How Saucony’s Anne Cavassa Is Leading With Empathy While Keeping Her Team Competitive

Despite being forced to work from home, Saucony president Anne Cavassa said her team hasn’t lost its competitive drive. And she’s tapping into that energy to lead the way. “We are absolutely a team of fierce competitors. We want to win, we want to navigate this smoothly, we want to do it with quality,” Cavassa said. “I’ve been encouraging everybody to embrace the athlete mind and rise every day to deliver our best.” However, Cavassa is aware the home office comes with distractions and responsibilities — something she, too, is dealing with as a mother. To ensure a healthy work-life balance, Cavassa said she is flexible and compassionate with her team’s needs, and has collectively focused them on the most important tasks. Also, the team participates in a daily meeting to help establish a rhythm. This is possible because of the routine she has established for herself. Cavassa said she starts with a run or yoga, which sets her up to be more focused, and designates time for home-schooling, to get outdoors and for family responsibilities such as making dinner. Something else also takes place in the Cavassa household to keep things fun and light. “Early on in this crisis, we found our family having a dance party most nights,” Cavassa said. “That relieves a lot of the stress.”

Below, Cavassa explains how being an empathetic leader is necessary during crisis and discusses the business trends that COVID-19 has accelerated.

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Footwear News: What is the biggest change you have experienced since working from home? 

Anne Cavassa: “You’re now working remotely with a global team, and that is dramatically different. Also, the abrupt disruption to the economy and the standard everyday routine that runners and consumers go through. How we look at and manage our business are probably the two most dramatic things. The biggest challenge in that is navigating through the chaos with a level of positivity that people can rally around and really staying committed to our strategic intent, while also responding swiftly to the financial crisis. We have to be nimble and agile, but also very thoughtful and deliberate. What we’ve been doing is rallying around our brand purpose. As a leader, I think it’s been really important to me that my actions are in alignment with both our mission statement as well as my own core values. That has helped me get my arms around all of those biggest challenges, it’s allowed me to intentionally recommit to the things that are most important to me and then I’ve been able to make more deliberate decisions and take deliberate actions, both personally and professionally.”

What are you been most proud of during this time away from the office?

AC: “What I’m most proud of through this is the way that our team has rallied together. We are very focused on listening to each other, being open-minded in our communication and giving everybody a voice as we’re working through these challenges. It’s not just what you think about from a professional perspective, but so much of this is also tapping into our core values and who we are as people and individuals. As a team, our communication has been has been exceptional and our alignment around the most important things has been very clear so it allows a global team who’s working remotely to go back to wherever they are, their respective homes, and move swiftly.”

How are you leading with empathy during this time?

AC: “We’re really cultivating that human element in our business and our teams and recognizing that our company is made up of people all over the world who are going through the same thing right now. We have open communication, very open communication — there’s nothing that’s taboo. You can talk about anything through all of this. We’re being transparent with what’s going on in the business and how we’re managing it, being real with people. And I’m sharing what’s going on in my life and in our leaders’ lives and building a sense of trust with our team. And we’re dealing with a lot of people who have different personal situations so we need to be really, really flexible.”

How has the coronavirus crisis changed Saucony’s business?

AC: “The pandemic is accelerating trends and there’s new runners coming into our sport. Also, the business is also shifting very digitally. As brick-and-mortar shut down, we pivoted with our partners to help support them and drive their rapidly growing e-commerce businesses. We’re also using our social channels and Saucony.com to help inspire and educate runners. It’s an authentic and genuine voice that we think is relatable in the crisis, and also an expert point of view on running that’s very valuable that we can bring to the table.”

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