New Black Diamond president's challenge: Broadening the brand while maintaining innovation

New Black Diamond Equipment President Ryan Gellert sits down for an exclusive interview with SNEWS.

Much of the snowsports and outdoor industry was still easing back into a full work week on Monday, Nov. 28, 2011, when Black Diamond Equipment announced that Ryan Gellert had been named to the newly-created position of brand president.

Gellert most recently served as vice president of Black Diamond’s supply chain management, and before that was project leader and managing director of the brand’s Asia operation from 2005 to 2010. He will continue to work with Peter Metcalf, who remains president and CEO of parent company Black Diamond Inc. Amidst all the changes, Gellert still found time to sit down for an exclusive interview with SNEWS.

SNEWS: Ryan, congratulations on the promotion. What are the first challenges and “orders of business” that you see in front of you?

Ryan Gellert: Thank you very much. I am really excited about the opportunity and also if honest – a bit intimidated. Hopefully that proves to be a healthy combination. Following in the footsteps of the founder of any business is challenging. When that business is BD and that founder is Peter Metcalf – someone so closely identified with the company, the industry and in many ways the sports we serve – it’s even more so. The fact that Peter will remain as CEO of BD Inc. and continue to be accessible will make an enormous difference to the organization and to me personally.

As far as initial areas of focus, I see opportunities to improve the alignment and coordination of the various global functions that make up the BD brand. This includes the R&D function which is almost exclusively located at our headquarters here in Salt Lake; the global sales activities which are spread between Salt Lake, our European operation in Basel, Switzerland, and our global distributor partners located in roughly 40 countries on six continents; and our global marketing function which is largely sited in Salt Lake but executes regionally via our BD Europe team and distributor partners. Add to that the apparel program, which is quickly gaining momentum and it’s clear that 2012 will be a very busy and exciting year. With that said, BD has an incredibly talented and dedicated team of professionals in all of these areas so it really is about harnessing the creativity, insights and expertise that we have and ensuring that we all remain pointed towards clearly communicated and shared goals. It’s a pretty good challenge to have. 

SNEWS: In terms of technology and commerce, what stories is BD looking to tell over the next five years?

Ryan Gellert: The pipe continues to overflow with innovative ideas and concepts focused on serving our core customers – climbers, skiers and mountain athletes. In my 13 years at BD, the R&D group has never suffered from a lack of unique solutions and creative product ideas. Certainly today is no different and our commitment to remaining intensely product-focused is unwavering. The challenge – and again, it’s a really good one to have – is ensuring that we can successfully commercialize and support all that we commit to organizationally. BD is full of incredibly passionate and creative people who work here because they’re committed to the concept of forging a career around making the best gear in the world for the sports we serve. Helping to keep the train on the rails is where I can contribute and what can ultimately allow us to bring more innovative product to market each season.

SNEWS: The Magnetron Carabiner was certainly one of the hits of Summer Market. Does the level of competition in the outdoor market demand that brands try and hit a home run with new product every year? 

Ryan Gellert: I think every brand likes to believe that they bring something innovative and unique to market each year. If we’re honest about it, some are more committed to this than others. All of us here at BD are really proud of our track record of consistently bringing product to market that redefines the sports we serve. Whether it’s going back to the hand-forged chromoly pitons, removable metal chocks and first commercially-produced ice axe from the Chouinard Equipment days, or more recent products like the Hotwire – the industry’s first wiregate biner – the Avalung, the Express ice screw, or the Magnetron, BD has been defined by our commitment to innovation. That commitment remains as strong today as it’s ever been and that will not change.

SNEWS: Do you see big opportunities for growth in the outdoor market right now – and if so, how and where? 

Ryan Gellert: Our industry represents a vibrant growth market both in the U.S. and internationally. The story of the best brands in this industry involves the diversification from equipment into a broader portfolio which often includes apparel. Apparel represents the single largest category segment in global specialty retail. BD has spent the last 25 years investing in and building our leadership position in equipment for climbers, skiers and mountaineers – and partnering with specialty retail. Looking ahead, we plan to grow our equipment categories at the same rate we have historically, and layer in a global apparel business. As a group of users, we are close to our customers and close to our retail partners. We plan to build an apparel business for the BD customer. We think growth will naturally follow.

SNEWS: As an industry, what are the major hurdles?

Ryan Gellert: Well, sitting here today certainly our dependency on weather – or more specifically snowfall – is one of them. It was a tough winter in Europe last year and we are not off to a great start right now in either Europe or throughout much of North America. Beyond that, there is a long list of macroeconomic factors that have a profound impact on all of us including rising costs, currency fluctuations, sovereign debt issues in Europe and then changing demographics in many of the countries that have been traditionally strong outdoor markets. And then of course protecting access to and preservation of the open spaces that this industry and all of us depend on is critical and becoming no less complex.

With all of that said, I remain confident in both the overall health of the industry and in our place within it. I think the complexity of modern life makes spending time outdoors even more valuable if not absolutely necessary. And I know I’m not alone in thinking so.

SNEWS: Finally, Black Diamond has certainly built a strong reputation for continuing to support environmental awareness and sustainability – will this remain a key focus? Under your watch, what do you want the brand’s environmental legacy to be? 

Ryan Gellert: In short, Yes, this will absolutely remain a key focus. Going back to the founding of Black Diamond in 1989, one of BD’s ten commitments was and remains “championing the preservation of, and access to, mountain and crag environments.” This is something that Peter, BD’s global employees and our various directors over time have remained 100 percent committed to. That is as true today as it was 22 years ago.

Given Peter’s passion, intimacy and track record of leadership in supporting environmental awareness and sustainability I expect him to continue to run point on this for some time to come. At the same time I will continue to support where possible and to identify and create opportunities to further ingrain concepts of sustainability into our business processes and decision-making.

Peter Kray

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