Principle over profits

At the Camber Breakfast during Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018, VF Corporation’s CEO laid out a new plan to put business ethics on the same level as performance.
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From left: Deanne Buck of Camber Outdoors, Steve Rendle of VF Corp., and Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro

From left: Deanne Buck of Camber Outdoors, Steve Rendle of VF Corp., and Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro

“Purpose-led” was the term of the day at the Camber Outdoor Thought Leader Keynote during Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, when the VF Corporation's CEO Steve Rendle detailed the company’s plans to redefine the conglomerate’s internal mission.

“What’s that common thread that’s allowed VF to grow over the last 119 years? It’s the willingness to evolve,” Rendle said before launching into an overview of a year-plus effort on the part of the company to elevate an inclusive, environmental, and integrity-based purpose to the same level of importance as the brands’ performance and profits.

Rendle is latching on to a trend that’s gaining traction across the outdoor industry, as companies boost their environmental activism and advocacy. Brands like Patagonia and VF’s subsidiary The North Face have taken leading roles in pioneering purpose-minded business, but VF hopes to expand it both internally and across the industry.

“We power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and the planet,” Rendle said, unveiling a new internal purpose statement for VF that codified broadly the company’s personal and environmental goals. Rendle called it the “why” of VF’s corporate strategy, a piece that had been missing from the “how” and “what.”

Frequently, the conversation returned to Camber Outdoors co-founder and Lifetime Achievement Award-winner Ann Krcik, who passed away in February. Rendle spoke fondly of Krcik, a prominent voice and employee at The North Face, attributing the conscience of VF’s latest initiative to her. 

“Much of what our journey is about, her fingerprints are all over,” he said. “She always challenged me to be a more thoughtful, more purpose-led leader.”

Rue Mapp, the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, who briefly spoke prior to Rendle, also praised Krcik. “She was my mentor, and I realized she was a lot of people’s mentors,” Mapp said.

Rendle outlined VF’s goals as increasing diversity in leadership, expanding employee empowerment and interaction with the company’s goals, and growing transparency in its business. “We’re aligning our 70,000 associates against a common vision,” Rendle said, “And that’s where real success comes from.”

Returning to Krcik, Rendle asked everyone in the room to reflect on what they stand for, attributing the idea to something his friend would regularly contemplate. Rendle encouraged other brands and industry leaders to adopt the same purpose-minded business practices the VF is initiating and, as was often the case, follow in Krcik’s footsteps.

This article was originally published in Day 4 of The Daily (summer 2018).

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