When it comes to space, CEO and President of ASICS America, Gene McCarthy, understands the important role it plays in building a brand and a business. Over the past year, T3 Advisors has had the pleasure of working closely with Gene and the ASICS team on a variety of projects, including the launch of a new design center in Boston.
After the grand opening of the creation studio, we sat down with Gene and talked with him about ASICS’ brand, history, the company’s new creation studio, and the importance of space.
Gene McCarthy: When I joined the brand, I flew to Japan and it was very ceremonial. I met the chairman of the company who was the son-in-law of the founder. In our first 15 minutes, he told me that one of his wishes was to expand out of California—to expand ASICS’ presence within the United States, and to also have a global impact.
Even though we are a humble group, we also are very competitive here, and [in Boston] we’re right in the heart of all of our competition. I think you need to go to work every day looking over your shoulder a little bit and wondering what they’re doing at the next place—to stimulate your creativity and just to give you more bounce in your step.
When it came down to the studio, my thought was we have to create a place that the employees didn’t feel like employees, but that they felt like they were creating. I wanted it to feel highly collaborative. I wanted the feel of the space to not only feel like the brand, but I also wanted it to feel like it belongs to the people who worked here.
GM: There’s a difference between a company and a brand. A company manufacturers widgets, and they ship them all over the place. A brand has a conversation with a consumer or an athlete, and it takes that conversation to life through its products.
I think what we don’t do enough of is celebrate our brand—we celebrate our products. Since I joined, that’s been my whole-hearted mission: how do we make the company brand-focused? Because shoes and clothes come and go, but the brand remains the same and has to be the eternal flame that burns.
So this place, in many regards, is our oasis so that we can create. But it’s also a way to make sure that we’re smack in the center of things that matter—which, in this case, is a bustling city with a lot of young people, a lot of energy, and a lot of athletes, so it’s really, really important that way.
GM: I do think our workspaces are going to be different, and I think that has to embody the idea of communication and collaboration. I think there’s no company that serves a consumer that can get by without that human interaction.
I also think that the definition of departments within companies is going to change dramatically. I don’t think there’s going to be the finance person, or the customer service person, etc. I think they’re all going to be brand zealots and brand advocates. They may have a certain strength that they rely on for their daily job, but their role will be to drive a brand and have a conversation with consumers.
The other thing that’s driving all this, too, is that consumers don’t care about your brand until they know what your brand cares about. The more we tell our story, this premise of our brand that began in 1949, the more we’ll have a unique position in the market, the more we’ll have a dialog with the consumers, and more importantly, the more we’ll have the opportunity to attract the right talent and the right people to be a part of our brand.
GM: I think the first thing is that this is a brand for the people. … we acknowledge that whether you work here or whether you visit here, it’s your space just like it’s our space.
The other part is that the brand started with ingenuity and creativity. It didn’t start with a balance sheet, and this space doesn’t suggest anything that has to do with a balance sheet or anything financial.
The other thing is that we’re trying to take care of people who move, not necessarily people who just run or go to the gym. We start with the original premise, which is moving, and not only when you see here how the people create, but the space has movement to it as well. That, to me, is where I think we’ve embodied the spirit.
GM: I think space matters to us because if it comes across like it’s a workplace, then it becomes a job. If it comes across like it’s this place where we gather every day to take our God-given talents and to not only share them, but to expose them, then I think we will be successful.
I also believe that when you have a space that has a richness to it and a story to it, like this one does, I think it actually helps each of us elevate our own game when we come in here. It makes us want to be better because the space is actually asking that of us.