Though said in jest, Rubin’s comment highlighted the troubling environment now facing retailers and brands — an environment that he referred to as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (or VUCA, an acronym coined by the U.S. Army during the Cold War).
Rubin noted that a number of factors are impacting businesses, from politics to macroeconomic trends. “The job we have to do as leaders is to take those complexities and make them simple and actionable for our teams,” he said.
One key piece of information he shared is the fact that by 2020, millennials will make up half of the global workforce and represent one-third of all the adults in the U.S.
As a result, shoe brands and retailers need to connect with them as consumers. But perhaps more important, they need to understand them as employees.
“People want more from your company, they want you to stand for something. This is what millennials demand,” Rubin said.
He encouraged companies to develop a work environment that promotes creativity.
For instance, Pentland (the $3.6 billion private British company behind such familiar names as Lacoste, Kickers and Speedo) offers a number of amenities at its suburban campus, as well as community-building activities. “You have a DJ in the gym — that’s what you do now.”
And outside of the office, he said, shoe companies are also tasked with creating retail theater, developing product that tells a story and communicating a larger purpose in the world. Those efforts can not only help fuel the bottom line but will engage and inspire employees.
“Nobody wants to come to work just to create shareholder value,” Rubin said.