When he stepped to the podium at a Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable breakfast in mid-January, Angel Martinez, CEO of Deckers Outdoor Corp., was feeling a bit under the weather.
He told about 100 area are business leaders he wasn’t sure how long his voice would hold out. But it held out long enough for him to describe a deeply personal journey in connecting entrepreneurship, the power of consumerism and a philosophy of doing the right thing.
Martinez, a Cuban immigrant who was stranded in New York when Castro took over, was a pioneer in the running shoe market. But he also was a pioneer in corporate social responsibility, starting with his a fundraising race he organized in the East Bay, when he owned a small running-shoe store in Alameda.
Later, as a top executive at Reebok, he helped lead a human rights campaign to end child labor in Pakistani factories making soccer balls.
At Deckers, Martinez has enhanced the company’s reputation as a company that promotes sustainable business practices in the design and packaging of its products. Those efforts have helped launch a wave that’s sweeping the shoe business. Large retailers such as Nordstrom are taking notice and encouraging Deckers and competitors to do more and more.
Perhaps more interestingly is how much of its philanthropic effort Deckers has kept close to home, in the South Coast community where its employees and there families live. The company’s employees collectively donated 6,000 hours of volunteer time to community organizations last year, and all employees receive one paid day a year to help with that commitment. And all members of Deckers’ executive committee are required to also sit on a nonprofit board of their choice.
Two things struck us about the Martinez talk. First, in an era where the headlines of the day are likely to be about the latest twist in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, we have also come to expect much better behavior from the sporting goods equipment makers behind many of the athletes.
Even giants such as Nike are being driven by their customers to end unsavory labor practices at factories and clean up their act when it comes to packaging and materials.
Second, this change in behavior by much of the sporting goods and apparel industries reflects a change in social values. Americans are more inclusive and more concerned about the environment than they were even five or 10 years ago.
While the media obsesses with Armstrong and bad behavior, executives such as Martinez and companies such as Deckers are infusing their Ugg, Teva and other brands with these new values. So far, Martinez and his philosophy have created a transformational business strategy and — despite a slightly creaky voice — his message about corporate social responsibility was a message well-received.