This Is What Keeps Fila’s North American President Up at Night

Fila, under the leadership of its North American president, Jon Epstein, experienced a solid 2017, highlighted by 146 percent growth in its heritage product. And the brand hopes to have a similar run this year.

Epstein spoke exclusively with FN about the things that help him be an effective leader, which include taking risks in business and creating a culture of “doers.”

“Involved, hands-on. I partner with the ‘doers,’ he said. “I get involved in the action within the company, and my engagement is with the people making it happen. And it’s across the whole company — I’m not an ivory-tower type of guy.”

Experience that best prepared me for my current role:
“My first job in footwear was as a sales representative for Adidas. I started in 1978. I had Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. I’d be on the road at 20 years old for six weeks at a time. When you’re that focused on something, you understand what motivates the consumer, what customers want and what good business is. I got a good perspective on what worked and didn’t work, so as I moved up the ladder, I could separate the wheat from the chaff. It started with a car, samples, order pads and 500 accounts. There were lonely days when my friends were out partying, doing what 20-year-olds do, but I had big ideas about success.”

Proudest career moment:
“Turning Fila around to the success it is today. Nobody thought it could be done. We bought a company that was losing $55 million, with no bank, salespeople, product, supply chain, customers and were up against the world’s biggest sports brands. Now the company [has gone] public and is 53 percent of Acushnet Holdings, which is Titleist and Footjoy. There wasn’t a trophy moment; it is more of a reflection of people saying, ‘Don’t do it, Jon; it’s impossible.’ Sometimes I sit back and think I don’t even know how it happened.”

Fila Disruptor 2
Fila Disruptor 2
CREDIT: Urban Outfitters

My greatest mentors:
“Gene Yoon [global chairman of Fila] has been a good partner and mentor. I’ve learned a lot from him. We were two guys in an office trying to buy Fila and turned it to a $3 billion global entity. And Horst Dassler. He showed me what the world of sport was about. He invited me to sit with him in 1982 at the FIFA World Cup Finals in the front row. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. He knew my passion for brands from my past — I wrote him letters as a teenager about what I thought about the brand and how it could be great in parts of the world they never had business in.”

What I look for in young leaders:
“I like dedication, enthusiasm and interest in learning, open-mindedness and people who have a particular passion, especially when it comes to their area of expertise.”

Biggest challenge the shoe industry is facing:
“Retail. I’ve never seen it change so dramatically — the way you connect with and motivate consumers, the changing landscape and how retailers have to create experiences within stores and online. It’s not just about selling product to retailers; it’s about connecting with consumers and then working backward with the different types of channels they shop.”

What keeps me up at night:
“Mainly I’m thinking about commercial and product opportunities. That’s why I sleep with a pad next to my bed, because I think of these things and don’t want to forget them. I won’t let myself fall asleep knowing I’ll forget something.”

Fila Bubbles
Fila Bubbles
CREDIT: Hanon

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