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Doug Palladini On New Role As Vans Vice President GM Of Americas

As it continues its global expansion, Vans announced today that it will be providing additional resources to its Americas region, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Latin America, and has appointed Doug Palladini to the newly created role of Vice President General Manager of the Americas. Vans is also looking to put in place a new head of marketing for the Americas and a new global head of marketing.

Doug Palladini addresses the 2013 TransWorld Snow Conference audience in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Serving for the past nine years in the company’s global marketing department, Palladini helped build the brand by leading the production feature films, such as Pipeline Masters. He is also the Executive Producer of the Vans Warped Tour documentary, No Room for Rock Stars and author of the Vans tell-all coffee table “Off the Wall: Stories of Sole from Vans Originals.”

“Doug’s outstanding performance as our global marketing leader over the last nine years has prepared him to take on the new challenge and lead as he carves out a local strategy for the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Latin America regions,” said Bailey. “He will build Vans’ regional strategy and oversee execution, to continue to cultivate our business in the Americas.”

We caught up with Palladini to learn more about the restructuring, how it will help the company continue to grow throughout the Americas and globally, and several initiatives he hopes to put in place in his new role.

What does your new role entail and what does this mean for Vans on a Global level?

Basically, for the past decade as we’ve grown,  since 2004, Vans has quintupled in size globally.  Five times growth in nine years has been pretty incredible. Here at headquarters, a lot of us have been running double duty, where we have not only global responsibility but also regional responsibility for the Americas, as well. We are just at the size and the scale now where w have to separate those. So much like we have Asia Pacific built into the region we call APAC, then we have Europe, Italy and East Africa built into a region we call the EMEA, we are doing the same thing now with the Americas and putting Canada, Mexico, Central and South America together into one region and then creating resources just to deal with that region and that’s my job. I’m responsible for that region. We’ll have marketing, product, retail, and wholesale just dedicated to the Americas region—people just working on that— and I’ll be the general manager of that team. 

We just got to the size where a lot of us who were doing double duty, we couldn’t do it any longer. At the same time, on a global level, we’ve gone from being— for all intents and purposes— a California brand for the vast majority of the fifty years we’ve been in business, to a global brand where we are sold in 170 countries. So the global side of the business has massively grown as well.  In order for us to be successful in the next decade, just as we have in the last decade, we have to structure appropriately and I think that’s where this is coming from.

So your new role and this new structure is a mirror to what you are doing in Europe and internationally as a whole?

Exactly. Our structure now mirrors the other two main regions exactly, so we really link up quite well. Now when the Global Head of Footwear needs to boil down his thinking he can go to three people: The GM for Americas, the GM for APAC, the GM For EMEA, and he’s got a global view; he’s heard from all three regions in terms of what he needs to develop. The same thing with marketing, and the same thing with apparel. That’s really going to be the benefit in this case. We’ve also been really, really focused on being a globally consistent brand and making sure the product and the marketing we produce in every country is significantly consistent and focused everywhere you go. We are finally at the point where we have that, and we have to work hard  now to maintain that as we build our business out, especially  in the new places.  We didn’t have a business in Asia four years ago and now we have 500 stores in China alone. We’ve globalized our brand in a very short time. 

Doug Palladini gives a heartfelt keynote address on what’s next for the industry.

Now that you are shifting your focus to concentrate on this piece of the business, who will be taking over your previous responsibilities in within the marketing department? Will you be promoting someone from within?

One of our favorite things to do is to give people who already work on the Vans business  an opportunity for advancement, but that never precludes us from looking outside as well. We have a pretty even mix. There are about 85 people who work in the Vans marketing department, and when there’s new jobs we have a pretty even mix of people getting promoted internally and pulling in new talent from the outside, so we’ll do both for sure. We’ll be looking at both a head of marketing for the Americas and a new global head of marketing, as well, and Kevin [Bailey] and I will work together to identify the right people for those roles.

What is your’s and the brand’s vision on the future of boardsports, and the transition and/or merge we are seeing between boardsports and youth lifestyle? Where does Vans strategy fit in?

I think we have been leader in that transformation to be honest. I think we benefit from the fact that we have one foot in each pond. Action sports will always be the history and the spine of the body of our brand. There’s no doubt.  We’ll never lose our focus on being a leading action sports brand, but action sports is only one of the four cultural pillars that we identify as the Vans brand. Art, music, and street culture are the other three, and those all have equal amount of importance. All our authenticity and heritage comes from the fact that the kids from Dogtown started wearing Vans to skate in back in the early 70s, and we’ll never forget that. We will always over invest in skateboarding and surfing and the places that we came from to maintain what we’ve built. We won’t make that mistake again. It wasn’t too long ago where you couldn’t even find a pair of Vans at a good skate shop. We had completely lost our way. Now, I would argue that we are the number one or number two brand at almost every skateboard shop in the world. So we are never going to give up on that—that will remain a consistent, ongoing focus, but those other three pillars are really, really important.

When you look at opening a market in China, when you think about opening a market in let’s say Costa Rica or in Montreal, Canada, if all you are talking about is skateboarding it limits what you can do. I think we have really great stories to tell about our role in music, our role in art, and our role in fashion and street culture as well, that we can draw upon. I think those are all so interrelated anyway—those four pillars are so mutually exclusive they completely feed off each other. You know that from the world we live in. You know how important music is for surfers, you know how important art is for skateboarders, I think they all work in unison to create broader opportunity the for Vans business  and for our peer brands as well. 

It’s that constant rededication to the spine of the body that enables you to go further outside— it’s not walking away from it,  it’s over-dedicating yourself to it. You are not substituting one for  the other; it’s the “and” not the “or.”

 How will Vans continue to stay authentic and “core” when the brand is gearing up to experience even more growth?

One of the really important points of consistency that will you see everywhere on the wall from us is our market model where we  employ product segmentation by sales channel. Where you see that most is in where Vans are sold. There’s not a lot of brands that can be successful in Fred Segals, Supreme and Undefeated, at the same time as their successful in Journey’s, PacSun, Tilly’s and Zumiez, at the same time they are successsful in Kohl’s, JCPenney. Vans is unique and is able to do that because we understand that the consumer shopping in Supreme wants something different than the consumer shopping in JC Penney, but our brand can product can be as important in each of these accounts by presenting the right product and the right messages around it. By segmenting our products the way we model our market opportunity we do the same thing all over the world.

I think that’s going to be really important to maintain that discipline. I think that’s really what it is—discipline. I think you see, unfortunately  a lot of brands make short term decisions in order to reach short term financial objectives that create long term damage to their brand. I’m really proud of the team here at Vans that has remained disciplined to long term thinking and long term gains, not what we’ve gotta do this month to make our number. Every time I see an action sports product in Costco, a stab of pain goes through my heart. I’m not picking on anybody in particular, but the commoditization of our brands will be the death of our brands. When price becomes the number one factor in a consumer’s mind when  they are thinking about our brands, we are dead in the water. Our investment at Vans comes from the way we tell the stories of our brand, it’s the content we create and the way we show up in stores. You’ve seen how much money, time, energy, and resources we put into the build outs that go into all of our key accounts, because we think we can sell on the strength of our brand not on the commodity type things like price. I think you will see that really drive our business everywhere we go.  

Another key enabler to our growth is global consistency. It wasn’t that long ago that you would go country to country on a global trip and see different versions of our brand everywhere you went. Different product, different marketing messages, the whole shebang. Now you see a very consistant, cohesive message in the form of product on the  floor, segmentation, and marketing message. from South Korea, to Beijing, Sau Paulo, Montreal —everywhere you go you will see a very consistent, cohesive message about what our brand stands for. That’s made a big, big difference. 

What will be the first key initiatives you zero in on in this new role? 

I think that solidifying the structure will be critical. The product merchandising people in the Americas that I was talking about don’t exist today. That’s a new part of the structure that we didn’t have before.  So my first job is to give the Americas regions the resources it requires. We are really focused on the same goals as the rest of the world: geographic expansion and connecting that Off the Wall message with creative self expression. Everywhere we go, we have consistant goals that apply everywhere and they will apply to the Americas equally. We’ve been a California  brand for most of the fifty years we’ve been in business, and to now see the possibilities that have been afforded us by VF’s resources to grow globally is pretty tremendous. Geographic expansion for Vans means going to the Midwest and the South of the US,  and it also means going all the way to the top of Canada and all the way down to the southern tip of South America with our business as well.  We think the consumer who is motivated by creative self expression exists in all those places. We  are going to  find them and make sure they know what we are about, and make sure we create fans out of them. 

We are so fortunate that we are really building on success and fortunate that we get to work on this brand. This brand has been on life-support several times and the fact that it lives on speaks to the quality and caliber of the fans this brand has. Now we are in a position to say thank you and give those people more of what they are asking for and that’s really fun.

What always sticks with us as employees here is whenever you meet someone new and tell them where you work , you get an incredible story about Vans and see people’s eyes light up, that is awesome. If you are selling toothpaste, if you are marketing car tires, you are probably not experiencing that as much as you are if you tell someone your work for Vans. Even people you would least expect, when they find out what you do, they have the best stories. When I talk about Vans being a brand of fans and not a brand of consumers, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what keeps us humble and keeps us engaged here everyday. That’ what inspired me to name that book “Stories of Sole” because so many people I meet have such inspiring stories. I’m very thankful for that and I never lose sight of the opportunity I’ve been given.

Follow the jump to read the official press release from Vans on the restructuring and Palladini’s new role as Vice President General Manager of the Americas.

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