Q&A with Finish Line CEO Glenn Lyon

You could say Finish Line CEO and President Glenn Lyon has a busy professional life.

Lyon’s extensive retail marketing career is truly an inspiration to any DECA member, and his candid conversation on the changes in the retail marketing industry, as well as the responsibilities that come with being a CEO, provide incomparable insight into a professional position few get to experience.  While in Indianapolis, Ind., for the Finish Line Challenge finalist presentations on February 17-18, I had the opportunity to sit down with Finish Line CEO and President Glenn Lyon. Here’s what advice he has for DECA members.

  1. You’ve spent your career in various areas of the retail marketing industry. What are some of the biggest industry changes you’ve seen develop during your career?

    There have been four significant changes in the retail marketing industry since I started. In the beginning, retail marketing was a local merchant business—a neighborhood business, really—and when you needed a pair of jeans, you went to a jeans store. Then the mall came about, and the mall became the center of retail trade, especially in footwear for younger generations.

    Then, about 20 years ago in 1990, the whole direct-to-consumer business emerged in the form of catalogues, magalogues and telephone orders. Lastly, around 10 years ago, the Internet exploded; it has since become the most significant part of the commerce between a consumer and any retail operation. That’s what really evolved into omni-channel marketing, which is just putting all those trends together. You want to be the local guy, and the mall guy, and the mall guy talking to the customer through technology, which the customer can use to communicate back to us through their mobile devices, laptops, iPads—all of those.

  1. Can you describe a typical day for the CEO of a retail marketing company? What are some of your responsibilities and duties?

    I have a lot of constituencies for which I am responsible. I’m the chairman and CEO [of Finish Line], so I run the Board of Directors. I’m also in charge of shareholder relationships and run the management team. I would say I spend 75-80 percent of my time managing the company. This includes dealing with key leaders and brand people—the store and digital people who manage the Finish Line brand—and working with operations, which manages IT, distribution, the supply chain and real estate. Lastly, I manage all the financial responsibilities [of the company] with the CFO of Finish Line.

  1. Your job is one that requires a great deal of strategic planning, something DECA members may not initially think about when it comes to your position. Can you explain a little about Finish Line’s strategic planning goals and what it takes to bring your ideas to life?

    Here at Finish Line, we have two key strategic goals. The first is to be the ultimate omni-channel retailer that’s able to get to the customer any which way, whether it’s through social media, e-commerce, m-commerce or brick and mortar stores. The second goal is to grow the company beyond the Finish Line brand. We got involved with the running specialty business through local stores where serious runners purchase products. So we got into business with The Running Company, which is not a Finish Line brand but shares much of our expertise. Another example is our new deal to run all the athletic footwear in Macy’s stores. In two-thirds of all Macy’s stores, the footwear section will be explicitly a Finish Line branded area and in the other one-third [of stores], the look of the athletic footwear section will not change, but it will be transparent to the customer that it is a Finish Line brand.

We also asked our @DECAInc Twitter followers to tweet their questions for Lyon, who was more than happy to answer them.

@carterchristens & ‏@Tanner_Jurek: What's some of the best advice you can give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Be passionate about what you do! If you don’t love what you do, your chances for success are cut 10-fold.

@CTDECANick: Can you ask the CEO what advice he can give an aspiring business leader?

Work hard—there’s no substitute for it. In the world we live in, [business] is not nuclear physics or brain surgery; it’s good, common sense thinking. When those things are in play, the people who work harder, who find one more detail they can look at, one more solution to a problem, have the best chance of being successful.

@madschiller: What is your favorite part of being the CEO of Finish Line?

Since Finish Line is in the sports business, I get a chance to form relationships with our vendor partners, so I have the opportunity to go to many events and meet various sports celebrities. I play golf once a year with Michael Jordan and one time he brought his good friend, Bill Clinton.

@kylepkuo: How do you motivate your employees through decisions you make for the company? #FinishLineCEO

Everything we do is about motivating our employees. Our greatest assets are the people. All the technology, all the great products, all good financial decisions we make mean nothing unless we have inspired, motivated people working for us. Most employees at Finish Line are also under 21!

@lisasilshtut: Can you ask the CEO how he got involved in the company and how he got his start?

I started at Macy’s in New York in 1973 as a retail trainee, and I grew through the ranks to become a buyer and a merchandising vice president. I made a few moves through my life for opportunities, and I ended up coming to Indiana to run a different company. I then had the opportunity to meet the founders of Finish Line and we liked each other and became friends. After being friends for a while, they asked me to join the company.

@GerhartGerhart: What made him want to be CEO of Finish Line?

I knew I wanted to run a business when I was 18 years-old and everything I did across my career led up to that. You have to decide you want to do that and know it might take your whole life to get there.

Follow Janelle Scudder on Twitter @jjscudderdeca.

Categories: Businesses & Organizations, Profiles