Will comes up with the new products, sends me the Solid Works 3D models, and I make them so you can hold them in your hand. The nitty-gritty would be programming our CNC machines, fixtures, tooling and design work, and managing our talented group of machinists.
A little follow up – When you say ‘tooling’, are you creating tools to use? How often do we make a tool to make a product?
Yes and often. Some tools stay the same, some change, but usually when design elements change, the tools change with them. We also create tools to perform certain Quality Control functions.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I would say making and testing our new products. We go through multiple versions of new products before they ever see the light of day. Then we get to take them out in the field and start testing them. It’s always fun to make eight pairs of proto bindings on a Friday, send them out over the weekend, and then check’em out when they come back. We’re just figuring out what works in the real world and what doesn’t.
What is or has been the most challenging project you’ve undertaken?
Learning my way around new CNC machines is always challenging, but it’s the kind of challenge I like. Passing on responsibilities in the shop over the years as Spark has grown has also been a challenge for me. I have a great support staff which helps a lot – it’s important to know that producing a quality product is as important to them as it is to me.
Is there a specific product that really stands out to you from Spark R&D or one you take a little extra pride in?
Most of them in general but some of the older bindings in particular. There was not a single set of the older models that I didn’t personally build and then QC (quality control). Nowadays, I have broader responsibilities, but not that long ago I had a lot more direct work with the bindings from start to finish. The Arc and Surge baseplate’s one wire detents are another source of pride for me. They are a unique aspect to a unique product and I spend a lot of time with the machines that produce the plates.
Are you a splitboarder?
Oh yeah. I got in about 30 days last season. I’d say about half of those days were spent testing proto bindings that are out now. I’m usually out testing when I splitboard.
I’ve heard you are a prolific snowmobiler. Can you comment on your snowmobiling?
I’m an engineer because of snowmobiling! Snowmobiling was a big part of what I did in college. I moved out here from the east coast to ski bum, but for probably four years I barely skied or snowboarded, I just snowmobiled. But… they break and you have to fix them and I learned a lot about machines doing that. I do love snowmobiling; it compliments my splitboarding, and probably gets me on my split more than I would be otherwise.
What kind of sled do you own?
It’s a 2014 Arctic Cat 800 M8. It’s for sale (laughs).
Any other cool hobbies our readers should know about?
I used to be big downhill mountain biker. Got the scars to prove it!
Ryan, thanks for taking the time our of your busy schedule to chat with me.
You’re welcome. Do I really get a gift certificate?
Yes, you do.
A big thank you to Mr. Ryan Leadbeater (pronounced Led – Beeter) for taking the time to talk with me about what he’s up to here at Spark. I will be posting more Inside Spark blogs throughout the season so stay tuned. (And if you met some of these crazy kids along your Spark travels and have specific requests for an employee to highlight, let me know!)
Marketing Manager, Spark R&D