Your mindset determines your success. I believe that we often set our own limitations in life and get in the way of our own success. Once I had an awareness of this for myself and started investing time in shaping up my own mindset I began to stretch myself, take more risks and 9 times out of 10 achieved my goals.
I had the pleasure to interview entrepreneur and sneaker industry veteran, Mark McGarry. Mark is the CEO & Co-Founder of YORK Athletics Mfg., an independently owned performance footwear company that celebrates the spirit of the everyday fighter. Mark’s interest in the sneaker industry began as a coach at a snowboard camp owned by footwear and apparel company, Vans. That led him to work for a skateboarding footwear brand and then to leadership roles at Nike and PUMA. While at PUMA, Mark traveled the globe as a senior executive responsible for brand strategy of PUMA’s global sport-lifestyle footwear portfolio. In 2016, Mark pursued his dream of re-launching a legacy brand into the e-commerce space. He teamed up with the York family, a family company that has been designing sportswear for athletes since 1946, to launch YORK Athletics. Today, the brand is disrupting the sneaker industry with their award-winning unisex performance footwear. Voted Best of Boston E-Commerce Retailer 2019, YORK’s signature sneaker was named “2018 Best Cross Training Shoe” by Men’s Health Magazine and praised by ESPN, Esquire, POPSUGAR Fitness, Footwear News and more for the versatility of their design. This past year, YORK Athletics teamed up with World Champion gymnast and advocate Aly Raisman to collaborate on a sneaker line and launch YORK’s “Worth the Fight” campaign, a movement to inspire the spirit to fight for your best life.
Thank you so much for joining us Mark. Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mypath as a skateboarder ultimately led me to the sneaker industry. After college, I got a job teaching skateboarding and snowboarding at a summer camp in Oregon that was owned by Van’s Footwear and ended up moving to Portland after that. Nike was launching a new skateboarding division at that time and I was fortunate enough to get my foot in the door. I was 23 years old and it was my first real job in the footwear industry, it was a dream gig. We had a skateboard park in our office, a bottomless keg of Pabst Blue Ribbon and I started traveling with the pro skateboarders that I looked up to as a kid. I’ve been hooked on the footwear & apparel industry ever since. I often wonder where I’d be today if I never picked up a skateboard.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
My biggest challenge was probably a more personal one. So many things had to get done and nothing could be done fast enough for my liking. From fundraising, to securing our factory partners and building our operating team, I was really overwhelmed and struggled with the fact that I could not get through my daily to-do lists. I’d crawl into bed at night and have this feeling that when I stopped, the company stopped which is obviously not a healthy feeling.
I did have the foresight to know that I had to evolve or I’d burn out quickly. It was the beginning of a long and continuous personal growth journey to find calm in the chaos of running a start-up company.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Two things come to mind.
First, investing in a resilience practice. For me that translated into mindfulness meditation, training in Muay Thai martial arts and spending quality time with my family. I learned that you need to invest in resilience and build up your reserve, so you can draw on it for strength when facing the many hurdles of getting a company off the ground. After a while you just accept that there will always be problems to solve and that having a clear and calm mind helps you make better decisions for the business and allows you to be happier and enjoy the ride more.
Second, surrounding myself with smart people and knowing what I don’t know. It takes a village to run a footwear company and I’ve been fortunate to have a very loyal and smart operating team, co-founders, investors, contractors and manufacturing partners that believe in our company purpose and myself. Often called ‘key stakeholders’ in business, at YORK Athletics we refer to them and treat them as family. We’ve created such an amazing community around this company, it’s probably what I am most proud of.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
1. Your mindset determines your success. I believe that we often set our own limitations in life and get in the way of our own success. Once I had an awareness of this for myself and started investing time in shaping up my own mindset I began to stretch myself, take more risks and 9 times out of 10 achieved my goals.
2. Stay true to yourself. I was an outlier in high school as well as in my career, taking the skateboarder path. I gravitated towards independent thinkers in general. When you remain authentic to yourself and your values, they will eventually become your super powers. Stop comparing yourself to others and be you.
3. It takes time.
4. Focus on what matters. Us type A chargers love ‘to do’ lists and I quickly learned that in a fast paced start-up environment it was nearly impossible to cross everything off on a daily basis and maintain a healthy work / life balance. I started listing out only 3 priorities for the year, month, week and each day that helped me identify the ‘needle moving’ priorities that would either strengthen our brand purpose or generate revenue.
5. Clarify your purpose as a company and as an individual. Does the world need another _____ ? Fill in the blank for your company or brand concept. Distractions are at an all time high today and cutting through the clutter takes a lot of product and brand differentiation; and on the personal front a whole lot of motivation to manifest success. Make sure that your company’s mission and personal motivations are in step with one another.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t try and do it alone. Surround yourself with people in and outside of work who care deeply about you. Find those colleagues, mentors, friends and family that will have your back during the good and bad times. Science continues to prove over and over again that social connection and support is one of the best buffers to stress and a key ingredient to our overall happiness.
Protect your mental and physical health. This comes before the business. You cannot be the best version of yourself and thrive if you are sleep deprived, stressed out and have a cluttered mind. Create a daily ritual to find strength and inner peace with whatever practice makes sense for you: meditation, exercise, spiritual, journaling, etc.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family. My two boys, Mikael and Kieren, and in particular my wife Elizabeth. Having their love, support and this stability has allowed me to stretch myself more on the career front.
I’m a classic, hard charging, get it done, type A dude when it comes to career and work ethic. As we know, over time this can start to wreak havoc on your overall well being. Elizabeth once asked me if I’d ever be content with where I was at in my career and I instantly knew the answer, never. It was the first awareness I’ve ever had of this and I got really curious about how our brains work and started to understand the downside of this wiring. She bought me a book called Saltwater Budda by Jaimal Yogis, that really opened my mind up to meditation and going inward instead of looking to outside forces for contentment and happiness.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can share my personal growth journey with more people and how to integrate some of this into our content at YORK Athletics. I am also very interested in exploring my curiosity in writing a memoir, but asking myself the obvious question probably every author has asked themselves, would anyone care?
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Reminding people that we can change our circumstances if we are mindful and present in the world. If I can inspire my children and a few others to live more consciously and deepen their connection to one another and the planet then that would make me happy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would love to see the world wake up. There’s a lot of not awesome stuff going on in the world right now and so many people are suffering. I am hopeful that the ongoing movement to live more consciously and mindfully will continue to grow so we can all deepen our connection with one another, the planet and live with more empathy.