Dani Reiss thrives on the stress and adrenaline of building the Canada Goose brand. With the recent majority stake sale of the iconic extreme winter apparel manufacturer to New York private equity firm Bain Capital, Reiss is in high gear. He is setting in motion the next wave of significant growth for the company his grandfather and father started – a company he has evolved into a global brand. Since Reiss took the helm in 2001 when he was just 27, Canada Goose has grown more than 4,000% and is now available in more than 50 countries worldwide. Manufacturing is proudly Canadian – and will remain so as it grows its global reach and product line. Reiss sat down with YouInc for a wide-ranging conversation about growing up in an entrepreneurial family and what it takes to succeed as a Canadian manufacturer in the cutthroat clothing business. Here is what he had to say:
On being an entrepreneur
I never thought at all about joining the family business. When I was growing up I wanted to travel and write. I wrote short stories and have a degree in English literature from the University of Toronto. I took a temporary job at Canada Goose when I was 24. What was supposed to be a one-month term ended up turning into 17 years. I think that I have always been entrepreneurial. I had a business in high school with some friends that was very successful. We compiled sports statistics and provided real-time sports data to different institutions. This was pre-internet and we mailed and faxed statistics to people every Monday. From a commercial point of view, I always had that desire to create stuff and make it profitable. In terms of getting into the family business, my parents were adamant there was no way I was ever going to do this. They told me I should get a job that was easier, less volatile, less stressful. For myself, I never liked the idea of my parents giving me a job. I never wanted to be that guy. I wanted to do my own thing, make my own mark.
The trigger that changed everything
I realized the products we were producing had meaning. I had grown up thinking they were just my dad’s jackets and because of that I had to wear them when I really just wanted to wear jean jackets. I was so close to it I never saw that people loved them. In certain parts of the world, they are a necessity. And because they are so well made they feel like a luxury item. That’s how I came up with the slogan, “Ask anyone who knows,” I saw an opportunity in a market where brands are so commoditized and everything is made in China. We have incredible stories from real people who want our product and are excited about it. There is nothing fake about what we do.
When I first started I had a business card but no title. I didn’t want one because I didn’t want people to respond to me based on what the card said. I was fortunate enough to learn on the job – that’s the best university in the world. I didn’t realize I was a good leader until a few years ago. Up until then, I thought leadership was something you have to learn at MBA school. Now I think to be a good leader you have to be passionate, believe in what you do and be believable. You have to be authentic.
On keeping manufacturing in Canada
Years ago, at a time when everyone was leaving, we decided to become a champion for made in Canada. Where a thing is made matters to people. I learned that from selling in Europe and Japan where people told me how important it was that we manufactured in Canada. The Canada Goose jacket is like the Swiss watch. It’s part of the Canadian fabric. We are committed to staying here. Bain Capital, our financial partner, invested in who we are and believes in what we do. We would never have done a deal otherwise.
On work-life balance
Growing up, I’m not sure how much work-life balance there was. It’s not necessarily an allocation of hours to work versus an allocation of hours to not work. It’s more what occupies your mind. My dad was always thinking about the business because it was everything he had. He came to Canada as a new immigrant. He didn’t have any money, everything he made, he made himself. So he was always very worried about losing it, about downturns in the market, a major customer going out of business; it was very stressful for him. The business was on his mind 100% of the time irrespective of what he was doing. I would say that’s the same for me as well, but I have no problem with it. I enjoy the stress and find it exciting. I think somehow I need it and I’m better with it than without it.