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Q&A: Yakima's new CEO, Ryan Martin

Published September 10, 2014

LAS VEGAS (BRAIN) — Yakima's newest CEO finds himself eyeballing every car rack he sees on the road and quickly admits he has a lot to learn about the sports rack industry.

"I spend a lot more time on the road looking at which brand is fixed to the roof or attached to the hitch," said Ryan Martin, who took the job in Beaverton, Oregon, about six weeks ago.

Since then he has attended Outdoor Retailer and is now at Interbike (Booth 23124). And, so far, he has enjoyed every minute in an industry far removed from his past job as global director of strategy and business development for Whirlpool Corp.

But Martin, 40, is unfazed by the new role, particularly for someone who has moved his family from the Midwest to live for two years in Hong Kong. "Whirlpool was growing their Asia sourcing footprint and I helped to grow that office and lead a couple of categories," he said.

Nonetheless, his wife and three young sons had a "fantastic" experience, he said. And Martin has learned just enough Mandarin to haggle at the marketplace. His children, however, learned a great deal more. Their linguistic talents helped smooth some of the family's travels through China, he said.

But Martin's international experience—some 12 years on the road visiting Asian factories—comes in handy on several counts. Yakima was sold to Kemflo International in 2009, a Taiwanese company that specializes in injection molding, water filtration, water coolers and other products, and was a supplier to Whirlpool.

Kemflo has a factory in Pingtung, not far from Kaohsiung, Taiwan's largest port. The company also has a factory in Nanjing with offices in the U.S. and Europe. Because of his work with both Whirlpool and Kemflo, Martin built a relationship with executives at the Taiwan company.

"I built a strong relationship both personally and professionally with the Kemflo team and their board of directors over the years. The board felt I had the right combination of experience and leadership to drive the business forward," Martin said.

Martin oversees about 100 employees in the U.S., and there is about the same number in Asia. He will go to the Nanjing, China, factory for a board meeting later this month.

Yakima is celebrating its 35th year in business. How do you view the company's future?

Martin: Yakima's future is bright. I came from a company that has been operating for 105 years. If I help Yakima reach that goal, I could retire at the age of 110—not a bad career. Seriously, we are not slowing down. We continue to experience year-over-year growth by offering a wide range of cargo management solutions and building strong partnerships with retailers and end-users. We will continue to focus on accelerating the development of market-leading innovations that address consumers' unmet needs.

How important is the bicycle industry and its specialty retail base to the company's future?

Martin: Please keep in mind my "newbie" status in the industry and with Yakima. The bike industry and its specialty retail base are extremely integral to our business. There's no doubt that retail is evolving and online sales have eroded brick-and-mortar operations. However, the one/two shop owners [both brick-and-mortar and online] are evolving as well. They offer unparalleled knowledge, expertise, customer service and niche products that consumers desire. They are also gaining competencies in online sales.

How has your international experience changed you over the years?

Martin: I think to some extent my international experience—living, working, traveling—has influenced my perspective on the world. Thank goodness not every culture shares the same experiences. Life would be dull. By embracing different experiences we learn what makes people think differently and better understand why they do the things they do. It's the difference between being critical or being inclusionary. I have no doubt that I have benefited from my 12 years of working in Asia, and I certainly will be able to leverage that in my new role.

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