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We are working with Columbia Sportswear in their search for a VP of Ecommerce. Founded in 1938, Columbia Sportswear has grown from a small family-owned hat distributorship to one of the world’s largest outerwear brands and the leading seller of skiwear in the United States.

In 2007, the company reported record net sales of nearly $1.36 billion. (I assume it’s more now.) Columbia’s product line includes a wide variety of outerwear, sportswear, rugged footwear and accessories. Columbia is renowned for developing innovative products that are comfortable, protective, functional, stylish and offer great value.

General Position Summary:

The VP of Ecommerce will provide leadership and vision to define and drive the global Ecommerce business for all brands in the Columbia Sportswear Company portfolio. This position leads the presentation of the brands online, supporting the campaigns and initiatives that originate within the brand marketing and product creation departments.

This position is responsible to grow sales and profitability of all twenty-two existing ecommerce sites, and oversees continued international expansion. You will manage a broad, multi-functional team, consisting of ecommerce marketing, production, photography, design, copywriting, technology, the customer contact center, and the company’s retail database marketing function. Additionally, you will work cross functionally to coordinate execution and synergy of effort from support departments.

HARRY’S COMMENTS: The first time I closed this search was in 2008, when I recruited Polo Ralph Lauren’s star VP of Interactive Technology, Paul Zaengle, for the role. Recently, Paul became lululemon athletica’s SVP, Global Digital Commerce, so the Columbia spot is open again. By all accounts, Paul did a wonderful job in the role, growing Columbia’s direct to consumer ecommerce business to $60 million annually. Paul leaves behind a healthy business and a strong, motivated team.

Although Columbia has been incredibly generous with sensitive information regarding this role, I’m not a liberty to share everything they’ve told me. I can, however, advise that during the next 12 months, you will be concentrating on the following seven top priorities for Columbia ecommerce:

  1. Customer Management systems
  2. International Ecommerce
  3. Loyalty and Promotion Management
  4. Mobile Commerce
  5. Order Management Systems
  6. Payment and Fraud Management
  7. Website Performance and Monitoring

To say that this is an epic opportunity for personal and professional growth would be an understatement. Paul left on good terms, and he found the role very fulfilling. I’m sure you will too. The money is fantastic, and Portland is out of this world.

But that’s not the reason to take the job.

Nope. The reason to take the job is that Columbia Sportswear is a well-run company with a family of products that enjoy both broad appeal and street credibility with hard-core outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts. That’s rare. Given the nature of these customers (their demographics; how they think; how they buy; etc.) and their love affair with Columbia’s products, there’s an extraordinary opportunity for the right candidate to profitably exploit the latest trends in mobile, social, local, global, and cloud-based commerce technologies.

In other words, it seems almost inconceivable to me that after having done this job well for the next 3 to 5 years, you wouldn’t emerge more relevant and respected in the industry than you are today – no matter who you are.

Essential Functions/Responsibilities:

  • Take a strategic view of the digital commerce landscape, keeping current with industry best practices and trends.
  • Lead and motivate a talented team of ecommerce professionals providing vision, direction and guidance.
  • Optimize the experience on existing sites to improve conversion and increase repeat purchases.
  • Strategically and profitably expand ecommerce into additional regions and countries.
  • Manage a large P&L across different brands and regions.
  • Oversee the implementation and utilization of database marketing program to drive brand loyalty and sales.
  • Maintain positive open lines of communication with all Columbia Sportswear leadership and other key contacts across many internal departments in order to inform, build partnerships and further evangelize the importance of the digital space to Columbia’s efforts.
  • Build and maintain relationships with outside suppliers and partners in order to contribute to the efficient operation of the organization.
  • Oversee concept development, strategizing, planning, implementation, and coordinating of Ecommerce initiatives.
  • Play a key role in the company’s go-to-market process, and maintain a close relationship with the brand marketing team, representing the digital consumer and ecommerce efforts in the process.
  • Contribute to the product strategy for the Company’s online services.
  • Oversee and continue to improve the software-as-a-service based global ecommerce platform consisting of Demandware and 12-15 other key technology providers.
  • Maintain a smooth production process, enabling the efficient handling of hundreds of updates and improvements to the sites’ functionality and design throughout each season.
  • Continue to drive a multi-channel focus, presenting a unified, customer-centric view of our brands, consistent across the brick-and-mortar and digital spaces.
  • Lead web merchandising, marketing design, operations, analytics and development teams.
  • Collaborate with IT on the back-end of the ecommerce technical architecture, including the SAP implementation/maintenance which will affect ecommerce functionality.
  • Manage large vendor contracts, and partner with additional third-party vendors to identify and apply solutions as needed for site experience improvement and operational optimization.
  • Influence the fulfillment and returns handling aspects of the ecommerce business, in partnership with the Columbia Distribution Department in the U.S., and with a 3PL in Canada and Europe. Drive decisions on packaging, delivery options and service levels.
  • Frame and map opportunities based on historical results & current trends to maximize sales.
  • Develop strategies to deliver financial plans (sales, margin, contribution, inventory turns).
  • Partner with Finance, Marketing, Service and Planning Departments to forecast weekly/monthly sales, margins and review financial rollups.
  • Perform other duties as assigned.

Supervisory Responsibility:

Job includes management responsibility for key ecommerce management staff. Includes employee evaluation, teambuilding, employee counselling and/or discipline, and approving any recommendations for hiring, termination, pay changes, job changes, and training.

Specific Job Skills:

You’ll need an in-depth knowledge and experience in change management, plus a proven track record of building a successful ecommerce business in a complex, multi-channel retail environment. Experience in the apparel and/or sportswear business is highly desirable. Experience with P&L management, ecommerce and database marketing, digital production, design and technology tools and process is highly desirable.

The VP of Ecommerce must possess thorough knowledge of merchandising, direct marketing and sales principles, along with strong general management and leadership skills. Must also have: Good organizational skills; Ability to read, write, speak, and understand English; Mental ability to conduct interpersonal interactions with other company personnel, provide coaching and mentoring to staff, solve-problems, make decisions independently, and work effectively under pressure; Physical ability to use telephone, computer hardware/software including keyboard, type, sit for extended periods of time, and occasionally lift/carry up to 20 pounds.

Must have the ability to:

  • Use strong analytical and reasoning abilities
  • Identify/evaluate problem areas and implement effective solutions.
  • Lead change and work with and inspire a broad range of individuals towards one common goal.


Bachelor’s Degree in Business, Finance, Marketing or directly related field. Equivalent related experience can substitute for degree. Minimum of eight to ten years progressive experience in business management with leadership level experience in ecommerce.

Job Conditions:

Job often require hours that exceed 8 hours per day and/or 40 hours per week. Job pressure of continually developing new creative ideas and dealing with multiple locations exists. Travel by airline and auto, domestically, estimated 25% of time with some overnight stays likely. May also require international travel to consult with international retail partners.

This job description is not meant to be an all inclusive list of duties and responsibilities, but constitutes a general definition of the position’s scope and function in the company.


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