Striking a smart balance
For Mark Satkiewicz (MBA ’95), corporate social responsibility is less 21st-century buzzword and more real-world action.
As the president of SmartWool, one of the globe’s top outdoor brands, the Glenview, Illinois, native directs an organization hailed as a shining example of how profits and purpose can stand side by side in today’s corporate world.
“A lot of companies have great products, but we’re going to bring purpose to all that we do,” says Satkiewicz, who credits his MBA experience with inspiring him to blend his passions for business and outdoor recreation with vibrant corporate culture and sustainability principles.
SmartWool’s mission statement champions comfort, quality, and lasting value as well as contribution to the communities that sustain the organization. The company’s core values—humanity, humility, and integrity among them—guide Satkiewicz’s decision-making, particularly as it relates to SmartWool’s 120 employees.
In August, Outside magazine named SmartWool one of its “Best Places to Work,” an annual tally recognizing American companies that foster a positive work-life balance. It was the Colorado-based company’s sixth consecutive year on the list.
When Satkiewicz arrived at SmartWool in 2006 following an 11-year career at Nike, the upstart brand had just been acquired by Timberland and claimed about $40 million in sales. It was, he says, transitioning from an entrepreneurial venture to a professional company.
“SmartWool looked great from the outside—quality products and a loyal consumer following—but it was not a great work environment. It was disorganized, and communications were inefficient,” Satkiewicz says.
As the vice president of sales, Satkiewicz helped shift SmartWool’s culture with its customers, personally visiting the brand’s 500 biggest accounts, and its employees.
“When people can like who we are and what we stand for, that’s powerful stuff,” says Satkiewicz, who ascended to SmartWool’s presidency in 2009.
The company directly integrates employees into decisionmaking, including elected employee committees formed around sustainability, service, culture, and advocacy, the latter of which has sparked SmartWool to donate more than $1.6 million to organizations encouraging outdoor recreation for kids.
Employees receive 40 paid hours away from work each year to volunteer, and SmartWool closes its office twice a year for service work. Dozens of employees, including Satkiewicz, annually bike more than 300 miles from the company’s Steamboat Springs, Colo., headquarters to the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show in Salt Lake City, cheering for one another at the end of each day’s ride.
All of this, Satkiewicz says, promotes an engaged workforce, unified movement, and a vibrant corporate culture, critical elements as the enterprise grows and hustles toward $150 million in annual sales, a near four-fold increase from Satkiewicz’s arrival.
“If we didn’t do it this way, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Satkiewicz says. “It’s the hard way, but it’s the right way… and we’re committed to running the business this way no matter how big we get.”
This story appeared in the winter edition of Loyola magazine.