Curate Update: Live From Under Armour and Amazon!

By Christopher Durso, Vice President of Content Development, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

We’re going deep on the three priority issues identified at the first Curate event this past April — including innovation, which will be the subject of two featured presentations at our second Curate program in Baltimore next month. Our speakers come from two companies that know a few things about innovation: Under Armour and Amazon.

From Under Armour, we’ll have two co-presenters: Sam McCleery, vice president of open innovation, and Perry Williams, chief of staff to the chief innovation officer. And from Amazon, we’ll welcome Amy Cropper, global talent acquisition leader. Recently we talked to McCleery and Cropper — in separate interviews — about how their companies have pursued disruption.

 SAM McCLEERY, Under Armour

How would you describe Under Armour’s approach to innovation?

A lot of companies have adopted an innovation practice, but few have adopted an open innovation practice. We wanted to segment open innovation to be working with external partners. And external can mean outside the company, but also outside of our comfort zone of partners — so, looking for a new set of partners to complement the list of existing partners that we have very successfully built products with for many, many years.

How do you decide if a partner makes sense to work with Under Armour?

We’re looking for four things. One, that they generally fit the arc of the brand. Two, that we’re not working with them presently. Three, they have scale — their timing and their interest to get things done has got some scale to it. They’ve got engineers and they’ve got a budget, and they’ve got a sense of urgency. And the last thing is, our competitors aren’t there. So many times with existing partners — Dow or DuPont or Gore — we find that our competitors are there on Tuesday and we’re there Wednesday.

Why is it so important to innovation to work with partners who are outside your sector?

When we work with the same partners over and over again, we do refine the process. We also sometimes miss things, because partners who are not directly related to our business may approach a solution in a different way. They may have different assets that they deploy against that solution. I introduced the brand to the seat division at Ford [Motor Company]. The seat division of Ford is not something you’d normally associate with Under Armour or the things we make.

But what we look for in partners — apart from the list of four things — is, are the solves that they are looking at similar to the solves that we’re looking at in a particular product category? In the case of the seat division at Ford, they have an interest in comfort, layering, foams, cushioning, durability, stain resistance, breathability. And similarly, those are solves we have around footwear. We use foams and layering for comfort and density, to give you a feel in your foot bed. We’re interested in durability, so we’re looking at the same sort of materials to make uppers [the top part of a shoe, covering the foot] as they use to make the top layer of seats. We’re also looking at stain resistance and breathability.

As a brand, we all tend to be kind of myopic, and so my job is to source out Ford as an opportunity for the brand, and then create the relationship between Ford and Under Armour, where it’s not transactional. We’re both going to contribute something, we’re both going to learn something that we can apply, but we haven’t written each other checks. That’s a key thing, because I deal in collaborations — not necessarily transactional innovation, but more collaboration innovation.

What do you want your HSMAI audience to take away from your presentation?

The 99.99-percent rule, which is that 99.99 percent of the smartest people in the world do not work for your brand. They work for somebody else. How in this hyperactive invention/creation cycle do you find them? And then how do you nurture, cultivate, manage those partners for opportunities for your brand? There’s an art to that, and that’s what we practice here. We have shifted away from trying to make products here in innovation into [being] more relationship managers.



How would you describe Amazon’s approach to innovation?

Amazon was started with an idea in 1994: to sell books online and fulfill orders from a garage. Ever since, innovation has been an expected and intentional part of our culture at all levels. Big ideas are routinely requested during planning processes, and those ideas can come from any level — an hourly worker in a fulfillment center, an employee right out of college, a top-level business leader.

You’re going to talk to HSMAI about Amazon’s Leadership Principles, among other things. What’s the connection between leadership and innovation?

While this company may have started with Jeff Bezos alone, he has since built a culture through our Leadership Principles. One of the most compelling things about working at Amazon is the fact that our Leadership Principles aren’t just a wall hanging for your office; they are actually used in conversation, decision-making, and hiring practices among Amazonians every single day.

What do you want your HSMAI audience to take away from your presentation?

Obviously HSMAI members work in a different industry from Amazon. However, there are aspects of our culture which can be applied in any organization. By providing a view into this for HSMAI members, I hope they will walk away with a few tidbits to inspire a new approach in their own teams.

Curate will be held at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor on Sept. 5–6 as an exclusive benefit for HSMAI Organizational Members. Make sure your company’s delegates have been assigned and are registered.

Insight Type: Articles