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Icebreaker CEO Rob Fyfe on leading from the front in any business environment and taking on the competition

Icebreaker CEO Rob Fyfe on leading from the front in any business environment and taking on the competition

Rob Fyfe discusses the transitions - and constants - of his career from CIO to CEO, and to another chief executive role.

The critical success factors for business and ultimately for CIOs, is ensuring that a sufficient portion of your budget should be deployed to help you better understand gathering insights from your customers. Because ultimately they will be the source of your competitive advantage.

Rob Fyfe as undercover CEO is not really feasible here in New Zealand, but he does his own version of it.

The Icebreaker CEO has been helping the sales teams in stores locally and offshore, and has spent a week at the factory in Bangladesh that manufactures their products.

"I am talking directly to consumers, seeing how people wear our products and seeing what competitor products and garments our clothes are sitting beside in the stores.

“I love chatting directly with our customers, that feedback is valuable.”

Fyfe joined the outdoor clothing manufacturer two and a half years ago, following a nine-year stint as CEO of Air New Zealand.

Leaving the airline industry and moving to a new sector did not mean cutting back on work-related travel.

He says since he joined Icebreaker, he can spend up to four months a year visiting overseas markets.

Some customers recognise him when he is in the New Zealand stores.

But he says they get a lot of tourists shopping in their stores, who would not necessarily know who he is.

But he reckons his most interesting customer meeting was in a company store in the United States.

“I was talking to the customer and I said I was from New Zealand,” says Fyfe. "The customer asked, 'where is New Zealand'?

“Then we got into a fascinating conversation about merino sheep and where they live, how we raised sheep up in the Alps and in high altitude.

"The customer had no idea where this superfine merino wool came from.”

“By the end of the day, I reckon if I was still working in Air New Zealand, I could have sold that customer an airline ticket to come to New Zealand. The customer was so intrigued and engaged by the story of New Zealand.”

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