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A New Era For Decathlon


Wolf Olins Global CEO Sarah Ashman sitting with Barbara Martin CoppolaCEO of Decathlon, to discuss Decathlon’s transformation from a sporting goods retailer to a sports brand, the importance of balancing profitability, growth and sustainability, and her advice as CEO to other leaders on similar journeys.

I take over the role of Global CEO of Decathlon in 2022. Many new CEOs start their tenure with a set of priorities and some key objectives that will be turned into a new business strategy. I started by creating a new north star for the organization from which the business strategy was built. Why did you think it was important to start with the vision first?

When I joined Decathlon, I recognized the need to be clear about our long-term purpose and ambition. In fact, having a purposeful culture and clear vision is pivotal in aligning team members and directing them toward unified goals.

Witnessing my teammates’ deep dedication to the sport and their understanding of its societal and environmental importance has been inspiring. By tapping into our collective aspirations, we have created what we call our “North Star,” and shaped a visionary statement that sets out our ambitions for the next decade.

The North Star is like a beacon that guides our actions and decisions. It is people-centred and represents a call to action to promote a more sustainable future for both business and society.

It has a deep resonance and elicits emotional responses because it speaks to the heart, and affects people when they interact with it.

We captured the essence of North Star in an engaging video, which had even greater exposure among our teammates around the world.

You are the first CEO to be appointed from outside Decathlon, and the first CEO in the company. What was it like arriving as an outsider to help a company with such a strong heritage transform into something new? What advice do you have for other CEOs going through a similar experience?

It was an honor to be the first woman and first external employee in this role. I feel a great sense of responsibility to help Decathlon achieve its full potential, but also to open doors for other underrepresented groups in leadership positions.

Firstly, it was really important to spend time with as many people as possible, old and new, to delve deeper into the company. People were curious about me as a person and what I represented. When they saw that we shared the same values ​​and that I was a friendly person, they quickly became open to working together.

Next, I worked to gain a deep understanding of Decathlon’s history: the journey from day one in 1976 when a group of friends came together to make the sport accessible to everyone. By truly understanding the past, we are better able to shape our collective vision of where we want to be in the future.

Respecting the past and striving to create the future is a good balance. It is important that you adapt to the culture while also maintaining your own form of critical thinking, in order to have a positive impact on the company.

The benefit of coming from abroad means you have the blessing of a new perspective. Be bold and don’t be shy about challenging the status quo.

When challenging the status quo, explaining why there is a better way is key, but co-creating solutions together is even more important.

Sustainability is very important to you. And to most Decathlon employees who want the company to lead the way. How do you balance profitability, growth and sustainability?

Our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint is not just a priority – it is a fundamental principle.

Part of our new strategic vision is to shift away from measuring success based on the number of new pieces we sell. Instead we focus on how many people we help exercise.

In doing so, we have opened the doors to new circular business models, which create value in different ways. It involved completely rethinking the way we do business.

Now, we prioritize economic and sustainability metrics equally in our performance assessments. The incentive to reward each employee includes a planetary and financial component. We’ve also changed our CFO title to Chief Value Officer because value goes far beyond traditional financial metrics.

Our goal is to continually decouple our sales growth from CO2 emissions, and strive to be carbon neutral by 2050. Growth for us is not just about expanding our business; It’s about ensuring this doesn’t come at the expense of our planet, the very environment in which our customers thrive.

Aside from circular business models, we push the boundaries of innovation in product production, focusing on: using less harmful materials, reducing water consumption, adopting renewable energy sources, and reducing highly polluting modes of transportation.

Unlike other sports brands, Decathlon has never had a symbol and the addition of “L’Orbit” to the wordmark has been the primary focus of many in the media. I’ve always said that a brand is more than just a logo. What is the role of this new visual identity for Decathlon?

Our new goal is to transport people through the wonders of sports.

Moving has a double meaning: moving physically but also emotionally. The renewed visual identity aims to help create emotional connections with our customers.

More than just a logo – it’s an update to our website – our essence. We have created a new system through which we can evolve Decathlon and the customer experience we offer.

This new form of self-expression will gradually change every touchpoint with our customers, whether in-store, online or on our products – but also by creating entirely new touchpoints that don’t exist today.

It’s all about being memorable, building relationships and being a partner in our customers’ sporting adventures.

Orbit is a symbol of this – combining our classic typology, circularity and the great outdoors – it encapsulates everything we believe in through one logo.

We are transforming from a retailer into a sports brand. We don’t just sell sports products, we create experiences.

Whether it’s baby’s first bike ride, a family camping trip, training for a marathon or even climbing Mount Everest! Decathlon will be by your side all the way.

Our visual identity helps communicate this – it opens up Decathlon’s beautiful blue box to the world, revealing the magic inside.

Looking at what you have achieved so far, is there anything you would do differently or share with others who are embarking on a similar journey?

I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved so far, as a team of 100,000 sports fans. Every step of the way, every teammate, whatever their role in the transition, gave their all – and that means a lot. Relying on the people around you pays off.

Maybe the point I would like to reinforce is communicating more with my teammates. Decathlon is a company where people often tend to spend their entire careers. So change can be worrying. So regular, clear and reassuring communication is very important.

Make sure everyone is included and supported in the journey together. Always be open to feedback, be agile and willing to learn along the way.



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