Rick Wood joins ArchPoint Consulting from VF Corporation, global leaders in apparel and footwear. He brings nearly 20 years of experience in brand leadership/executive management, global sales, growing and scaling both emerging and established brands.
Most recently, Rick served as President of VF Corporation’s largest group of businesses, the Outdoor and Action Sports Coalition (The North Face®, Vans®, Reef®, JanSport® and SmartWool®) for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Rick’s international business experience refined his proficiency in applying consistent global brand values while respecting the needs of unique, individual markets. Prior to his appointment with VF International, Rick was Vice-President and General Manager of VF Outdoor Canada, where he developed his skills in sales management, product innovation and brand development based on consumer insight, e-commerce business development, retail management, brand acquisition, business evaluation and integration.
Rick’s expertise ranges from small entrepreneurial brands to multi-billion dollar market leaders throughout North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Rick attended the University of Manitoba, School of Economics and now resides in Montreal, Canada.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?
Empathy. I believe you can develop empathy in people — though some people have it more naturally than others. As a leader, it’s far more important to understand what’s going on around you than to focus on your own needs or what’s going on in your own head. People who have an interest in developing empathy can do so, but unfortunately a lot of leaders lack an interest in focusing on other people — unless there’s something to be gained. If you’re focused on others around you simply to further your own needs, then I think you’ve missed the point.
What was more important in shaping your life and career — formal education or other life experiences?
I went to university and didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I was passionate about the outdoor industry. I had started working with the YMCA when I was 13. We did a number of outdoor activities, and I loved it. Ultimately, I translated that passion into what ended up being a very successful career with an amazing global company. For me, it was the passion about the work that ended up driving my career and not the formal education.
Is there something you learned during your first job as a teenager with YMCA that has stayed with you through the years?
When I was 17, the YMCA sent me to Japan to work at a YMCA camp. When I got off the plane, a man from the local YMCA met me. He told me he had two other students to meet and asked me to wait for him while he got the other students. He told me he’d be right back. I waited for three hours and finally decided he wasn’t coming back.
I was 17, had $300 and didn’t speak Japanese. I finally took a train into Tokyo and was able to find the YMCA head office. It was locked for the night and no one was there. There was a bench across the street. I decided I’d go there and sleep for the night and wait until someone showed up the next morning. Just as I settled down on the bench for what I thought was the night, the guy who had lost me showed up at the YMCA building to sound the alarm that he had lost his Canadian student.
At 17 without a phone and not knowing the language, the experience was quite frightening. I’ve told this story a lot over the years, each time explaining how I thought the world was ending. Through this experience and others, I’ve realized that in the moment, a crisis seems a lot bigger, but we come through it. At times a problem might seem insurmountable, or that it’s the end of the world. It’s not. We learn from it and come out stronger.
How was the experience on the Japanese island at 17?
I spent three months on an island off the coast of Japan working with students. There were no cars there. There was a motorized tricycle to haul the fish around the island. In many ways, it was like going back in time. I was the first Caucasian to spend any time of significance on that island. No one on the island really spoke English. I worked with the YMCA camp on the island, and it went well. There were, of course, language barriers and cultural barriers. I did some good work, but I believe there was more learning for me than anyone I helped. The experience probably helped me realize that even through the language and cultural differences, the people there were doing exactly what I was doing. We really weren’t that different.
What is the one mistake you see leaders making most frequently?
As I see leaders setting goals for the organization or for themselves, I’ve noticed that they tend to be a little shorter-sighted. Hence, the goals are not big enough. If I’m talking to a future leader today, they’re often focused on career advancement and achieving the next milestone rather than focusing on the impact they can have on the company or organization. In terms of business, I still see leaders today who make their goals based on the next round number rather than truly reaching for something meaningful. If you’re just looking toward the next round number, you’re not saying, “I want to be the dominant player in this industry or transform this business.”
If you’re aiming for two to three years — that’s the now.
What’s the best business book you’ve ever read and why?
I love Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. I’ve done work with the IDEO organization and have a lot of respect in understanding how they do what they do. IDEO is a global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations innovate.
They use rapid iteration group work. They get a very specific subset of people in the room and put a lot of industrial design ideas on the table. The magic is all about their process. I like their mindset around taking complex problems and breaking them down into manageable slices — all the while keeping people open to other ideas. A large part of their process is about the people you should have in the room and how to unlock minds so that ideas start to flow.
What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Walking into a new room, company or with a new partner, it’s always important to remember that the equity you’ve previously established with others doesn’t walk in with you.
We get to a certain point in our careers when we feel like everyone around us knows the work we’ve done. However, when we step out of that environment — that personal equity we’ve established, positive or negative, doesn’t come along automatically. You have to walk in very humbly and consider that your equity is zero. It was a hard lesson for me. That’s why it stayed with me.
I like to remember that I’m meeting those people for the first time, and they’re meeting me for the first time. I shouldn’t have expectations that there is anything owed in that initial relationship beyond what I earn with them.
What’s a quirky detail about you that might surprise your colleagues?
I’ve had a bucket list for years — a documented list of things I want to do and achieve in my life. I reference it regularly. It guides trips my family and I take together. It’s a quirky little list full of big and small things. It keeps me focused on ideas and challenges. I’ve encouraged friends to do the same, and I reference their list. One close friend and I share our lists. When it’s time to get gifts, I reference his bucket list, usually opting for an experience he’s interested in, rather than a physical gift.
My wife has joined a number of my goals, including travel. We rarely go back to the same place twice because we’re trying to see as much of the planet as possible.
What are some examples of items on your bucket list?
My wife and I both wanted to hunt for truffles in Italy. We did that. I’m into cycling, and I wanted to see a stage in each of the grand tours of cycling. I’ve done that. I wanted to build my family tree. We did that last year. I have a goal to visit 50 countries. I’m at 48 countries right now, and working hard on the next two. In my life, I want to visit 100. I want to drive coast to coast in Canada with my family. I did that with my parents. All in all, I want to make sure my kids’ youth doesn’t pass us by without my wife and I sharing as much as possible with them.
Has the travel you’ve done made you a different leader and manager?
Absolutely. I understand that people aren’t that different. The things that are important to people tend not to change that much. There are wonderful cultures all over the world. North Americans tend to think of the others as “foreign cultures,” but when you’re there, you’re the foreigner.
During my time in Europe, there were 32 nationalities represented by associates in the office I worked in. The cultural differences were incredible. Having personal experience in those cultures helped me understand why things were coming out the way they were — for example, why the Italians spoke with such passion. Having experienced the culture, I interpreted it differently. My travel experience has helped me relate to those cultural differences and be more respectful of them.
How have you created balance in your life with work, family and other interests?
We all talk about balance and work/life balance. My career crossed over with a lot of things I’ve been personally passionate about. I could enjoy a lot of the passions I had while combining it with my career. I’ve always been very focused on not allowing my career to define me. It’s an important aspect of who I am, but it’s not strictly who I am. I’ve worked with some people who were defined by their position, but I chose to never allow that for myself. This approach has served me really well through the years and has helped guide some really important decisions.