Arc’teryx’s new president and GM crossed continents for his position and brought with him the highest respect for building up an esteemed local brand
You made the move from Arc’teryx Equipment Inc.’s parent company, Amer Sports, which runs seven global sporting-goods brands. How has the corporate culture shifted for you, going from the international level in Finland to a Vancouver-based brand?
It’s always something I’ve looked for—discovering different cultures and giving myself some interesting challenges. I’m Belgian; I left Belgium 15 years ago. Canada is country number seven. The most exciting and different thing is to lead a team across every function—it’s like joining the destiny of a brand and then feeling this responsibility to continue the journey.
Before you accepted the position with Arc’teryx, were you looking to make a career move?
I’ve had the chance over the last 15 years to always work on business development in different fields, but mostly in operations, from regional business to global business. So my goal was to take over the general management of a company. When I joined Amer Sports, having a chance to take over the entire operations—including IT, sourcing, manufacturing, planning—across seven brands and across all the continents, that was a beautiful challenge. I did it for four years with a lot of pleasure. When the chance was offered to me to come to Vancouver and take over the general management of Arc’teryx, it took me seconds to accept.
What originally attracted you to Amer Sports?
When you look at the portfolio of brands, it’s just unbelievable. I’ve always worked for brands, so I have the utmost respect for people who are building them, and it’s usually over generations. If you look at Amer Sports—the portfolio of brands—some of them are more than 100 years old. Arc’teryx is probably one of the most astonishing ones who, from here in Vancouver, managed to be a truly global brand.
What was your first order of business as president of Arc’teryx?
The first thing is to recruit new talent to fill the vacant positions. Number one is really to get this confidence level and take the time to learn. One should never talk before having learned, and I took this position where I wanted to learn and really engage with every single person. I organized not only one-on-one meetings with the senior leaders, but I met every single team in groups of ten. I had more than 25 of those sessions. You want to be fresh and listen and engage, and I was really trying to get the most direct interaction.
What kind of challenges are you facing working on a singular brand compared to a collection of companies?
The challenge is to have a very deep understanding of what that unique brand is about, to take the time to listen and have the utmost respect for the heritage and the success that has been built by the team and the previous management. The first challenge is to boost the confidence level after all the changes earlier this year.
E-commerce is becoming increasingly important. Arc’teryx has a robust website, but are there plans to further grow or develop this area of the business?
Yes, for sure. We consider that in our stage of development, we need to focus on brand awareness to make it more accessible and more top-of-mind to the consumer around the world. And e-comm is a beautiful tool because we can talk to hundreds of millions of people. At this stage we have a website covering America and Canada. In three months from now it will be open to European countries, so that’s a major step forward.
What share of Arc’teryx’s business comes from e-commerce?
It’s still relatively marginal. We’ve always used e-commerce first as a means to talk and interact with the consumer. We approach it in a very open way with our existing dealers. Typically we always offer the consumer the possibility to go and buy with one of our e-tailers. At this stage it’s relatively small. It’s growing and we will maintain a focus on a very good brand experience beyond the pure commercial dimension.
From 2000-2002 you worked for Amazon. What did you learn there that’s helped you in your current role?
A lot of things. Amazon was a fantastic experience. I joined Amazon to develop the Amazon.fr website—I was among the first 10 and the first one to lead all the operations. So it was from scratch. I’ve learned this very warm feeling of building something and making history; I’ve learned this very special, entrepreneurial way of building a business. I also learned to recruit the very best talents. The approach back then was to always recruit people stronger than yourself. I’ve learned this very high ambition level and that talent and human resources is everything.
Arc’teryx ran its Birds Nest Project for the fourth straight year in 2012, donating waterproof capes to Vancouver’s homeless population. How important is this initiative?
This is actually fundamental. We believe that we also need to engage with the community. We are using all the material that would not have been used and could have been thrown away, so we do good to the planet in that sense, and we help people that are not so fortunate in life.
Working for a brand that centres on the outdoors, how important is it that you’re active in your personal life?
Living in Finland gave me a lot of chances to do a lot of winter sports—same thing when I was living in Munich, Germany, closer to the Alps. I’m learning here how to ski in big snow, which is something new to me—it’s not easy but it’s a lot of fun.
Have you been up to Whistler yet?
Yeah, I’ve been there, and I went [skiing] also close by here in Cypress.
What’s your favourite piece of Arc’teryx gear?
One is the Alpha SV jacket. This one is very interesting because the first design was made in 2001-2002, so we’re already talking 12 to 13 years. The team here has, in a very persistent way, maintained the design but improved construction material, and we will have a new Alpha SV for next full winter.
When you look at the new one and the one that was designed more than 10 years ago, you really see this continuity—this continuity along with the passion of improvement. And the purpose is actually to be very precise in responding to consumer needs, consumers that are facing really tough conditions. And by being precise, functional and true to the needs, we also become timeless. And that is really something unique to this brand. It’s a kind of pursuit of truth. And when you are true to the real need, you end up having products that can go through years. We managed to get a fantastic product and we maintain it and we keep developing it, but with the same spirit and approach.