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Back to the Future

Bob Mullaney, president and COO of ShoeBuy, on a fortuitous life and career aided greatly by the ability to stretch and embrace change.

Dear Bob,

dsc_0559Here’s the synopsis: You will be lucky. You will have an amazing family, great friends and fulfilling work. But will you heed your now late father’s advice to slow down? To stretch, breathe and embrace change? Well, not at first.

I know you crave a few details about what to expect. You will meet your wife at an office printer while working for the Stride Rite Corporation’s Tommy Hilfiger license. On your first date, you will attend a Sting concert and go home knowing that you will marry her. (By the way, The Police will get back together for a tour, but it’s debatable whether they should have.) You and your wife, Sara, (it’s spelled without an “H”, and note that paying attention to such small but important details will help you in marriage and life) will have three amazing children: Maddie, Grace and Drew. Every day with them will be astounding, sometimes overwhelming and often humbling. They will stretch you.

Take note that physically stretching will help you to focus, to appreciate, to be resilient, to grow, to change, to be patient, to stay positive and to deal with challenge. It’s a powerful tool that will force you to slow down and breathe. So remember to stretch and stretch often. Of course, no one is perfect and you will make mistakes. But striking out isn’t always fatal. It’s what you do in your next at-bat that counts. You are not perfect, nor is the path you’ll take. But it will be a fun ride. Serendipity and relationships will impact your career immensely.

Take 1992 for example. After one of your college baseball games, you’ll be racing to the campus cafeteria before it closes, eye black running down your face, when your friend Joe Bean will introduce you to his employer’s head recruiter. This meeting will land you at an entry-level sales job at Filene’s/May Company in Boston. From there, you will cross over into the wholesale shoe business, steadily climbing the corporate ranks by holding executive positions at Timberland, Stride Rite, Vida Shoes, Brown Shoe Company and Rockport. You will be fortunate to work in an industry that is dynamic and epitomizes both art and science. You will have great experiences and meet many great friends. As I said, you will be lucky. In 2013, your best friend since second grade will invite you to join him for dinner with ShoeBuy CEO Mike Sorabella next door to the building where your first post-college job was located.

By this time, the world will have changed dramatically. Think of the movie Back to the Future. Your kids won’t know what a VCR is, and the Sony Walkman will be replaced by a sleek handheld mobile phone with no wires. (Note: Invest a few dollars in Apple stock.) People won’t travel around like they do in The Jetsons just yet, but there will be drones and hoverboards. Also, there will be this thing called the Internet that facilitates a new retail channel, e-commerce. People—millions of them—will buy shoes and clothes without trying them on first. An increasing number will do so via their mobile phones, which everyone—from kids to adults—will use constantly. These smartphones will be the Flux Capacitor of your time; they will be able to research anything from anywhere, communicate through numerous platforms and provide access to goods and services 24/7 that will be delivered to people’s doorsteps, often overnight. The e-commerce revolution will be the quintessential example of the importance of embracing change.

Because, guess what, you’ll work for an e-commerce company, ShoeBuy.com. You’ll join the e-commerce revolution on the front lines, helping to shape the way consumers shop for shoes—improving their access, convenience, enjoyment and efficiency. You will indeed embrace change, making the leap into this new retail frontier. And you will be very glad you did.

On that note, there will be a sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Tom Brady, who will perfectly exemplify the ability to embrace change successfully. He will provide 15-plus years of great football memories, including four Super Bowl victories! (It will offset your first 30 years of suffering as a Patriots fan.)And—brace yourself—the Red Sox will finally win the World Series…twice!! Further proof that success requires resilience as well as the ability to embrace change and overcome challenges. This is true in sports, work and life.

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