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How Women Executives Are Leading Running Powerhouses in an Ultracompetitive Landscape

The running industry is largely male-dominated, however some of the market’s powerhouses — companies that are leading the charge during the sport’s recent boom — have inspiring and experienced women at the helm.

For instance, Hoka One One — part of the Deckers Brands performance lifestyle group — is led by Wendy Yang, who is approaching six years with the company. And three years ago, both Saucony and New Balance made major leadership moves, with Anne Cavassa taking over as Saucony president and Melissa Worth was named SVP of North America at New Balance.

Beyond brands, a leading specialty run retailer. in Atlanta — West Stride — was opened by Genie Beaver in 2008.

Below, leaders from the aforementioned companies discuss how they’ve led their companies throughout the COVID-19 disruptions and their goals for 2021.

MELISSA WORTH
SVP OF NORTH AMERICA AT NEW BALANCE

HOW I TRY TO INSPIRE OTHERS:

By being my authentic self. I find it drives a connection with those around me and enables others to do the same. I’m always focused on communicating a forward-looking vision, inclusive of why we need to evolve, and ensuring the team is a part of crafting how we get there.”

OVERCOMING 2020’S BIGGEST HURDLE:

“In a challenging year both personally and professionally, keeping the teams motivated and delivering results was the biggest challenge. We overcame it by celebrating our wins, being incredibly flexible and agile in our approach. An important win was what we internally called Made Medical. We quickly mobilized our expertise in domestic manufacturing and innovation to produce general-use face masks for the health care community that allowed our team to make a difference, but also served as a reminder of our purpose-driven culture.”

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE LAST YEAR:

“This year allowed us to self-reflect as a team and as a brand, and make sure all associate voices are heard. We have always said we lead with our values and this past year allowed us to show that by not just saying but doing. It is so rewarding to see the teams excited about our progress through the pandemic, embracing change that delivers results and envisioning our path ahead as we innovate across all aspects of the business.”

GOALS FOR 2021:

“To drive the brand momentum and stay committed to embracing meaningful change that builds on the strong foundation we have set, not just over the last year but our long history.”


WENDY YANG
PRESIDENT, PERFORMANCE LIFESTYLE GROUP AT DECKERS BRANDS

Wendy Yang is one of the few women leaders of an athletic brand. And in 2020 — similar to all executives navigating the COVID-19 business landscape — she had to fine tune her skills to keep Hoka One One on the right track. “We have a great team, and we’re growing super fast, [so effective leading] comes down to communication, consistency, discipline and empathy. Those things have never been as important as they are now,” Yang said. Under her leadership, Hoka experienced massive growth for Deckers in Q3, with sales climbing 52.1% to $141.6 million. With the success, Yang knows people are looking to her as a source of inspiration — and she is embracing the change to encourage others. “My aim is to inspire the entire Hoka team, and the revenue growth of is great because it does offer a lot of opportunities. We are bringing more people into the brand, growing and scaling,” Yang said. “And for junior women who don’t see many women in leadership roles, hopefully they see [a woman leading Hoka] and say, ‘I can do this, too.’”


ANNE CAVASSA
PRESIDENT, SAUCONY

It’s fitting that Saucony president Anne Cavassa likened navigating the challenges brought on by COVID-19 to running a race. “As a runner, I’ve learned the importance of being flexible and adapting to changing circumstances mid-race. It could be the weather, the competitors, the terrain,” she said. “[Leading a brand] now is just like running a race. You need to embrace the uncertainty, you need to adapt to a dynamic business environment, to where your team is at any given moment.” Being faced with the daunting task of leading amid uncertainty, Cavassa tapped into the things that have kept Saucony an industry leader under her watch. “Having a clear purpose and an answer to our ‘why’ is critical. And collaboration is key to breakthroughs, so I work hard to foster strong collaboration within our teams. Acknowledging others and communicating gratitude for the incredible team at Saucony is important. Every voice matters at Saucony,” Cavassa said. With such a strong focus on team, it’s only right that the exec’s main goal before year’s end also involves them. “There are so many goals, but it’s the simple ones that really matter to me right now. Literally getting together with my team for a run, that would be an amazing accomplishment this year,” she said.


GENIE BEAVER
OWNER, WEST STRIDE, ATLANTA

HOW I TRY TO INSPIRE OTHERS:

“When I wake up in the morning. I don’t think, ‘How am I going to inspire others?’ But I try to do things at our shop that are interesting or if there’s a great need to help somebody in some way. Maybe the byproduct of that is inspiration. It’s more about the collective group being inspirational versus me being the inspiring one.”

OVERCOMING 2020’S BIGGEST HURDLE:

The unknowns. Planning and tweaking the plans and remaining flexible was the No. 1 challenge. I had to remind myself to not be too comfortable, not to assume that anything’s going to bounce back. You have to be ready for anything.”

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE LAST YEAR:

“I’m proud that I have quite a few full-time employees relative to the size of our store and they all stayed on payroll. They kept busy, did projects, took care of things that were on the back burner for months, if not years. And I’m proud of the staff treating this business like it’s their own — not working for their paycheck, but working to make sure West Stride and the Atlanta run community continue to thrive into the post- virus world.”

GOALS FOR 2021:

“To come out of the year with an optimistic mindset. It’s about remaining positive, being grateful we have a business that’s doing well, grateful that my staff and customers have remained healthy, and hopefully the Atlanta running community bounces back and we get the Peachtree Road Race back and get our track club going full swing again. I haven’t spent a ton of time worried about profitability or revenue targets. I just want the people who work with me to still be with me, I want us to be well-positioned for 2022 and I want our community to bounce back.”

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