Lauren Hobart took the top position at Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. earlier this year, becoming one of several dozen female CEOs to run America’s largest corporations and the third person to run the family-run retailer since its inception in 1948.
In the past fiscal year, like-for-like sales for Dick – those from stores and digital channels that operated for at least 12 months – grew faster than ever in the company’s history, up 9.9% year-over-year, driven by demand for outdoor and fitness equipment during the pandemic, the company said. The strong demand has continued this year, with a comparable increase in sales of 115% in the first quarter of the business year as of April 1.
But while the pandemic continues, massive supply chain confusion has made it difficult for the retailer to stock all the fitness equipment, sportswear, and outdoor gear it needs to meet demand. The company warned that concerns about shipping in Asia could slow sales growth during the holiday shopping season and increase supply chain costs.
The retailer is now taking several steps to increase its market share. That year, the first of several planned Dick’s House of Sport opened, a larger version of a Dick’s store with more interactive elements like a climbing wall. Today Dick’s opens its first Public Lands store in Pittsburgh, a chain that aims to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts more. Ms. Hobart says Dick’s is also focused on expanding its base of female buyers. “Women would come into our stores and leave products for their families, not themselves,” she says.
Ms. Hobart spoke virtually to the Journal in July. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow:
WSJ: How do you feel about taking on the role of female CEO as part of your job?
MRS. HOBART: I am the first family-independent CEO. Ed [Stack, the former CEO and current chairman], was Dick’s son, and he ran the company and grew it from two businesses to what it is today. It’s pretty amazing in this particular industry that this company and Ed have purposefully supported me in every aspect of my career. I feel like a successor to Ed Stack, and I happen to be a woman, but I don’t think that’s the story.
WSJ: Were there times when it was either positive or challenging to be a woman? How did you navigate that?
MRS. HOBART: I worked under at PepsiCo [former CEO] Indra Nooyi, who was a mentor in many ways. Between Indra and the very strong mother I have, it never occurred to me that women can’t be anything they want to be. I don’t want to downplay the struggles that I know when it comes to seizing opportunities and being taken just as seriously as male colleagues. At Dick’s, the relationship I built with Ed was never dominated by the fact that I am a woman. In a partnership, we bring very different things to the table. He’s a businessman through and through, and he’s an entrepreneur, and I’ve had marketing and strategic planning experience. We just balanced each other out. I also think that the female-male dynamic, somewhat stereotypically, is very well balanced. I feel like being a female leader is a huge asset.
WSJ: In what way?
MRS. HOBART: I have the feeling that as a woman it was natural for me to lead with a people-oriented approach that was about winning teammates and our customers. It was a great strength.
WSJ: Are there any special moments in your career that you find decisive in retrospect?
MRS. HOBART: When the board decided that I should be Ed’s successor, which was many years ago. It’s not something I’ve ever been looking for. I was the chief marketing officer, got growth opportunities and started doing e-commerce. I’ve heard that women often don’t see themselves as CEOs for whatever reason.
WSJ: Yes, research shows that.
MRS. HOBART: I’ve spoken to several other female CEOs since I became CEO. Almost all of them have the same story as me, that is, someone else saw it in them before they saw it in themselves. In this case, Ed and the board tapped me. When they came and said, “You are the person,” I immediately thought that I had to change my overall leadership style.
MRS. HOBART: I was an extremely open person. I write letters. When I was the chief marketing officer, I would email the marketing team weekly telling them stories about my kids, or my mom, or an argument I was having, or this or that insight about the business. It has always been very unpresidential in my opinion. I said to Ed, “Now I have to change absolutely everything. I can’t post selfies in emails to the whole group and the whole company.” He disagreed, saying, “What put Lauren Hobart in this position is Lauren Hobart, and we don’t want Lauren Hobart to change.” And so I didn’t hold back at all.
WSJ: Research also shows that many female CEOs have brought a man into the job. Do you think this is a systemic problem for American companies?
MRS. HOBART: 459 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are men. So we have to rely on men to tap into women. But I think women can become more proactive and ambitious about their goals. The other thing – and this is happening right now – is that boards of directors need to become much more proactive in representing all kinds of executives.
WSJ: In the past few months you’ve run a number of ads that focus on women as leaders or athletes. Why does this help sell more products?
MRS. HOBART: Women athletes have often had to shop in the men’s department, and the industry has always been convinced that women can handle it well. Girls cannot find products that really fit their body, fit their feet and represent them. We started to really commit ourselves a few years ago, with the brand partners we work with all the time. Then came the marketing hit that year, and I have to say it was Ed’s idea because I would never have decided on a commercial.
WSJ: Speaking of the ad that highlights you and other women executives by Dick as executives rather than athletes?
MRS. HOBART: Right. There are a lot of assumptions people make about who is running this company. We decided that maybe people are interested in seeing that we really work for women because we are women. We got incredible responses – shocking to me at how much people were looking for this type of inspiration.
WSJ: What kind of reaction?
MRS. HOBART: A lot of men got in touch and said how great it was to see a sporting event with their daughters and to show it off. Usually we show sportswomen in our marketing or we show people in sporty moments. This was a very different type of campaign and showed that women make decisions and empower their teams to really stand up for women. I think it took people by surprise.
WSJ: The pandemic resulted in a huge surge in demand for fitness and outdoor equipment. How do you deal with this demand today?
MRS. HOBART: The only challenge for everyone in the industry and beyond in the last year and a half has been the supply chain. As home fitness began to rise, dumbbells were challenged and bicycles were challenged, and every single category that went up had delivery bottlenecks. There are still many problems with some of the soft line stores, apparel and shoes. The constant challenge is to only keep the product in stock.
Ms. Nassauer is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in New York. Send her an email to [email protected]