By Eric Smith
The leader of one of the largest outdoor and active lifestyle corporations said diversity and inclusion should be priorities that are equal to shareholder value in today’s business model—for both his company and the industry as a whole.
Steve Rendle, chairman and CEO of VF Corp.—parent of such iconic brands as The North Face, Vans, Smartwool, Altra, Timberland, Icebreaker and others—told attendees of last week’s Camber Outdoors Thought Leader Keynote Breakfast that the company is fully committed to improving hiring practices to ensure an inclusive workforce.
In his speech, “Equity in the Outdoors: Powering a Movement,” Rendle outlined VF’s journey that the company began last year to elevate its mission of achieving more than merely growing the bottom line.
“We are striving to become a purpose-led, performance-driven corporation,” Rendle said. “Historically, VF has been a strong business operator. Yes, we acquire brands and help them achieve their full potential to grow, but really what sits at the heart of VF is our business discipline, our operational discipline and how we think about driving value for shareholders.”
As a company with $12 billion in annual revenue and a broad portfolio, VF is in position to reach across the outdoor and active lifestyle marketplaces and truly make a difference, Rendle said. This is something VF’s leadership has been discussing since he joined the team a little more than a year ago.
“What’s different today is not that we weren’t purpose-led in the past, but today I stand here to tell you that a couple of months ago at a meeting we made a commitment to put purpose on par with performance and to drive all of our decisions not as an ‘either-or’ but as an ‘and.’”
Rendle outlined the ways that VF is working to achieve this goal, which begins with the company looking at what customers demand from the outdoor and active lifestyle brands they choose to do business with.
“Often I ask, ‘what’s that common thread that’s helped VF grow over the last 119 years?’” he said. “I will tell you; it’s a willingness to transform and evolve as we pay attention to what’s going on in the consumer apparel and outdoor marketplace. It’s that passion and understanding of what it means to run a powerful business that’s connected to where consumers are going that’s guided our growth over the years.”
Rendle, who has shared some of these ideas on recent earnings calls, then apologized to other CEOs in the room before telling them (with a laugh): “We intend to be the first place that people want to work in this industry.”
VF is poised to take a leadership role in this industry, he added, because the outdoors world fosters this type of corporate stewardship.
“We power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet,” Rendle said. “This will shape how we think about all of the decisions we make, but more importantly it brings the ‘why’ to the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of our strategy. That’s what was lacking for all these years, the definition of ‘why.’”
Before Rendle took the stage, Rue Mapp, CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro as well as a board member of the Outdoor Industry Association, spoke to the breakfast crowd about the efforts now underway to connect more people to the outdoors.
While there has been a lot of success in this endeavor, “we still have more urgent work to do,” Mapp said. “So I ask you these questions: What is your real commitment? What are you willing to give up, to share? How are you willing to step aside and give space to the ones you’re trying to reach? And who are you willing to mentor?”
She closed with a poignant African proverb that sums up the industry’s need for the necessity of inclusion and collaboration to further efforts of engaging more people: “If you want to fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
A common theme that both Rendle and Mapp touched on was the impact that Ann Krcik had not only on them but on so many throughout the industry. Krcik, who co-founded Camber Outdoors—then known as Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC)—left a lasting legacy for the lives she touched in the outdoor industry on a personal and professional level.
“She believed in our mission,” Mapp said, “and gave us space to be great.”
“Her spirit and her passion sit inside of each one of us,” Rendle said. “Much of what our journey is about, her fingerprints are all over this.”
Photos courtesy John Evans