Women in Power: Merrell’s Sumi Scott on Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

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.

Sumi Scott is a 20-year veteran in the outdoor and lifestyle markets with stints at The North Face and Canada Goose. In March, she joined Merrell as chief merchant officer to oversee the transformation of its apparel and accessories collections.

Here, she discusses the importance of representation and mentorship, and learning to be vulnerable as a leader.

My leadership mantra:

“I have two. The first one is ‘let’s not be afraid to fail’, and the second one is, ‘let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ As we broaden our reach as a brand, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is essential to our growth.”

The biggest opportunity and biggest challenge in my new role:

“Broadening how we speak of performance is both our biggest opportunity and our biggest challenge.  As we grow, we must push the edges of our brand to be disruptive through design, colorways and visual cues. As a brand, we want to look at performance through a consumer lens in a way that feels authentic to Merrell. The outdoor industry is evolving and we’re seeing more people of color, women and younger audiences getting outside. As we analyze performance through the lens of these new groups, it shifts the conversation and requires that we rethink how speak to consumers.  We must deliver innovative products that deliver clear, meaningful benefits.”

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

“As a direct-speaking woman in a male-dominated industry, I’ve found that representation and mentorship matter. In my 20-year career, I’ve only had one female boss, and that was for less than a year. In order to overcome that, I’ve worked to find the balance between taking a nurturing, softer approach but also driving results. Being direct and hard charging is at my essence and makes me who I am, but finding time to connect with people, being vulnerable and showcasing all sides of my personality is something I’m continuing to work on.”

Advice for women starting out in their careers:

“Own and manage your energy. Someone once said to me, ‘Put away your smile.’ That was good advice because the way I tend to show up is as a pleaser who smiles and nods frequently. As women, we have more power in owning our energy and what we’re putting out. You set the tone in the situation and have more control than you realize. Oftentimes women tend to be nurturing (studies show women are always nodding in the audience or smiling during a presentation) or can close off/be guarded as to not show any weakness or vulnerability. There is a time and place for where and how you want to connect with people and different moments require different parts of ourselves.”

One thing I wish someone had told me:

“For me, the thing I’ve had to learn is that everyone brings a different gift to the table. When you enter leadership, the job is to find your gift and amplify it. This has been a journey for me, and I’ve been able to recognize other people’s gifts that help balance out our team and ensure we continue to drive results.”

The leader who has had the biggest impact on me:

“I’ve had a lot of great leaders who have helped guide me along the way. Most impactful for me was someone who showed me what mentorship means and our relationship was so much more than transactional about work. I leaned on him for navigating larger issues outside of the day to day, and he was great at managing relationships, holding people accountable and strategizing a process. Ultimately, he trusted me which made me more confident in what I was doing.”

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