When Bob Puccini was appointed president of Mizuno USA Inc. in late 1996, the company typically had the lowest average selling price in the markets in which the sporting goods manufacturer competed.
“We were chasing revenue but weren’t building a brand,” he says.
He recognized that he needed to build the brand and find a way to differentiate it from the competition so people would choose Mizuno.
“We realized that product alone wasn’t enough,” says Puccini, who also serves as chairman for Mizuno Canada Ltd. “We really pride ourselves on superior product, but there are a lot of competitors out there that have great product stories.”
Within his company, he saw how his team really understood the biomechanical needs of athletes, and they could translate that technology and know-how into a brand experience.
“We made different products for different types of runners and golfers,” he says. “Why not bring that experience to the consumer and really bring a specific individual prescription for each runner or golfer that could be unique? We felt that personalization capability brought a specialty brands expertise to the respective consumer.”
So Puccini and his team created a “Run with us” campaign that had vans go to different locations. Each van had precision fit terminals where a person’s biomechanical skeletal structure and running needs could be identified by observing their cycle as they ran. Then a specific shoe could be prescribed based on that outcome.
They also launched a performance-fitting system for golf clubs. A golfer could come in and the Mizuno team had a device called a shaft optimizer that they would place on the club shaft. Then the golfer would take three swings, and based on five specific swing dynamics, information gathered would indicate which three head and shaft options would be best for the golfer.
On top of these direct reaches to customers, they built a structure to partner with retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, instead of competing with them. When an order would come in online, they would give the retail partner a set period of time to fill the order themselves so they got the business. If they didn’t fill it, then Mizuno would fill it.
“It’s tough to speak outside of both sides of your mouth,” Puccini says. “It’s hard to say, ‘You’re important to us,’ and then we go compete with them. That was a great unique solution for us.”
As a result of these and other efforts, in fiscal 2010, the Americas division of Mizuno Corp. brought in well over $200 million in revenue and had record profits.
“Now we are among the highest average selling price in the market, which is clearly an indication that we are a brand that is perceived as premium quality and people are willing to pay premium dollar for that product and service,” Puccini says. … “Obviously, if you don’t deliver the quality and the value, people aren’t going to pay for that.”
The transformation wasn’t easy, but here are the business keys Puccini used to turn Mizuno USA into a champion.
Be honest with yourself
Growing up in New York, Puccini had to develop street sense to get by.
“Sometimes you just have to be a smart guy growing up in New York to survive,” he says. “That means knowing which alleys not to walk down. It doesn’t mean you walk down every alley and pick a fight and win them all. It means also being savvy enough to know I’m not going to walk down that alley — that doesn’t look right, that doesn’t feel right. It’s knowing where to play and where not to play, and again playing to your strengths. If you don’t have them, you better acquire or develop them.”
That ability to be completely honest with himself was critical as a kid, and it’s just as needed as a leader looking at your abilities and your business.
“Sometimes it hurts, but that’s part of being successful,” he says. “You’ve got to be honest with your limitations.”
When Puccini looked at what Mizuno was good at, he knew he had to play to what the organization’s strengths were instead of focusing too much on improving its weaknesses.
“When you build a business, you have to recognize your weaknesses as well as your strengths,” he says. “You have to play to your strengths to win. You can’t try to be somebody else. You can’t try to play somebody else’s game and beat them at their game. You have to win at your game and where you’re strong.”
It ultimately comes down to being honest with yourself as you go through these processes. Puccini says he’s able to do that because one of the values that has driven Mizuno USA all these years is a spirit of humility.
“Humility allows us to step back,” he says. “If you’re going to get things done, you have to be honest with yourself and check your ego at the door and say, ‘OK, let’s take an objective view.’
“The truth of the matter is life isn’t really overly complicated if you can be honest with yourself.”
But often being honest is easier said than done.
“Recognize the value in what the honesty can deliver for you,” he says. “Create an environment where truth and bad news is accepted and used as a learning opportunity, which means you also have to check egos at the door. You have to build trust with your constituency — your employees — where it becomes safe to have those open discussions.”
He says the key is to also create solutions instead of just listing problems.
“The bottom line is you have to be honest with your weaknesses, but bring solutions so there’s an accountability to that openness as well,” he says. “I don’t like to deliver problems to my board. I don’t like my team to deliver problems to me. I don’t mind them bringing bad news, but I want them to bring alternative solutions, as well, and I expect them to bring business cases that support their recommendation, as well.”
Bring in the right people
The people at Mizuno USA have an adaptive culture, and having people who buy in to that approach has been key to the company’s success.
“For us, bringing the right people on board that have that innate style and value system, including humility, it keeps us driven,” Puccini says.
As the company has grown, he’s been proactive about bringing in people from reputable consumer products companies. For example, his new vice president of brand marketing and a new social media manager are both from Newell Rubbermaid. A new consumer insights manager is from General Motors and a new digital marketing manager is from Disney.
He expects their perspectives, talents and skill sets from these leading companies will help Mizuno move forward, as well.
When you’re looking to bring people into your organization, compare them against your plan rather than against another person.
“If you have a business vision and a business goal and say, ‘Here’s where we’re going and here’s how you have to play,’ those kinds of things allow you to recognize the kinds of skills you need to do that. You have to have a clear vision — where you’re going, where you’re going to play, where you think you can win, and how you’re going to play in order to win. Then you step back and say, ‘Wow, what kind of skills do we need in order to do that?’ Then you do a gap analysis. Here’s where we are, here’s where we need to be from a competency perspective, and what’s the plan to either acquire or develop those competencies?”
When you know what the core competencies are that you need in someone, then you can move forward.
“Then in the interviewing and selection process, it’s using those competencies as a basis for selection criteria,” he says. “We’re able to drill down on past experiences and see if those competencies are true there.”
That’s the objective side, but then there’s also the other side of the coin with the subjective side, which is fit. For Puccini, he wants someone that fits with the size of the organization and the matrix style of management present due to crossover and shared service.
One other specific element he looks for is someone who’s got experience at a larger organization because they’ll help bring people along as the company grows. But that’s a challenge in and of itself.
“Sometimes in larger companies, you have a larger staff and resources, whereas here, you may have to have that thoughtfulness, but do it yourself and roll up your sleeves,” he says. “That’s the challenger mentality. Sometimes you get one without the other. Sometimes you get the right spirit without the competencies or sometimes the competencies without the spirit, and you have to get both.”
That’s not always easy, which is why a strong dialogue in the interview process is critical. Dialogue is also good for the candidate to learn, as well.
“It’s a two-way street,” he says. “We have to sell our story to prospective employees and see how that feels for them. This isn’t right for everybody. That’s OK. It doesn’t make anybody a good person or a bad person — it’s a matter of fit.”
Improve your processes
About 10 years ago, Puccini implemented new ERP platforms and the technology was a great catalyst for Mizuno’s growth, but he says it goes beyond the specific technology.
“It’s not the technology that makes a difference,” he says. “Technology is an enabler, but it’s the business processes that needed re-engineering that allowed us to be effective. Technology enabled us to execute these things quicker, but without really understanding what our business processes were and how they affected each other cross-functionally, we wouldn’t have been successful.”
The key is really understanding your processes.
“There are many ways you can attack that, but I suppose if you have a clear understanding of who you’re trying to be, where you’re trying to play and how you want to do it, you have to work backwards then and say, ‘What are the drivers that will allow us to do that?’” he says. “Reverse engineering is one way you can do that — here’s the vision, here’s where we want to go, what are the good things we need to do in order to get there, what does that look like, what are the processes?”
He says that examining your processes is critical to creating efficiencies, which will ultimately help your business improve.
“If you can have the process discipline and you get things done efficiently, you have more time to think rather than chasing errors and corrections and things like that,” Puccini says. “Sometimes people think, ‘Process, oh that’s going to be a bureaucratic organization.’ No, sometimes process can set you free.”
But it’s a balance that you have to effectively find.
“You have to have quantitative, objective measurements of your business results,” he says. “That’s certainly an indication. You have to have a clear indication of (key performance indicators) — what are you trying to measure? What’s important to you? Therefore, if those things are important to you relative to achieving your business goals, these are the KPIs you ought to be looking on a regular basis. If we’re succeeding or not based on certain benchmarks, that’s one indication.”
That’s just the objective set. There’s also a subjective side to that balance.
“You have to listen to the pulse of your organization — you have to listen to your organization, to your people,” he says. “It’s not the guy in the corner office that gets it done. It’s the people on the floor, the packers, the supervisory people, the middle managers. Those are the people that are making it happen day in and day out, so really listening to their feedback and being willing to [listen] — again back to that openness and objectivity about yourself and humility — and sometimes it’s not easy to hear.”
How to reach: Mizuno USA Inc., (800) 966-1211 or www.mizunousa.com
THE PUCCINI FILE
Bob Puccini, president, Mizuno USA Inc.; chairman, Mizuno Canada Ltd.
Born: White Plains, N.Y.; grew up in Eastchester, N.Y.
Education: I have a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Fordham University — that’s in the Bronx, home of the New York Yankees. I went on a baseball scholarship. I was fortunate to be selected to work for the Gillette Co. out of school. I started in sales and worked my way up into brand management. I went to school at night and received my MBA from Pace University. I didn’t come up the classical route — I didn’t go to Harvard or Wharton or one of the pedigree schools, but I went up the street side and blended it with my MBA.
Puccini on strategic planning: What we’re finding is planning is fluid. Market conditions change dramatically in a blink of an eye today, especially with the Internet and communication and things like that. ... You can’t say, ‘Here’s the plan, put it on a shelf, and we’ll get to it next year. Historically, you might look at the landscape and take a competitive assessment and look at what you are to your competitors. Consider strengths and weaknesses, do a SWOT analysis and decide what your strategic initiatives should be to reach your overall goals. … I don’t think you should change strategy regularly unless conditions warrant that, but you have to be flexible and adaptable enough to change your tactics and approaches on a regular basis.