David Roberts Of Under Armour On Creating a Solid Foundation And Moving...

David Roberts Of Under Armour On Creating a Solid Foundation And Moving The Needle



Vital Stats

  • Player: David Roberts
  • Company: Under Armour
  • Established: 1996
  • Position: Enterprise Transformation Lead
  • Claim to fame: David Roberts has held several roles within Under Armour over the last ten years.  His experience in financial services, technology, government, utilities and retail have afforded him the opportunity to be an executive advisor for many of the world’s biggest companies, including JP Morgan Chase, Apple, United States Navy, Constellation Energy and Walmart. His expertise is in business strategy and financial performance.
  • Visit: www.underarmour.com

With early success, you tend to overlook operational inefficiencies

Under Armour was launched in 1996, and enjoyed tremendous success — often 50% year-on-year. So, no one was dealing with inefficiencies or looking at ways in which systems and processes could be improved. The wake-up call came in 2008, though, with the economic crisis.

The slowdown in demand that everyone experienced at the time forced us to take a look at the way we were doing things, specifically in the areas of financial planning and analysis. That period created an environment in which everyone in the business started focusing on protecting the brand’s margins.

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It was an important lesson, and I would advise other businesses never to allow success to lull them into complacency. Protect your margins wherever you can, even if business is booming.

By the time you realise you need to change, it’s too late

We tend to only really investigate the way we do things when something has gone terribly wrong and a problem has popped up that needs to be fixed. When a company experiences growing pains, operational issues are too often addressed only when there’s a crisis.

While the business is growing, no one is terribly worried about the things we do wrong. It’s better to be proactive. Don’t wait for a crisis to hit. Always be on the lookout for ways in which you can improve operationally. The larger the company, the harder it is to implement changes.

When a business is still relatively young, you have an opportunity to create a strong foundation.

Keep it simple


While it’s important to deal with inefficiencies, don’t try to do too much. The last thing you want to do when growing your company is to make it harder to do business. When you implement too many new systems and drill down too much, you can end up making things worse.

So, my advice is to do two things. Firstly, look for issues and opportunities that you can address quickly, and that will have a profound impact on the business. In other words, look for the things that will really move the needle in a meaningful way.

Secondly, look for ways in which you can add sophistication to these areas in such a way that you can greatly improve efficiency. Once you’ve identified these areas, mine them for as much data as you can, until you understand them well enough to implement systems and processes that greatly improve how things are done.

Don’t relegate finance to people in the finance department

Everyone in a company should think and operate like an owner, and everyone in the company should care about the systems and processes that allow the organisation to operate successfully.

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You want everyone in your business to have a certain degree of business acumen, and to understand how the parts fit and work together. A sales person might be thrilled with massive revenue growth, but what about those people working in logistics who need to ship all those orders?

We have a saying at Under Armour: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” You need communication in a company. Every person needs to understand how an event impacts other parts of the organisation.

Dream big, but make it manageable

You need to dream big, but don’t set yourself too many goals, and don’t try to focus on too many things. When you set too many goals, you lose focus. We’re not hard-wired to multi-task successfully.

Things start slipping through the cracks and you don’t make the most of opportunities. Find two or three goals and focus on them. Create systems and processes geared towards helping you accomplish those goals.

GG van Rooyen
GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.