CEO Summit: Martinez Says Don’t Fear the Future

Angel Martinez calls on wisdom from the Dalai Lama, Gandhi and Rocky Balboa to navigate today’s uncertain business world.

In a philosophical speech at FN’s CEO Summit, the Deckers Outdoor Corp. CEO presented a jolting picture of the future. He set the stage with a four-minute video clip about the exponential growth of technology, with statistics such as “the top 10 in-demand jobs for 2010 did not exist in 2004” and “the number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the total population of the planet.”

“Welcome to the world you never saw coming,” said Martinez, “where there is no comfort zone, safety net, collective wisdom, right answer, or reliable formula.”

So what’s an executive to do? Martinez suggested a cerebral approach to facing the challenges.

“First, admit you are helpless to control anything other than what you already have your hands around,” he said. “Make the absolute most of what you have right now.” That includes cutting out everything and everyone mediocre and recognizing limitations.

It also means taking an honest look at oneself and one’s company, he said. “How many [shoes] can you really sell? How many can you really make? How many should you sell or make?” The questions should address issues of consumer demand and pricing, among others, he explained.

For Martinez, everything should go back to a purpose-driven mission statement, rather than a day-to-day checklist of tasks or opportunities.

Specifically, the CEO called on the crowd to invest in young talent, the human resources who may be best prepared to face today’s challenges. “To them, it’s not scary, it’s not different, it’s just their future.” And success in this strange new world may require delegation, outside help and a healthy serving of humble pie, he added.

But Martinez advised that public companies should release themselves from the stranglehold of Wall Street. “Only narrow self-interest drives the ethics of the Street,” he said. “We have taken all their shots — including the cheap ones — and like Rocky Balboa, we will not be denied in achieving our goals.”

In closing, the Deckers exec called to mind the great innovators in footwear who were industry outsiders: Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, basketball star Chuck Taylor, the Aussie surfers behind the Ugg phenomenon. “Are we still open to that? Can we suspend our disbelief, fear and cynicism long enough to give someone a shot?” he asked. “I hope so, because our collective future depends on it.”

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