Peter Weaver Q&A: An American CEO in Italy vouches for global consensus and entrepreneurism

New Tecnica Group Global CEO Peter Weaver tells us he sees the world becoming smaller every day, and while there are geographic differences in product, preferences and management, about 80 percent of running a business is quite similar across borders.
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Last fall, Italy-based Tecnica Group tapped its top U.S. executive, Peter Weaver, to helm the global company.

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Weaver took over from Giancarlo Zanatta, who retired after nearly 50 years of leading the group that includes Tecnica, Lowa, Nordica, Dolomite and several other outdoor brands.

The leadership shake-up is a bold move in Italy, where family outdoor and footwear businesses historically have passed the reigns to future generations. But a growing global business demands global leadership, and the Zanattas saw Weaver as right man for the job.

Weaver tells us he sees the world becoming smaller every day, and while there are geographic differences in product, preferences and management, about 80 percent of running a business is quite similar across borders.

The directive for international leaders, he said, is to align that consensus and decentralize entrepreneurism from a just single person in a single country to numerous people at various levels around the globe.

You step into a position based in Italy that essentially has been family-run for more than 50 years. The Zanattas will remain part of the new senior leadership, but what’s your challenge as the American who now leads this company?
My challenge is to balance the benefits of a passionate, entrepreneurial business with the professional business structure required of a multinational in today’s vigorous, competitive environment. That translates into establishing systems and disciplines that allow those second and third levels of leadership to flourish and grow at the local level. It’s sort of a decentralization of entrepreneurism — from a single founder in control, to numerous people across the company and globe, without losing the original entrepreneurial spirit. There’s also a generational change and decisions to make about when do you step back and let the next generation step up.

Do you think we’ll see more Americans leading international outdoor brands and vice versa?

I believe in the old adage about the world becoming ever smaller in the sense of what crosses borders and boundaries today. My situation is nothing I consider unique. In the past when I was in Europe running a German/Swiss company, I came across many international leaders and many cases of “cross-fertilization.”

In the coming years, will every outdoor brand, large or small, have to play on the global scale, particularly in Asia, in order to be considered a top-tier brand in the industry?
Absolutely. The field is competitive. The A players are raising the bar all the time, and being market-accepted in all key countries is becoming increasingly important in order to keep up with design, sourcing and branding.

How does a growing global outdoor brand balance the differences in product or management style across cultures?
People tend to get comfortable in their own bunkers, but the major business issues are more similar than you might think, no matter where you are in the world. It’s about aligning all those common interests internationally to reach a consensus, and then there’s about 20 percent left in differences that are geographic-specific. It’s fun to force those interactions. And with today’s technology, people don’t even have to be in the same room, let alone the same country. In fact, I’d argue there’s no reason certain positions need to be geographically bound.

From your post on the other side of the pond, what are European brands’ viewpoints on the American outdoor market? Where do they see opportunities to make inroads here?

In many cases, the view is simply that it is a big pond and therefore it is easy to start as a fish of any size and grow in that expansive water. Those companies having success are doing so by the obvious moves of tapping into the right personnel who know the North American market and gathering the real understanding of what drives successful products. The brand has to be very realistic about where its product fits into the United States, because not all of it will. The theory of 25 years ago that “We have good product, so everyone will want it,” has never really worked.

You now probably have more insight than most American CEOs on the economic situation in Europe. What’s your assessment?

My assessment is that of a tepid consumer economy with little growth and potential backsliding in Europe. It is not all bad, however, as the consumer spending is based upon real desire and need, and the consumer himself is not under great debt pressure.

We’re here at a seasonal show, Winter Market, but do you think today’s successful outdoor brand has to play in all seasons?
We are still growing and planning a better balance of counter-seasonal products. The winter products remain core to our company — we’re not going walk away from that — but we are going to hedge our bets with a more balanced summer business. This past winter was a good example of why you do that.

--David Clucas

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