Your Brand Marketing

Lessons From A Cabin In The Woods With Tim McClure

LBL Tim McClure | Branding In Sports

 

What does it take to go from being a guy in a suit 24/7 to not seeing your hand in front of your face when the lights go off. In this episode, Tim McClure takes some time off from his vacation in the woods of Northern Quebec to share his story and the lessons he’s learned. Tim is a big name in the marketing and branding industry and was responsible for the rise of sports licensing. He narrates how he started out from a small company to being a VP in a larger company. His outlook on life and business turned around due to an unforeseen circumstance. Tim tells us how he overcame the challenges that he faced and what he has been doing since.

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Lessons From A Cabin In The Woods With Tim McClure

My company is Your Brand Marketing. What do we do? We work with our clients and we help them communicate their value and differentiate themselves. We want to find out who you are, what you do, why you do it and why people should care. That’s the nature of the show. We work with a different client and a different person and we interview them. We find out what’s their unique? What makes them different? What’s your story? Why should people care about them?

In the end your brand is determined by your client. It’s not determined by you. It’s determined how people feel about you. If people trust you and they like you, and they think that you’re qualified then and that you can do the job that you say you can, they’ll do business with you. If not, they’re going to go looking for someone else. I talk with different companies and find out what’s their value. What makes them different? What makes them unique? What’s their story? I have Tim McClure. Tim is coming to us from a cabin up in the woods, up in Northern Quebec, where he is writing his book. Tim has been in the marketing and branding game for many years and has worked for some of the biggest brands out there including Starter. He was one of the guys that worked with us to be able to bring sports licensing to the world. He has an incredible story to tell.

Tim, welcome from the cabin in the woods. It’s great having you on the show.

Thank you so much, Ben. I laughed when I was getting ready to come on. In all my years of doing interviews and different things, I’ve always been in some suit. The only option has been with a tie or without a tie. This show is the first one I’ve ever done in a Roots’ onesie. It happens to be the only one, it’s almost generic. It’s almost like Kleenex. I don’t know of any other onesies. This is as authentic as it gets. I’m in a century-old log cabin, about nine hours from Toronto and Northern Quebec. We’re surrounded by trees, mountains and a frozen lake, lots of snow and cold. I’m up here with my dog. It’s been a great experience. It’s going to take a lot to get me back to the big city.

You’re going to get back in the city, get your first whiff of traffic and go flying right back to the cabin.

It’s funny because when you live that life of traveling and staying at hotels, catching flights and doing all the things that many people do in a fast-paced world. It’s very hard to even pull yourself to get here. It took me probably ten days to get used to it. It’s not just a little quiet, there’s not anybody around for 30 minutes. When the lights go out at night, you don’t see the front of your hand. The thing is my dog and I can hear each other breathe. We live in such a fast-paced world that it takes a lot to get here but when you get here, we ask ourselves, “Why did we wait?”

For those of you who don’t know Tim, let’s get Tim’s story. Let’s get into why are you in the cabin in the woods? That’s the fascinating thing. Let’s get into what you do, why you do it, who you do it for? What’s the value that you bring to this? What’s your story? Tell me your story, Tim.

Going way back, I was fortunate to cut my teeth with a company called Christian Hockey Sticks, which was a great Bill and Roger Christian 1960 Olympic gold medalists. In 1980, there’s Bill’s son, David, who won in the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid with Team USA and won a gold medal. I got to spend some time with some great people, down-to-earth, grounded people that taught me the basics of what it takes to be a good person, to be a good business person. It was a small company, so we had to be creative. We had to work harder than our competitors. We didn’t have big marketing budgets.

I even find that as I’m writing this book and as I’ve gone on to much larger companies, I learned so many things from people like that. Ironically, their plant was in Northern Minnesota, which was also in the middle of nowhere and very cold. For some reasons, I seem to like cold places. I went on from Christian to work with the license product giant, Starter. I got to learn from a person like David Beckham. David started the licensing business years ago. You couldn’t go out and buy a New York Yankees cap with a logo on it and pay a royalty, it didn’t exist. It’s logos and branding and you name it. Every time you go into a stadium, there’s something even above the urinals in the washroom. Back then, that wasn’t the case.

You can be passionate, work hard, and deliver results and still get your heartbroken in the end. Share on X

I spent a number of years learning from a guy like David and another fellow, Ted Fletcher, who ran Canada. That was a step up from the smaller company to find out how to handle yourself and work with the company that was going straight up. I’ve gone from Christian where we work incredibly hard every day for every inch of business that we got and then to the craziness of the license product business. My first year with Starter, the Toronto Maple Leafs had gone down to game seven with the LA Kings. Montreal ended up winning the cup. I watched how the licensing pandemonium took over. Joe Carter hit the famous home run for the Jays to win their second World Series. I was the Commission Sales Rep for Toronto. I thought that’s the way that the business was always going to be like.

I was going to say you probably retired in one year.

It was good to me. We worked extremely hard but the Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t hit that game-winning home run. Financially, I did well from that but then you want to talk about going from the top right to the bottom quickly. The following year, the NHL and Major League Baseball were on work stoppages. The one thing about being an industry leader and the industry giant is that it is absolutely phenomenal when there are game sevens, overtimes and heroes. When two of your biggest leagues are locked out or on strike, the big company also takes a big hit.

We went from craziness and unbelievable times to going into a time when fans were angry. The media threw gas on the fire about greed with the athletes and the owners. It was not a good time. I’ve been the key account in Toronto for two-and-a-half years. I’d come from a bit of an early management background. Ted Fletcher who ran Canada said, “We love the stuff that you’re doing. You have many ideas and many things that could be of value. We want you to move inside and become a vice president.”

I talked to three industry leaders and mentors and asked them for their advice. I’m a big believer in not only being a mentor but having a mentor myself and all three of them said, “Are you crazy? Don’t take that job. The industry is at the absolute lowest part that it’s been ever. Why would you want to take something over as the vice president when it’s low?” I said, “That’s exactly why I want to take it.” All the years of me handling my territory in my accounts and I handle the Blue Jays, the Leafs and lot of big accounts. A lot of those years, I had ideas but I was a rep doing a great job, but I was still a rep in a region. I didn’t get to set the directions. Looking back, they looked at it and said, “You’ve been doing many great things and getting all these accolades and the salesmen, why don’t you step in and do it?”

That’s a huge shift from being a salesman to being a VP of sales. That’s a huge mind shift.

Fortunately, I had been for six years with Christian. I had been a sales management person. At a very young age, I ran out of school. I came out and I was in that position. I don’t think I would have taken the position or been able to do well in that management role if I hadn’t already have the experience in the beginning. Everything is tough as they said it would be. It was like pushing a boulder up a hill but I had some great successes. A lot of people asked what happened to Starter. There was nothing secretive, nothing corrupt. It was timing, passion of our ownership that loved what we did and was passionate about continuing to build with the fans. Maybe as a company we didn’t listen to what some of the fans were saying and fashions were shifting. They went into a chapter, we were doing extremely well in Canada, but the US owned all the licenses. Whether we were doing that 10% rule of what business we were doing Canada versus the US, we were exceeding that. We were doing far more than that. At the end of the day, our US parent held the cards. They had the licenses.

They filed for Chapter 11. I moved on in my career. I did some consulting things and some cool learning things for me because I said after Starter, I’d put so much heart, travel and passion into it. I said, “Never am I going to go back inside. I’m never going to be a corporate guy again.” You can be passionate, work hard, deliver results and you can still get your heart broken in the end. Never say never because I was recruited by a company called Madison MacArthur to join Luxottica.

Luxottica was the largest eyewear company in the world, owning brands like Ray-Ban, the rights to Versace, Prada, Chanel, Polo. I came in to head up the Canadian Sales Division and within months, I was promoted to move to the US. I was like Crocodile Dundee moving to New York City, a small-town Canadian guy going down to Manhattan. I went from 55 reps to 400, three months of being in an industry that I had zero connections in and zero experience. I loved every minute of it. It was a fun business, in eyewear and then fashion you’re selling fun and sex appeal. People are feeling good.

 

In a world with many challenges even back at that point, it was a great company to be a part of. The other cool thing about being part of Luxottica and the brands was that, if you go out and buy a Prada handbag, it might cost $4,000 or $5,000. If you buy some Prada shoes, they could cost you $1,500 or $2,000. Think about a suit, that’s probably going to cost you a small car. With eyewear, you can go out and be part of a brand and spend $300, $400 maybe $500 on a pair of expensive sunglasses. If you want to be part of the Prada family story, it’s the cheapest accessory to be a part of. It happens to your look more than anything.

LBL Tim McClure | Branding In Sports
Branding In Sports: Just when we think we’re all out of our tank, we discover that extra gear. It’s just that it doesn’t come out until we’re faced with extraordinary circumstances.

 

I enjoyed my time there. I was set to take a higher position with Luxottica’s number one competitor. Life was going well, traveling all over the world and doing some great things and then almost overnight, I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. It was shocking to everybody. I was a healthy guy. I have no doubt what it was brought on by. We were one of the few families that didn’t have a history of cancer in the family. As healthy as I tried to be and as healthy as I ate and work out, I took a lot of stress. I would continue to do better and I was paid well to do well. Because I was doing a great job, I had more put on me. I didn’t have a filter. I didn’t have a gauge and I chose to keep taking it on. I was in pretty rough shape. I went down quickly. Doctors thought I would lose twenty pounds over the course of a year if they could get me through it. I lost 50 pounds in fifteen weeks.

You’re not the kind of guy that could lose 50 pounds.

I was 215 pounds when I started. I had a size 48 jacket. I had a broad shoulder and a little bit of a football neck. I went down to about below 155 pounds. To put in perspective, I went from a size 48 jacket and a size 38 pants to a 39 jacket and a 27 waist. The last time I was a 27 waist was when I was a chubby kid in grade five wearing GWD Huskies. It was a tough time. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I ended up getting through it through a lot of great doctors, thoughts, hopes, and prayers from people around the world and every different religion, which is great to be a part of. Also some perseverance on my part.

I love life and everybody does. When I didn’t think I had anything left in the tank, I had an extra gear and we all have it. It’s just that it doesn’t come out until we’re faced with extraordinary circumstances. I got through that battle. It took about a year-and-a-half to get my health back, feel stronger. I’ve done a lot of speaking during my work career. If we were with Starter with the industry leaders, we’d speak at licensing events, sporting events. The same thing with Luxottica. We would talk at business forums and shareholder meetings and different things.

When I got sick, I started to be asked to speak a lot about my personal story. It was gratifying. It was wonderful speaking at foundation events and even at corporations. The challenge was that I quickly realized I was pigeonholing myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my story and grateful that I can be talking to guys like you. The challenge was I had 25 years of business experience and some phenomenal successes but also some devastating lows. I can share more to a business audience about the devastating lows and maybe mistakes that were made along the way. That’s as valuable as the successes.

We can all get up on a stage and talk about our successes and believe our own headlines. When you’re a part of the successes, and then there are challenges in the company, you also have to take ownership for being part of the challenges. What a great exercise, right from the beginning with Christian as a small company, we had challenges that we had to sit around and figure out how we’re going to do it. There was no parachuting with millions of dollars that was going to fix what we needed to fix.

You look at it, you sit there and say, “Customers truly get to know who you are and what you’re made of. How you fix things and how you get through the low times.” Everybody can be a hero during the good time. Everybody can be the popular guy. Everybody can be the one that everybody wants to talk to when things go well. It’s how you manage things when things don’t go well that solidifies relationships.

One of the things that I’ve been blessed with my career is that you never write this, you can’t write a script for this. I was fortunate to be mentored from either side-by-side or from afar with some of the best industry leaders in their businesses. Bill Christian, for example, was a guy that was well-respected in the hockey stick business. People respected how they built their business with hard work, integrity, honor, backing up what they said they were going to do. Even if sometimes it cost them money, they still met their obligations. We have far too little of that in every industry. If you’re a sports fan and you are coming in when Starter is flying. Who better to learn from than people like David Beckham and Ted Fletcher that were integral in growing the business? Andrea Guerra was the CEO of Luxottica and he’s a guy that almost doubled the size of the company. I got to learn from these people on the disciplines on when to be professionally bold but not arrogant.

Where I’m at in my career is sharing that is valuable. One of the things I’m up here writing the book about is my personal journey, some of the successes and mistakes that were maybe made along the way. More importantly, lessons that I took out going through what I thought was I had less than a few weeks to go. Personally, I thought I was right at the end. I planned my own funeral, I had chosen the music selections. A video started to be made for my family and friends of us during better times. I’m a regular person and I can relate to pretty much most people out there that go through personal and professional challenges. I happen to have the good fortune of having some incredible mentors and some big brands to be able to share that people are interested in.

It’s our experiences that make us better. One way or the other, we have something to learn from every experience that we go through, the good the bad and the ugly. Most people don’t take the time to learn from those experiences. If you can take the time and say, “I survived cancer. I’ve been given a gift. How do I deal with this? What did I learn from this? What can I get out of this? What can I take forward out of this? I went through a place where Starter went from being the absolute number one brand to Chapter 11. What can I take out of this?” There are great valuable lessons and the more you can share those lessons and the more you can help mentor other people, the better the next generation will be. That’s where I’m getting excited about reading your book. To be able to sit there and say, “What are the lessons that I can pull from your experience?” That’s a neat thing.

When you are a part of the successes in the company, you also have to take ownership for being part of the challenges. Share on X

Luxottica is a major corporate giant. One of my roles at Luxottica was to try to humanize the part where people looked at us as this King Kong going through cities around the world, gobbling up business and taking down independent retailers. It wasn’t like that. It’s how the company was perceived. You see the steps in my career. You see the small family company in Christian, building success through hard work. You look at Starter that went on a major role and in some ways, lost its way. I look back and there’s going to be a book one day written about Starter. I might be part of writing that. You look at the rise and fall of a great American brand, an amazing brand. The third step in my career path is Luxottica that is a corporate giant in the world. I’ve learned things from every part of that.

I’m going to talk about the book that has been also important is outside of my professional mentors, I’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of professional sports coaches. I had the good fortune of being in the dressing room at halftime of a major football game. I’ve had relationships that have gotten me sitting in the coach’s room moments after, in this case, the Toronto Maple Leafs blowing a three-goal lead still won the game. I’m sitting in Pat Burn’s office moments after they’ve come off the ice. Pat had to decide if he was going to rip his team but how he was going to do that because they’d still won the game. You have veterans in the room that sometimes turn coaches off. You have young kids in the room that might get intimidated.

I’ve had the chance to be in baseball dressing rooms around Major League Baseball managers, football coaches, hockey coaches. I’ve gotten into the psyche and the mindset of what a pro athlete does to get ready for his game or her game, a coach on how they prepare their team. How they change at halftime when something’s gone well or has not gone well, how they prepare for the second half. Much of that is translated into our lives and into the professional business world. I’m excited because I’m a sports guy and I’m excited to be able to share that not only in my talks but in my book as well. I’m enjoying that.

I’ve got one last question for you. When you’re up on stage and the lights go down and you walk away or when you leave a meeting, what is the one thing you want people to take away with them? What’s the one thing that you want them to think about you? What’s the one message you want to get across that people remember when you’re not there?

It doesn’t matter what the topic of my talk might be and what audience. I want people to remember and think of me as an authentic guy that had no problem sharing even the toughest of details. Maybe some failures and weaknesses, some things that I’d like to have done differently. Also, the successes too, because it’s being in the opportunity to hear somebody that is not afraid to talk about both sides, how their life has progressed. I do want them to take away some hard-hitting messages about why I got to the point in my life where I got the stage IV cancer. I always say, “I wish that anybody that I come in contact to could be in the position where I am at my life.”

Having been at the very edge of the ledge, pulled back and given another hopefully 40 or 50 years to look at life from a totally different perspective. The problem is that people unless they’ve been to that edge of the ledge, they can’t grasp those perspectives. Hopefully, in my talks and being genuine in my talks and be open, I can bring them as close to the edge as possible and get them to realize that they do have far much more control in their life than many people think because of the way the world is nowadays. Genuine, authentic talk and truly lessons that I share both the positive and the challenges of my life.

It’s that authenticity that draws people in. People know that you’re not going to tell them the good, you’re going to tell them the bad as well. There are stories to learn from both. That’s where the real magic is.

I’ve strived both of my talks in the book that I’m writing, in the blogs and in doing. I strive to write and talk about things that are 100% all personal experiences. I don’t want them to be able to go and buy this in a university course. Whatever education you have at the beginning of your life is great from an academic side. This is 25 or 30 years of experience and I have seen most of all, I’ve seen it all. I don’t know it all but I’ve seen a lot. I like to be able to share that with people because if I can help them maybe give them some tips about what can happen. I could have been closer to an ending than I was and I can help people before they get to that stage and help them in their careers as well.

Thank you for being on the show, Tim.

Thank you.

 

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About Tim McClure

LBL Tim McClure | Branding In SportsTim McClure is a seasoned sales and marketing professional with over 25 years of extensive senior management experience, leading prominent organizations all across North America.

Tim has successfully built and managed several teams to record-breaking results throughout his storied career. Having worked with over 1,000 sales and marketing representatives, much of Tim’s success has come from his ability to galvanize teams and develop them into highly respected, winning organizations.

Early on in his career, Tim rose to the top of the professional sports marketing business as the Vice President of Starter Corporation – the world’s leading supplier of licensed apparel. He helped to catapult the brand into a household name throughout North America, working closely with the NHL, MLB, NFL, CFL, NBA and Hockey Canada.

A large part of Tim’s success came from the strong strategic alliances that he forged with some of the sport’s biggest corporate partners, including Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Coca Cola, Air Canada, McDonald’s, Labatt and Molson.

In 2005, Tim joined Luxottica Group SpA – the dominating giant of the fashion eyewear industry. He led the Canadian sales team, while working closely to develop Luxottica’s vast portfolio of the world’s most renowned brands that included Ray Ban, Versace, Prada, Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Chanel.

Tim was promoted to Senior Director, North America in early 2006 and moved to New York to manage Luxottica’s US sales team. Not only would he continue to lead the Canadian sales direction, but Tim also took on the challenge of guiding a US sales force that included over 350 sales professionals.

Tim played a key role in leading Luxottica to record sales and profitability results, while helping to successfully change the culture of the organization throughout North America.

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