A smart balance
SmartWool president Mark Satkiewicz (MBA ’95) proves profits and purpose can mix in a competitive business climate
By Daniel P. Smith
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, but also actively contributing to the communities that sustain the organization. The company’s core values, meanwhile – 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.
“People are what really matter and their long-term approach to working with us is critical to our success,” Satkiewicz says. “Our people are fulfilled; they respect their co-workers; and they have the right skill sets to push our business forward.”
Yet, life at SmartWool hasn’t always been that way, he admits.
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, even personally visiting the brand’s 500 biggest accounts, and – most importantly for the organization’s lofty aims – 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.
SmartWool places a strong emphasis on community and, in Satkiewicz’s words, “enabling people to have the life they want to live.”
The company directly integrates employees into decision-making, 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 also receive 40 paid hours away from work each year to volunteer, license to escape the office early in the summer for play, and enjoy regular group bike rides and runs as well as Happy Hour events. Twice each year, SmartWool also closes its office for service work.
And in a true sign of SmartWool’s all-in-this-together spirit, dozens of employees, including Satkiewicz, annually bike more than 300 miles from the company’s Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 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 seven years prior.
“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.”