In the summer of 1998, Dan Sheridan, who grew up in a house of teachers, decided after teaching high school for a year that it wasn’t the career for him.
Fortunately for Sheridan, he would soon find his long-term professional home with Brooks.
Sheridan started his career with Brooks in August 1998, and has climbed the ladder ever since, all while witnessing the brand’s ascent from a struggling company to a market standout under the leadership of CEO Jim Weber. In late-February, Sheridan, with 24 years under his belt at Brooks, was elevated to president and COO.
What has kept you at Brooks for so long?
“A combination of a lot of things. When I showed up at Brooks, it was a kind of a mess, it wasn’t profitable and we didn’t have a solid strategy. We went through a re-org when Jim [Weber] showed up, and I think I was maybe not making enough money to hit anybody’s radar in terms of laying me off to help the [profit and loss statement] — and they needed some warm bodies to move the inventory that was stale in the marketplace. I got lucky early on in my career where I think I was at the right level of the company and I survived some of the re-orgs. And then the truth of the matter is, I felt connected to the brand early on in my career and I got opportunities to take jobs that I’ve never done in my life, that I had no experience with. I had confidence that what we were doing was going to work, I could see it every single day in my sales roles and my general management roles. We had a leadership team that was solid, starting with Jim all the way down — a group of people that wanted to do great work. Those are the things you do in the real reasons I stayed connected to this brand over time and was fortunate enough to develop my career here.”
What advice would you have for someone who is not only looking to get into the footwear industry, but is also looking to have longevity?
“I was always open to taking roles that you know specifically may not look like great on a resume at all times, so that step forward maybe wasn’t always there. There were lateral moves in my career where I went into development mode and I learned so much from taking roles that were risky at times. I can think of times where I switched from kind of my tech rep days to a sales role where I’d never done that. Somebody gave me the green light to do it, and I could’ve easily said, ‘Hey, not my sweet spot,’ but I was able to kind of find my way. The curiosity that you have to in developing your career is really important. In terms of just this industry, what I love about the footwear industry is the customer focus. I’ve always gravitated toward customer interaction, which if you’re solving for the customer, you get smart pretty quick in figuring out programs and the products you need. I’ve always stayed focused on the customer, and I think that’s an important part of this industry.”
What are the most profound lessons that you learned in your 24 years of Brooks?
“Ownership matters. That’s the first thing I would say. We’ve been fortunate to be under the Berkshire Hathaway ownership structure for quite some time now. We’ve been able to play the long game in the industry. We don’t have a parent company looking over our shoulder. We have a parent company that’s supportive and talks about strengthening the brand as we’re building the business. I’ve learned quickly that ownership matters as I watch strategies change in our industry, sometimes every year for some of the brands we compete against. And one thing I always think about is that growth is not linear. We’ve grown like crazy over this 20-plus years, we’re now over $1 billion in sales, but it’s a razor’s edge in this industry, so you’ve got to move everything forward at the same pace. You’ve got to move your product engine at the same pace, you’ve got to move your brand, you’ve got to move your your operations, supply chain, IT all at the same pace to make sure that you can keep up with growth. If you don’t, one area falls down and it takes everything else down. Growth is not linear, it’s a really complicated puzzle that luckily, consistently over a long period of time we’ve been able to solve.”
What have you learned from Jim Weber, who joined Brooks in 2001 and has been its leader throughout much of your journey with the brand?
“I feel incredibly fortunate to be with a brand that was essentially restarted by Jim in the early 2000s. That’s one thing I don’t I don’t take lightly. There’s so many things in Jim that have been, and continue to be, just the backbone of this brand. One is this long-term view. He’s had a vision for this brand since the day he showed up in run, and there’s been many times in our journey —internally and externally — people question that focus on run, whether that was the toning phenomenon way back in the day and everybody said, ‘Come on, you got to get into this.’ We did our due diligence to say, ‘No, we actually think that performance run is timeless and we’ll be fine if we just focus and execute.’ Or the barefoot phenomenon that came. Jim was this constant in terms of our strategy. His long term view and vision of of a strategy is something that I’ve learned a lot about. We’ve been investing in Europe for 15 years, that’s been a rough road at times, but the long-term approach to that investment is something that Jim has brought to this organization. And then humility. You look at Jim’s style of leadership, being a humble leader with confidence is something I think about every single day and I hope to lead that way in my day to day — it’s approachable and authentic.”
Why has Brooks been able to earn the trust of runners, especially with the brand’s most recent growth?
“It starts with product. Probably 15 years ago, I asked someone, ‘How do you how do you win at run?’ And they said you create an $85 stability shoe and you make sure it’s consistent for 20 years and then maybe you’ll win at run — and there’s some truth in that. We’ve had incredible consistency in product. That’s innovation, it’s biomechanics of human motion and how we design our product around the biomechanics of human motion, it’s materials, it’s experiences now that we’re plugging into our product assortments. Product is the very first place that you start in terms of winning the runner. That’s been consistent for Brooks, we’ve never veered off that. We’re a product company and we believe that performance products are timeless. And early on, we also understood that running is a collection of probably 10,000 local communities around the world where runners gather either on a Wednesday or Thursday night for a pub run or a training group. We understood what running meant at a local level and we built a strategy to execute with local shops and specialty running stores to this day around the world. As digital started to plug in, we understood that our brand had a responsibility to make sure that we’re relevant in digital channels as well, so we built what I think is a pretty sophisticated multichannel strategy without owning any of our stores, and we did it because we understand that runners shop across channel, they researched brands across channel, but ultimately they are living in a local community that they want to be a part of, so they’re walking in the specialty run store, and after they’ve done the research online they want to be able to transact in-store. Our entire strategy is to make sure we have an omnichannel program with our retailers. Come to our site, you can find and purchase or reserve our product on our site and pick it up in-store. We’re working that puzzle really hard. So at the root of it is it’s execution over a 20-year period. We joke that we’re an overnight success in 20 years, but it’s true. We’ve been working this strategy, which is solely focused on run — that’s unique. There’s very few brands that are solely focused on run and we’ve been able to do that over 20 years and it’s paying off in growth.”
Where does Brooks need to improve the most?
“I think about this every day. First and foremost, we stay focused on the runner, we pay attention to make sure our brand is relevant. That’s a product offering, that’s in how we show up from a brand perspective in content creation. All those areas are places where we’re constantly focused on the runner at the center of everything we do. The truth of the matter is as you grow, scale of your operation is really important. We believe that we have to execute at the highest level to win runners and retailers, so we have a lot of work to do in terms of just staying up with growth so that we can service every single channel at the highest level. It starts with a process on the back end that creates demand signals, supply planning, manufacturing and then a distribution network that is seamless for the runner and retailers so we’re servicing everybody within two days of an order placed and connecting it to digital channels so it’s easy to transact with Brooks. That’s going to be something we’re always going to have to improve on because technology is moving fast and ultimately the expectation of runners is lightyears ahead of what it used to be.”
What are some of the goals for Brooks this year?
“The very first thing is to solve the supply chain challenges. It’s still staring us right in the face. We’re making great progress and we think we’re actually ahead of where we thought we’d be, getting back up on the curve with our inventories around the world, but supply chains is a big focus of ours. We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of the expansion of our brand outside the U.S. as well, so we’ve got good goals. Were going to launch in China in April, our brand will be live in China, so that’s that’s a big goal. We’ve got great work going on and people and planet in our organization, and I’m so impressed with the progress we’ve made both on the diversity, equity and inclusion side, and then what our teams have done in terms of our sustainability goals. We signed up for the climate pledge to be net carbon neutral by 2040, and we also launched the very first carbon neutral product for Brooks in the Ghost. And we’re going through a transition here as we all transition back to what the future of work looks like. That’s a big goal for our employees, to make sure that we’re creating flexibility in our workforce to recruit the best talent around the world and take into consideration that the world’s changed a little bit. How are we going to work? How are we going to stay connected to drive this culture? All of that adds up to competing in a marketplace that has some of the best brands in the world. We’re all ultracompetitive and want to continue to gain share with runners through the products that we’re launching. We’ve got a lot to do, I think we’ve got a good plan and we’ve got the people to do it.”