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Volume 21 No. 47
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Ex-New Balance CEO DeMartini takes on big hill at USA Cycling

Noted endurance sports brand builder says cycling needs to shake “elitist” reputation and attract casual riders.
After 12 years at New Balance, Rob DeMartini wanted a challenge that was “100 percent passion-driven,” so he’s taken on the top job at USA Cycling.
Photo: USA Cycling

USA Cycling was just starting to look for a new CEO when its search firm, Nolan Partners, called outgoing New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini for some suggestions.

 

They got more than suggestions. DeMartini wanted the job for himself after he finished his 12-year run at the shoe brand Dec. 31. Within weeks, he and the USA Cycling board had a handshake agreement, and the governing body will announce his hiring this week.

 

“Sometimes you just get lucky,” said board chairman and interim CEO Bob Stapleton. “I’d like to say we are geniuses, but it just came together.”

 

DeMartini, 57, has already moved from the Boston area to Colorado Springs, where he will officially start Feb. 20. He will lead a nonprofit that posted $15.3 million in annual revenue in 2017, a sum New Balance generates in just over a day.

 

But that’s the point, DeMartini said. Financially set, nearing retirement age and secure in his track record of tripling the size of an international shoe brand, he wanted a job “100 percent passion-driven.”

 

In an interview, DeMartini said he sees a chance at USA Cycling to build rapidly on strong fundamentals. Those include a large base of casual cyclists in the U.S., disciplines that range from youth-friendly BMX to high-earning road cyclists, and a good competitive outlook for the Olympic team.

 

“This brand has the potential to be significantly bigger than it is today, and yes, someday that will hit resources and the organizational side, but I’m really talking about what it stands for,” DeMartini said. “And to me, that’s very exciting.”

 

DeMartini will earn roughly what former CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall did ($429,000 in 2017, per IRS forms), Stapleton said. He has promised to stay in the job for an undisclosed minimum period of time, and otherwise adequately addressed some concerns board members raised about hiring such a prominent CEO with so much personal flexibility.

 

DeMartini acknowledged that his success and resulting compensation at New Balance — the company tripled its revenue under his tenure — allowed him to take a job at a massive pay cut.

 

Financially and organizationally, USA Cycling is stable. But its business success has come in spite of a multiyear decline in racing popularity and membership.

 

A frequent recreational cyclist himself who says he “collects” bikes, DeMartini said a key goal is to find a way for non-competitive and casual cyclists to want to join USA Cycling. He called road racing an “elitist” sport that could grow again by becoming more “approachable.”

 

He pointed to the New York City Marathon, which New Balance sponsors, as a property to emulate along with other running organizations that have embraced the masses. “We were just as interested in our share of people who finished in over four hours as the ones who finish in under two and a half,” he said.

 

However, DeMartini said, better serving existing members is also a top priority.

 

DeMartini said New Balance grew commercially by becoming more relevant to athletes and through top-notch brand storytelling, and USA Cycling can do the same by leveraging its own content better.

 

“USA Cycling has access to an incredible inventory of great personal and team-based stories that, if we tell well, can make the brand very relevant to people who have never been to a race before,” he said.