Scott Hawthorn of Native Shoes on bringing personal development into business
How do you transform an organization that is already up and running from one that isn’t people-led to one that is purpose-driven?
That was the question facing Scott Hawthorn six years ago. In 2009, along with three partners, the Vancouver-based entrepreneur had started Native Shoes with the idea of creating a cool inclusive shoe. But in 2013 the company was floundering and insolvent. Hawthorn, after deciding that it was worth saving, invested more money. A new CEO was hired and lasted three years before Hawthorn came on to give the company “some stability” and direction. Realizing that the personal development work that he was doing privately could benefit the company, he began searching for someone who could help Native Shoes pivot into a purpose-driven business. He hired former Lululemon exec Kyle Housman as president.
We talked to Hawthorn about changing direction and applying personal development principles to business.
Applying personal development practices to business
Q: What made you think that some of the principles of the personal development work you were doing could benefit the company?
A: I would say that I’ve always led kind of a purposeful life. Eight years ago I did a personal development workshop with Gila Golub. I found it really powerful, and I started wondering what it would be like if we brought some of those tools into the company. So when the company went to look for a new president, there were three things we were looking for: somebody who’d worked within a purpose-driven organization, somebody who’d developed people within an organization, and someone who’d spoken directly to the customer through e-commerce. And Kyle, who is now CEO, had all of those three qualifications.
Q: What were those principles you discovered that you wanted to bring to the company?
A: I wanted self-aware empowered leadership to activate our purpose to make a difference in the world to drive an economic outcome.
Assessing and developing the Native Shoes workforce
Q: What were the first things that Kyle did?
A: He did an assessment. His first synopsis was that this was an organization that doesn’t know what it wants, and the people likely don’t know that for themselves personally, either.
Then he brought in Chloe Gow-Jarrett, who has a company called 3fold Partners to come up with a program to develop our people. In the first session, she facilitated a conversation with everyone in the office about the values and purpose of the organization. In the afternoon, she turned it on the individual and said, “Okay, so we’re going to run some exercises for you so you can discover what your own values are, and help you come up with a one-, five-, and a 10-year plan of what you want for yourself.” And the intention was to give that gift to themselves and allow people to see if there was any overlap between what the organization’s purpose and values were and those of the individual. Our goal has been to bring those together and to create a team with as much overlap as possible.
Q: What kind of impact has Kyle had?
A: Kyle is an incredible leader who has transformed the company. He’s retooled it to a business that is purposeful and based on a foundation of leadership development to achieve that purpose. The business has also become profitable under his leadership.
Living lightly with Native Shoes
Q: How would you sum up that purpose?
n A: Native Shoes exists to help you live lightly. That has two meanings for us. 1. To have a light impact on the environment with our products. 2. To have a light impact on our minds. This is where development of our people resides.
Q: Where is the company at now?
A: We are attracting senior people, who are great at their jobs, but also care deeply about developing themselves and those around them. It has become part of the culture. For an organization that wasn’t purposeful or people-oriented six years ago, it’s been quite a pivot.
n Q: How did you come to see your role in the company?
A: There’s a great book called The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good by John Izzo and Jeff VanderWielen about the difference between marketing your purpose and living your purpose. This book changed how I saw the world and encouraged me to shift the org from marketing to living a purpose. As the Executive Chair and majority shareholder I initiated this change by aligning and empowering Kyle and then getting out of the way and let him build the company I envisioned with Board support. When the organization is already in motion, you need somebody who is committed to that change and has the power and authority to make that happen. That’s the role I played. To be in service to the purpose allowed me to freely hand the CEO role over to Kyle who is the better skilled to lead Native Shoes to activate its purpose by developing our people.