Women in Power: Columbia Sportswear’s Pri Shumate on the Importance of Diversity in the Workplace

As part of FN’s annual Women in Power issue, we asked 15 footwear execs who have stepped into prominent new roles this year to talk about overcoming obstacles and their advice for the next generation.

Pri Shumate joined Columbia Sportswear on March 14 as its new chief marketing officer after serving as head of marketing experiences and Olympics at Airbnb since June 2020. Shumate has also held marketing roles at World Surf League, Nike, and Hurley.

Here, Shumate discusses her leadership philosophies, becoming an effective communicator, and being open to different managing styles.

My leadership mantra:

“I don’t really have a leadership ‘mantra,’ but I do have two philosophies, both connected to my deep belief that great teams create great business results. 1.) Transparency is the key to great team performance. Leaders can’t expect teams to perform at their best if they don’t clearly understand (and align) on the what and the why. Without transparency, there is no understanding of how one’s job fits into the greater picture, and without that, the team’s potential is limited. As leaders, we have to trust our teams with information. And 2.) Fairness and love are the keys to great teams. We are all human, first and foremost. Leaders can be demanding, intense, direct, but they must treat people right. That means with respect, fairness and (why not?) love.”

My biggest opportunity and biggest challenge:

“My biggest opportunity at Columbia is to leverage the trust from consumers and business momentum we have in the marketplace to elevate the DNA of the brand, create deeper connections with consumers and inspire them to get outside!  Quality and creativity (both fueled by incessant problem solving) are the biggest parts of our DNA – so we’re going to double down on that!

We have so much we can leverage inside of this brand (from people to product, to constant innovation stories), my biggest challenge will be to figure out where to start!”

The most significant career barrier I’ve faced and how I overcame it:

“I grew up in Brazil, lower middle-class child, divorced parents, and I had to learn how to hustle for mostly everything I wanted. I moved to the USA chasing the American dream and landed at Texas A&M University with $4,000 in the bank. I needed to make that last an entire year, or I was going back home. So, I had to hustle even harder.

Those early experiences certainly influenced my approach in life, and later, my leadership style. I was always very passionate about my work and the work of my teams and early in my career, I wanted people to understand and love it as much as I did. But in corporate America, passion must be tamed sometimes, and you must perk up your ears and edit your message if you want to be an effective communicator. So, I had to learn to channel that passion and eagerness overtime. I also had to show people that I was listening to them – even if I had always been, my style was getting in the way of other people seeing it. Sometimes I regret taming my passionate style as much as I did, but I do not regret ensuring that other people knew I was listening to them and taking their input to heart. Listening and learning from others became an invaluable skill, and the biggest contributor to my success.”

Advice for women starting out in their careers:

“Above career is something called Life. As much as possible, try to align your career to your life, and not the other way around. The happier you are, the best work you will do.”

One thing I wish someone had told me:

“I wish that someone told me that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) are still not a widespread reality. Accept early on that, as a woman, you will have to deal with it at some point. The more aware you are, the more you can adapt, adjust or challenge, and help to create a world in which DE&I does become a reality for everyone, not just women. One point I’d like to make: one of the biggest expressions of diversity is leadership style. Different experiences, genders, races, etc. make different leaders. Make sure you are open to different leadership styles in your career. Many companies still try to mold their diverse teams into ONE preferred leadership style, and that defeats the entire premise of diversity and inclusion.”

The leader who has had the most impact on me and why:

“I’m not sure that I can identify just one leader that has had the MOST impact on me. But certain things from certain leaders have stuck with me over the years. Nike had a CMO named Davide Grasso. He was this super smart, cool Italian character that appreciated luxury brands and fancy cars (he’s now the CEO for Maserati). But he knew and understood consumers in all walks of life. And he always told us that ‘something is premium when you exceed the consumer’s expectations.’ That always stuck with me because it implied that premium was relative and that knowing your target consumer was paramount. That reinforced the curiosity I already had for consumers and made me never lose sight of who I was serving, and what mattered to them.”

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