How the CEO of Ortholite Tackles Diversity, Inspires His Team & Drives Growth

Glenn Barrett, CEO of Ortholite, has lots more to consider these days than simply developing new cushioning materials for many of today’s leading footwear brands. The executive is equally focused on the challenges facing companies across a wide range of fields — not the least of which are promoting diversity, attracting a new generation of talent and developing solid business plans as we move into the next decade.

Here, the entrepreneur shares the creative ways he is tackling these issues while keeping an eye on business.

How I entered the shoe industry:

“Upon graduating from college, I worked as a salesperson in the printing business in New York. I was looking for a change, and a recruiter called about an opportunity with a company that made soles for shoes. It sounded like Vibram, although I had no clue why I knew that. He said it was in central Massachusetts, which was not that appealing. However, it would get me 1 and a half hours closer to skiing in Vermont, so I decided I would talk to them.”

My biggest challenge:

“While we have systems set up in China, and we operate there very well, as sourcing venues change around the world triggered by trade wars, we [now have to] replicate what we do in China in Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Brazil.”

The ways I inspire my team:

“Our biggest challenge is having all our people feel like they’re working for this big American company. We try to create a family atmosphere and concentrate on brand building. I go to Asia three times a year to visit our facilities. I’m seen walking around [the factories] and asking questions. We have employees in China that have been with us 15 and 18 years, which is pretty extraordinary. We’re now looking at the younger generation and [thinking], ‘How do we get them?’ ”

Discovering new talent:

“[We use] recruiters, but it’s important that our senior leadership team has a global perspective. We operate in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. We’re also forming joint ventures in India and Brazil, so we look for people with international experience. I’ve been really fortunate to have a CFO that came from Hershey’s, and our COO ran BASF in the U.S. My chief of sales came from Ecco and has retail experience in sunglasses. These guys are helping us go to the next level.”

The diversity issue: 

“By and large, we’re a male-oriented company. However, a lot of our accounting [staff] in the U.S. is female, and we’re always trying to recruit women. Our sales force [includes] a woman who’s a former designer. She calls on fashion houses in New York and does a fabulous [job]. In our Amherst, Mass., office, we have a woman who’s [originally] from China. She’s on the phone in Chinese with our people all the time. We also have two employees from Cuba, and another from Puerto Rico. It’s important for us [to be diverse] because we operate in different cultures, and I like that.”

My business mentors:

“New Balance’s Jim Davis, who I met early in my career. He’s the classic American entrepreneur. He’s still fiercely independent and still owns that place lock, stock, and barrel. I got to know him [while working at] Vibram, where we supplied material to New Balance.”

Advice to the next generation:

“Learn the language of the country where [you’re doing business]. I’ve been in meetings in Italy, China. You ask a question and people will for 20 minutes. Then, the translator will look at you and say, ‘He said, no.’ ”

Five-year strategy:

“We’re working on a succession plan. My son John was recently promoted to president. I’m focusing on innovation more than ever, letting others run the day-to-day [operations]. We’re working on materials that are 100% synthetic and chemical free. We’ll be making materials out of polymers that are derived 100% from bio sources such as weeds and plants and don’t require any petrochemicals.”

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