Former president of Smartwool, Mark Satkiewicz, dies at age 51
Satkiewicz was a gifted athlete, an inspiring and passionate leader, a champion of women, and mentor to many
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Mark Satkiewicz, partner at SBT GRVL, former GM of TOMS, and former president of Smartwool, passed away this weekend after a suspected cardiac incident during a bike ride near his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Satkiewicz was 51 years old.
Satkiewicz started as Smartwool’s VP of sales in 2007 and was promoted to president in 2009, before VF Corp. bought the company in 2011. Prior to his time at Smartwool, Satkiewicz worked in various management roles at Nike for 11 years. In August 2017, at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Satkiewicz surprised the industry by announcing that he was leaving Smartwool to become the general manager at footwear company TOMS. After one year there he returned “home” to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to found SBT GRVL with Amy Charity and Ken Benesh. A much-heralded leader within the outdoor industry, Satkiewicz served as a board member at Outdoor Industry Association from 2013 to 2017 and will be remembered for the exceptional culture he created at the companies he worked for. He was among the first to sign Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (now known as Camber Outdoors) CEO Pledge, and is credited with bringing industry-leading gender equity to Smartwool, where he presided for more than 10 years.
Satkiewicz’s famous Smartwool Ride to Outdoor Retailer
In 2006, Satkiewicz organized what would become a legendary event on the outdoor industry calendar: the Ride to OR, a grueling 400-mile bike ride from Steamboat Springs, Colorado (where Smartwool’s former headquarters were located), to Salt Lake City, Utah (Outdoor Retailer’s former home). Invitations to the event were both coveted—because of the fun, camaraderie, and relationships formed—and feared, as the ride itself was pretty grueling. For Satkiewicz, the Ride was “the most important four days of the year,” he told Aaron Bible for a story in Outdoor Retailer Daily in August 2016.
The supported ride brought together Smartwool employees, retailers, material experts, execs, management, data folks, reps, and media for four days of sweating, laughing, and bonding leading up to the big summer show.
“There’s nowhere to hide out there,” Satkiewicz told Bible at the end of day three on the 2016 10th anniversary ride. “When you’re tired, maybe you’re hurting, and you’re working together with your fellow riders, your true self comes out. There’s no better way to come together than an event like this.”
Jon Dorn became friends with Satkiewicz after joining him four times on the Ride to OR. “He made me laugh harder and ride harder, and while I couldn’t keep up with his incredible pace, those Smartwool rides to OR were like a big family potluck that happened to take place on bikes,” Dorn wrote in a Facebook post.
Dorn also remembers Satkiewicz’s sharp wit and sense of humor. “I remember getting a text from him during an OIA Industry Breakfast that said, “Why the f*&^ are you wearing those cheap-ass knockoff merino socks?!?” I turn around and three tables back, there’s Mark with that huge grin and twinkle in his eye. The next week, I got a care package, and I always made sure to wear my Smartwools at future breakfasts.”
Molly Cuffe worked with Satkiewicz for eight years at Smartwool and says the brand would not be what it is today, if not for him.
“He was a force of a man,” she says. “When he got behind something he was behind it 120 percent. He was so inspiring and passionate. He could rally a team like nobody else.”
Cuffe says that Satkiewicz believed wholeheartedly in building community outside. During the Rides to OR, which often numbered up to 100 people, he would make a point to ride and chat for at least a few minutes with every single participant.
“He was an exceptional athlete, but always made sure that everyone at the back of the pack felt welcome,” she says. “That was one of his gifts.”
Satkiewicz was a champion for women
When Satkiewicz came to Smartwool in 2005, the leadership team made a concerted effort to create a company culture founded on trust, communication, engagement, and family.
“We began talking about the idea of, what does living the life we want really mean? None of it was focused on men or women or gender at all, it was just the right thing to do for the business and how we wanted to work and live every day,” Satkiewicz told me in an interview in April 2016. “So in 2007 we created the Go To Work Book, which was a guide to how we work and communicate, and what we can expect from one another. We started having all-company meetings, allowing people to understand corporate strategies. Every employee wants to understand where a business is going, how they can contribute and know that they are being heard. We found that we started attracting both men and women equally. And everyone here is passionately engaged and wants Smartwool to be successful.”
I sought Satkiewicz out after attending his 2016 OIWC breakfast keynote speech, which was a fascinating, data-based presentation debunking gender myths in leadership.
In that conversation, I asked him why gender balance is so important. “Just as in your investment portfolio or your diet or anything else, balance and diversity makes for the best results,” he told me. “You get a cross-section of ideas, and you can capitalize on the strengths of what men bring to the table and what women bring to the table. Data suggests that women are more engaging, better at problem solving, big picture thinking, multi-tasking, and have higher emotional and social aptitude, which is critical in the way brands are communicating today. You want a culture of respect where people are listening and contributing opinions equally. If diversity is not part of your platform, you will struggle, because a lopsided culture just won’t be as effective.”
Satkiewicz tapped Kristin Carpenter to help with the launch of SBT GRVL.
“I literally felt like I was getting a call up to the big leagues,” Carpenter says. “One of the most incredible facets of Mark is his commitment to his wife and daughters. As a female founder and CEO in the outdoor, bike/endurance, and snow markets, I am so grateful for Mark’s leadership. His commitment to gender parity in business leadership and in cycling was unmatched.”
Satkiewicz was a mentor to many
Everyone who knew Satkiewicz knew that he was passionate about three things: his family, cycling, and his community in Steamboat Springs, which he returned to after his one-year stint in California at TOMS. Along with business partners Amy Charity and Ken Benesh, he then launched the SBT GRVL in 2019.
SBT GRVL is not a bike race, Benesh says. “It’s a community built on things Mark believed in: inclusiveness, love, and parity.” Benesh, who began working with Satkiewicz at Smartwool in 2016, considered him his closest friend and greatest mentor.
“His energy was always bigger than the room he was in and he pushed me to be a better me, both personally and in business,” says Benesh. “Mark was a mentor to pretty much everyone he worked with. He had thousands of thought partners.”
According to several of his mentees, including Benesh, Cuffe, and Jennifer McLaren, the current president of Smartwool, Satkiewicz had a wonderful way of listening and asking questions.
“A lot of big conversations started with a questions from Mark,” says Benesh. “He never told you his opinion right off the bat, he always wanted to hear your ideas first. Everything was a partnership.”
McLaren, who worked with Satkiewicz for five years right up until he departed for TOMS, agrees.
“Even at big company meetings, he would always begin with a question like ‘How can we grow the business 3x?’ and then he would listen to ideas from everyone,” she says. “He empowered people in a remarkable way.”
McLaren recalls that when Smartwool was building a new HQ, the first thing he did was select 10 people who were not at the management level to design it. He gave them the power to decide where the money would go and what kind of environment they wanted to create.
McLaren says that one of Satkiewicz’s biggest gifts was as a communicator. “From day one, he taught me so much. Mark believed that communication was the most important skill to connect, inspire, instill confidence, and help people progress. He just cared so deeply. You always wanted to make him proud. Everyone at Smartwool felt it.”
Mark Satkiewicz is survived by his wife, Amy, and his two daughters, Olivia and Mia.