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Meet Mark Ritchie, the man soon taking the reins at Black Diamond Equipment. Last week, we spoke with Peter Metcalf about the company’s past. This week, we look to the future with the incoming president and how he plans to stay true to the ethos of the brand.
SNEWS: Tell us about your history with BD. What kind of collaboration have you had with Metcalf and how has that inspired you?
MR: I’ve worked with Peter at BD for over 21 years. During that time I’ve worn many hats and been responsible for different parts of the company: manufacturing, R and D, supply chain, quality assurance, and overseas operations.
My time with Peter has ranged from strategic executive meetings to airport bivys. We’ve shared laughs, stress, high fives and adversity. Our professional relationship has long since spilled into a personal friendship founded on respect. I’m certain my new role will be exciting and challenging. I’m also certain I’ve had a front row seat to what it takes to be a great leader.
What inspires me is about Peter is that he has taken the principles of the driving force in his life – alpine climbing – and applied them to our business. Tenacity, problem solving, managing risk, setting goals, building personal trust and caring for the environs where you exist are the tenets that drive Peter and everyone here at BD. You can clearly see those fingerprints on our products. Peter has set the leadership bar extremely high and the foundation that he is leaving will serve the organization for the future.
“In the mountains, sometimes you have to set audacious goals to find out what you are capable of.”
SNEWS: What would you like to see change under your leadership?
MR: My background is operations. It’s not the sexiest world, but one that stresses consistency, reliability and efficiency. These are key elements for our consumers and inherent in all BD products. Certainly, the last few years have challenged Black Diamond as we tried to build a larger global platform and expand into apparel on an aggressive timeline. My role and success as a leader will be defined by consistent management and expectation in terms of goals, reliable communication and treatment of our employees and partners, and efficient hard-working products that meet the needs of our retailers and users.
What I do not expect to see is any veering away from the fundamental idea that this brand stands for – and always will – innovative product. My longtime BD colleague, Chris Grover, had an image of Muhammad Ali over his desk. It’s the black and white iconic shot of Ali standing over Sonny Liston after knocking him out. Grover would always reinforce that product is king, and BD was all about knocking out the competition by building the best products. If you deliver knockout product you will always have the retailers and consumers in your corner. That image, and what it represents, will always be a reminder of our mission.
SNEWS: What will you do to stabilize BD’s reputation after so much change over the last few years?
MR: In the mountains, sometimes you have to set audacious goals to find out what you are capable of. Black Diamond launched a very ambitious apparel program in 2010, and we have learned some hard earned lessons that will make us better moving forward.
One example is the need to earn the trust and respect of your retailers and consumers. This takes time, even for an established brand such as BD. If you look at how Black Diamond has built brand acceptance and leadership in various categories such as lighting, gloves, trekking poles, and crag and snow packs, we did so with the right product mix and by being tenacious. The same holds true for apparel. The hallmarks are all there; it is just a longer endeavor than initially forecasted. And, like many experiences in the mountains, a certain amount of hard work is required before success can be achieved.
The inventory of BD’s assets is encouraging. North American sales in 2015 are strong. We have had great success with innovative product launches in our key categories: Camalot Ultralights in climbing and the groundbreaking JetForce pack in skiing. The #1 selling Spot headlamp continues to lead our lighting category and apparel is making strides with the patented, award-winning Pieps pocket featured in multiple garments.
Our marketing is as impactful as ever with the launch of BDTV and in-store installments with key retailers. The supply chain is clean. Our R&D pipeline is robust.
Additionally, we are encouraged by mainstream trends in climbing (indoor and out) and backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. Coupling major market tailwinds with curated product lines and focusing on retail partnerships and new climbers coming into the sport through rock gyms will build upon BD’s stature as the leading global climbing company.
SNEWS: BD’s recent earnings report states that you’ll be looking to diversify outside the outdoor industry to deploy the cash from the POC sale. Can you discuss this move away from being a pure play outdoor company, and what does it mean for the brand identity?
MR: Since 2010, when we went public there has been a general confusion between Black Diamond Inc. (the publicly traded platform that owned Black Diamond, Gregory, POC and Pieps) and Black Diamond Equipment, the manufacturer. The confusion is not surprising as we named the parent company after the best known and most established sub-brand. Additionally, Black Diamond Equipment took on roles and responsibilities of the larger entity (BD Inc.) headquartering Gregory, POC and Pieps on our Salt Lake City campus and centralizing operations, warehousing, legal, customer service, and some shared services in marketing and sales.
Moving forward, Black Diamond Inc. the public company will be exploring new opportunities in periphery and diverse markets. Black Diamond Equipment will become an autonomous independent holding of Black Diamond Inc.
“I’ve had a front row seat to what it takes to be a great leader.”
Thus, Black Diamond Equipment will no longer have to host the myriad infrastructure burdens of the additional brands. This will allow Black Diamond Equipment to do what we do best: build innovative products for climbers, skiers and alpinists.
SNEWS: Will public lands access, stewardship, and conservation remain important aspects of a more diversified BD?
MR: Our commitment to public land access, stewardship and conservation is part of our DNA. It is a founding principle of Black Diamond that we will always honor. Having Peter as an ongoing advocate as he moves more into this realm will only amplify our efforts.
In the modern world many brands play the causal marketing game. It’s important and relevant to note that Black Diamond’s commitment to the larger issues at stake, such as access to public land and related climate and clean air quality is not a marketing play. It is the gravitational center of why we work.
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