Pierre André Senizergues Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007
After nagging back injuries forced him to retire, former world champion freestyle skateboarder Pierre Andre Senizergues found himself unemployed. Neither ready nor willing to desert the skateboarding world, the native Parisian founded the company that would eventually become Sole Technology Inc. Initially a footwear company specializing in skateboarding shoes, Sole Tech now includes a team of brands serving all disciplines of action-sports enthusiasts, employs 450 worldwide and in 2006 posted revenue in excess of $200 million. Smart Business spoke with Senizergues about how staying true to your roots needs to start at the top.

Plan ahead. It’s a definite change when you go from a small-sized company to a mid-sized company to a big-sized company, and basically, Sole Tech has gone from a small-sized to a big-sized company in five years. It’s very fast growth.

When you first start, you have to do everything, you have to be everywhere, and it’s total chaos. At the same time, you need to start setting the frame, the structure and the motor that will work. When the frame is done and people start getting into place to operate the motor, the leader has to be more a mentoring figure, supporting everybody.

It’s extremely important, especially when you have a company that’s getting bigger and bigger, because if you have to turn a company around, it takes a lot more energy than if you’re a small company, so you really have to be able to plan a vision even further along.

Stick with what you love. It’s important that you love what you do, so you really have to understand what you want to do long term, and you also have to stick to your guns. Sometimes maybe the trend is going a certain direction and it’s not necessarily what you’re about. Certain people follow the trend. For me, I’m focusing on skateboarders and action sports, and even if tomorrow there is a new trend in something different, I would stick to where I came from and what I believe because that’s what I’m into and that’s what I love to do.

Stay true to your culture. Our company is an action sports company, so for me, it’s very important to have people going to the beach, to have people going to the mountains or to the skateparks so they understand the culture.

A lot of the people here come from action sports, but as the company is growing, a lot of the people are coming from the outside, so we make sure they understand the culture but also that they practice that culture, that they try surfing or snowboarding or skateboarding.

It’s very important from a cultural standpoint to stay true to your culture, and socialization is very important, too, in any company. It’s easier to get things done with a lot of people when people know each other more on a personal level.

Model the values of your company. One of the lessons that I’ve learned is that you have to have a team that works together and you have to have the same values in your team.

It doesn’t matter what experience the person has, but the most important thing is the values. If your team believes in the values concept and they all believe in the same direction, they can work together. My role is basically that I am trying to get the company following the mission, but I also encourage people to follow the values of the company: creativity, quality, integrity, teamwork, community and enjoyment.

All those values are very important to me, so as a leader, I constantly try to demonstrate those values in all different types of ways, and as a leader, I show by example. I’m always following the mission of the company and I hold those values deeply, and that really helps people understand what it means and how to do it.

Position employees for success. To motivate employees, you have to give them a sense of accomplishment, and my definition of accomplishment is to do something of pleasure and interest.

You have to position them in a situation where they enjoy what they do and they are interested in what they do, and that is related to their experience and capacity.

It’s very important to put a person in a job where they are going to be successful. When you’re leading a team, you always have to adapt to the strengths and the weaknesses of the team, so you basically have to be like a cementer to get everybody together and help them with what they are missing.

You have to be the glue between everybody. Even the best people have strengths and weaknesses. As a leader, you have to make things work, so in a lot of ways, you are the mediator, but also you are the inspiration that drives everybody to go in one direction.

Of course everybody has different opinions of things, and I really like to have an open market of ideas in the company. A lot of people have really great ideas, and at the end of the day, it’s which ones can we execute and make happen, and it makes people feel good about what they are doing.

Give back. One of our values is community. We are developing so much and so many things that we also have a responsibility to give back, and not only is it the right thing to do but it’s something that makes people feel good, too. It’s really a win-win situation for everybody. What I really try to do is have our employees go to work in a place where they actually feel they get the best life experience they can get. That’s how I’m driving pretty much everybody. They spend so many hours at work, it’s important that it’s pleasurable and interesting.

It’s like in anything, if you have pleasure or interest in something, you’re more driven to do it.

HOW TO REACH: Sole Technology Inc., www.soletechnology.com