"Before I Thought I was 'Just a Finance Guy'" – Reebok’s Craig Thornton on Becoming a Different Kind of Leader
With the right coaches and can-do attitude a daunting goal can be the making of you.
In the early months of 2016 Reebok started a full-scale business transformation project called ‘Muscle Up’. The transformation project was aimed at improving the profitability of the Reebok brand around the world.
“Business transformations of this size require massive dedication from the organization and a tremendous amount of tough leadership.”
It was a massive undertaking: we poked holes in our business, reassessed our traditional ways of working, questioned why we did things the way we did, and ultimately refocused our energy on those things that brought the most value to the company.
In early work during the transformation, we identified the most critical value creation drivers for the Reebok business around the world. This led us to focus on 10 initiatives which we believed would drive the future value creation for the brand.
Business transformations of this size require massive dedication from the organization and a tremendous amount of tough leadership to drive such change in a short period of time.
During the summer and early fall of 2016, we were searching for an individual to lead the transformation activities. Despite considering people both in and outside of the current organization, it seemed that many roads pointed in my direction. One day in early fall, I received a request as I like to say it and was ‘volun-told’ that I would continue to lead the project and that they would find someone to cover my then-current role leading the company’s finance division.
At the time I remember thinking the about how high the stakes were? Was the future of the company at stake; what about the livelihood of my colleagues around the world? I knew it would mean making unpopular decisions and challenging the status quo, and that made me uncomfortable.
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The transformation processes we used called for a detailed, fast moving, disciplined approach. Our approach drove immediate decision making and prevented procrastination as we drove everyone into a weekly meeting. These meetings were not built to be regular update meetings; they were there to drive quick decision making, remove roadblocks and solve problems.
Right away I felt uncomfortable with the highly structured process, with the pressure I was having to apply to colleagues, and most notably, why as the VP of Finance I was responsible for driving changes in product creation and marketing among other topics. As a whole, this way of working was outside our normal work culture, and I questioned my ability to conform to the demands of the role.
Along the way we had external help, most notably from one gentleman whose professional expertise is in business transformations. I sought counsel in him. He was my sparring partner, my confidant, the person who during our marathon sessions on Wednesdays I would quickly pull aside and ask; What can I change? What can I do better? How can I be more efficient?
I reached out to my peers externally to learn from other successes – what worked, what didn’t – and internalized them as best I could to make a series of informed decisions.
The coaching I sought helped immensely and not only drove a highly successful transformation of the business but for myself as well.
I am a different person than I was 24 months ago: I’m more confident, and I’ve learned how to work cross-functionally in ways I had never done before.
Two of my biggest takeaways are:
1. People make the change
There’s a difference between leading and coaching. In some instances, it was more powerful for me to ask questions that helped my colleagues ultimately come to a business decision themselves. This empowered them to be agents of change: they made the decisions and were engaged in the transformation.
2. Comfort zones should be avoided
Putting myself in a position of vulnerability ultimately led me to approach my career with an expanded, open mind. Before I thought I was ‘just a finance guy’ and today I feel like the sky is the limit. I went from running finance to informing the product design process, marketing more smartly and be more digitally savvy. And I know there’s so much more in store for me!
I’m proud of the work the Reebok team has done, and I’m proud of my personal growth. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know all the answers; no one does. I’ve been successful so far because I have embraced this and sought support from a variety of sources who have given me honest feedback and impactful coaching.
My recommendation to anyone who’s concerned that a new role will make them uncomfortable? Good. Embrace the change and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.