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What Willie Robertson Was Doing Before The Duck Dynasty Fame

Duck Dynasty became an unexpected hit when it first appeared on A&E in 2012, but the family behind the show was running their empire long before the cameras started rolling. The company featured on the popular reality show, Duck Commander, was founded by the Robertson family way back in 1972 — 40 years before A&E started telling their story. The business is nothing if not a family-centric one, with patriarch Phil Robertson heading up the company with his wife and children. One of the most prominent of those children is 47-year-old Willie Robertson, who was made CEO of Duck Commander.

Before the landing that illustrious title and prior to the success of Duck Dynasty, Willie led a different lifestyle. Here's what Willie Robertson was doing before the Duck Dynasty fame.

Willie Robertson's wife, college days, children, and early business experience

Willie met his wife Korie (née Howard) at the church camp Ch-Yo-Ca when he was in the fourth grade. The couple married in January 1992, when Willie was only a year out of high school. The pair attended Harding University together, where Willie studied business. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (formerly known as Northeast Louisiana University) in 1995. 

Before Duck Dynasty, Willie and Korie had three children: John Luke, Bella, and Sadie Robertson. They fostered a Taiwanese exchange student, Rebecca, who has since become part of the family, and have also got two adopted sons, Willie Jr. and Rowdy, the latter of whom was adopted during the show's run.

Willie was exposed to his family's Duck Commander business his entire life, but he decided to work a typical straight-out-of-college job in his 20s. Instead of diving straight into the family business, Willie spent some time working as a counselor at a church camp, which is where he picked up his hands-on experience in business. He gained further experience when he decided to open another company, Buck Commander, in 2006. While Duck Commander focuses on duck hunting, Willie's Buck Commander brand focuses on deer hunting — another of his passions. The company sells hunting DVDs and gear, and has appeared on the Outdoor Channel thanks to Willie's business acumen.

Willie Robertson helped make the Duck Commander business boom

Willie Robertson was a big part of the reason that Duck Dynasty even became a thing in the first place, as he used his business experience and his education from Harding University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe to build Duck Commander into a massive business worth millions of dollars. When Willie dove into the family biz head first, he also decided to push the company into the entertainment industry, according to The New York Times.

"I was able to watch the family business from afar," Willie said of his time away from Duck Commander running Buck Commander. "I was able to come in with a lot of energy and a vision for growing it even bigger."

When he started working at Duck Commander, Willie picked up on the fact that while his father, Phil Robertson, had been able to build a great business from the ground up, he had "pretty much run out of ideas." He added, "He didn't know how to take it to the next level, and it might have started a downward slide, like a lot of family businesses do." With Willie's insight, Duck Commander became much, much more than just a family business. 

The brains behind Duck Dynasty

Speaking to Sports Spectrum TV, Willie explained how his family was discovered and how they became so successful as the people behind Duck Dynasty. Watching his family members interact with one another while growing their company, Willie saw them more as a cast of characters than as his relatives, and realized that their story could work on television. Despite the business being very heavily centered on hunting, he wanted the show to appeal to women and children as well, so instead focused Duck Dynasty on the family unit and how they operated the business and their personal lives together.

It took some convincing from Willie to get the family on board with the plan. His father was the most resistant of the lot, stating that he was "already as famous as he [wanted] to be." Once the family was on board, Willie had to go about finding a network that would buy into his vision of the show. It was an easy decision for Willie when A&E came knocking. He felt that the network had the right family values, and would respect the Robertsons' values in their taping of the show. Two pilot episodes of Duck Dynasty later, and the rest was history.