Long Time Smith Leader Exits Brand
Editor’s note: Smith announced a new leadership team today. Read the press release here.
If you know Smith, then you probably know Eric Carlson, who has worked for the brand in key roles for more than two decades, including most recently as Global Brand Director.
Eric, who also led product and design for many years and spearheaded Smith’s move from its home base in Ketchum, Idaho to Portland, Oregon in 2015, is now exiting the company.
Eric is one of our favorite industry executives here at SES and we have had many informative interviews with him over the years about Smith and the snow industry. We asked Eric some questions about his career at Smith and what is next for him.
Why are you departing Smith?
Eric Carlson: In some ways, I always thought my whole career would be with Smith but with that said, it’s the right time for me and for the brand. We have successfully navigated tremendous change and growth challenges inside our parent company Safilo over the last six years and I’m very proud that today the brand has an incredible foundation for the next phase.
I get asked all the time why I’ve been at Smith so long and it really comes down to two simple facts. I’ve been able to continually challenge myself and grow within the company which has kept me motivated. And I love being able to make an impact on what the brand looks, feels, and acts like. Both of these are still fully available at Smith but it’s time for a new team of leaders to drive the bus for a while.
What was your first job at the company and when did you start?
Eric Carlson: I can remember it like yesterday but it was early May 1996. I heard about ‘the marketing job’ being open from my best friend that happened to be living in Ketchum at the time. I was just out of college, working as a sub rep for Ride Snowboards in the Northwest and faxed in my resume. Yes, faxed my resume.
I had been to Ketchum a few times growing up when I was ski racing. I grew up in Bend and was living in Hood River at the time so I was drawn to the mountain lifestyle. My first job at Smith was Promotions Manager which basically meant that if you wanted anything for free you came through me, so my focus was on sponsorship and promotions through athletes, films, resorts, photographers, events, etc.
Smith had just been purchased by Safilo the year before my arrival and we were on a mission to grow the sunglass business. It was the mid 90’s in the action sports world and it was an incredible time. After a couple of years I transitioned into product management and from there I think I had six or seven different official roles. It has been such a good ride being able to combine my passions across both work and life.
Are there any projects/products/strategies you are most proud of?
Eric Carlson: After 24 years, I would certainly hope there are some moments of pride! All jokes aside, I honestly have hundreds of things that I’m proud of. If I had to pick a top 10 of all time, it would be:
- Creating a true brand – not just product with a logo but a brand people are proud to use to represent who they are.
- Successfully navigating the transition from Ketchum to Portland while at the same time strengthening the brand, the business, and the culture.
- Launching new product categories such as snow helmets, the Suncloud sunglass brand, optical frames, and most recently bike helmets. We broke all the rules with these projects at the time and in the end, we did it right. Each had tons of headwind internally and externally but also tons of supporters who in the end proved what’s possible.
- Developing talent and teams that always delivered like a group way bigger than it was. I’ve had many comments over the years when people visit us like “this is everyone?” What we were able to accomplish with the resources we had is a true source of pride.
- Creating our Evolve program that focused on sustainability 10 years ago, which inspired the launch of the CORE program focused on Community and Responsibility.
- ChromaPop lens technology – our first demonstrably improved lens technology that users noticed, appreciated, and began asking for.
- Interchangeable goggles – a total market changer and true innovation to improve the user experience. We innovated the entire way a goggle was made in order to deliver on the promise of easy interchangeability and in the end changed the marketplace.
- A global in-store merchandising program that showcases the brand and product in ways we had been hoping for for years.
- The 4D MAG goggle – an innovation based on user insight and totally redefining what a goggle can look like that sold WAY beyond forecast right out of the gates.
- The development and launch of an entire new global e-commerce platform taking place this week, which has been overdue for years. Now, it’s a race car ready to go.
Who will lead the brand now?
Eric Carlson: The brand will be led by Francesco Ceroni. He will be the General Manager and comes to Safilo and Smith from Luxottica and Costa del Mar. We’ve been working together this summer to transition well and he’s been great to work with. His experience is more in the finance and international sales arena which will help Smith’s near term growth efforts. I wish him and the entire team the very best.
What’s next for you?
Eric Carlson: A few years ago when I hit 20 years at Smith, I loosely discussed taking a sabbatical but it wasn’t met with much enthusiasm. So near term I’m looking forward to taking time to ride, surf, connect with friends, and road trip as much as the environment will allow.
I’m really excited to have a hundred conversations over the next few months and see what doors open up. I’m a total believer that if you open yourself to the universe opportunities will present themselves. I’ve been 100% focused on Smith for so long that I’m really excited to see where my years and relatively successful track record can best be applied. Big brand, small brand, new brand, whatever. I’m trying to have the discipline to take some time for myself, not rush into the first thing, and find a role that I can really sink myself into.
The what, where, and when are totally open as long as I can align my values with the work and be able to make an impact – really the same reasons why I came to Smith in the first place.
I do want to take this opportunity to thank the generations of Smith people and partners that have given me so many incredible memories. The community is a family that I truly appreciate.