Leading the Way

John Rauvola, CEO of Superfeet Worldwide, reflects on the many leadership lessons learned along the road to success.

Dear John,

John Rauvola, CEO of Superfeet Worldwide

Let me begin by saying that life will not always be easy. You’ll face adversity numerous times, from losing your parents at an early age to being passed over for a coveted promotion and even being fired. What matters most, however, is how you respond to this adversity. Some of your most significant accomplishments and good fortunes in life will occur in the face of failure. 

For example, after earning an MBA, you’ll accept the worst job you’ll ever have at a large accounting and consulting company headquartered in Dallas. Your primary job: mundane filing and photo copying documents—not what a recent MBA graduate expected! But this one-year failed experiment leads to a move to Seattle, where you’ll meet your wife, now going on 30 years! (That just might be the best career move you’ll ever make!) The Emerald City is where you’ll land a job as Operations Manager for K2 Corporation, where you’ll spend 15 years. K2 is a dynamic company filled with smart and creative people. It’s where you’ll continually push yourself out of your comfort zone, taking on leadership roles in manufacturing, product management, marketing and sales, both in the U.S. and abroad. You’ll love working and living on Vashon Island, WA, as well as traveling the world, especially to Japan, Germany and Norway. Your entire K2 experience will make you a more effective future president and CEO—one day soon.

Actually, becoming an effective leader is a lifelong mission of yours. You’ll be tested early and often on attaining this personal goal. It won’t be easy—and sometimes it’ll be downright scary. Like, during your first job after undergraduate school as a night shift supervisor managing 23 people at a Doritos factory for Frito-Lay in Lubbock, TX. That’s where your first experience at disciplining an employee is met with a threat of bodily harm. After delivering a written warning to a young man for attendance issues, he responds by asking if you’ve heard of the local motorcycle gang and that, for $50, he could have your kneecaps broken! Fear not, this doesn’t happen. He actually goes on to become a model employee, because this is where you’ll learn the importance of empathy, as well as the fine art of engaging with all employees. You’ll use this key leadership skill throughout your future career endeavors. 

Leadership is an ongoing learning process where you keep acquiring new skill sets to make you a more effective leader. Like discovering the power of a positive team that’s aligned and focused on a shared vision. It’s critical to a company’s success. You’ll discover that after becoming Managing Director at Bona U.S., a Swedish family-owned hardwood floors company. The division is losing money and team morale is at an all-time low. You introduce some required reading: The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon. Every employee is invited to get on the bus, but with one stipulation: they must have a positive attitude and leave the baggage behind. Some are unwilling and will be asked to get off the bus. But the team that remains will help create a vision for the future and, within five years, sales and profitability increase by over three times!

Then, in 2013, you’ll accept the offer to become CEO and president of Superfeet Worldwide, where you’ll apply your 30-plus years of leadership and management experience to help the organization reach its fullest potential. It’s a dream job and where you’ll discover that making a profit and giving back to the community are not mutually exclusive. Superfeet will be recognized as Washington’s “Philanthropic Company of the Year” in 2018. The power of an engaged and positive team will be on full display when it becomes 100 percent employee-owned in 2015. A year later, employees will craft their shared five-year vision to grow the business and aid in the creation of the type of world they want to live in where all people thrive. The dream of making a positive difference in people’s lives will only be enhanced in 2021 when Superfeet is acquired by Westward Partners, a Seattle-based private equity firm, giving it the financial strength to create even better products and give back more.

In parting, the most important lesson you must take to heart is to maintain balance during the journey of life. Because life is a juggling act of five balls: faith, family, friends, health and career. You can easily drop the more important balls when you’re spending an inordinate amount of time focused on career. Understand that life is a journey, not a destination. It’s filled with ups and downs, and you’ll make some wrong turns along the way. But you’ll learn and grow from them, and you’ll always get back on the road to success. Above all, life is good. You’ve been incredibly blessed. Trust me, you won’t want to change a thing. Just remember to enjoy the ride!

Sincerely,

John

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