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Getting to Know: Bob Puccini

Staff Photo: David Friedlander Mizuno's Bob Puccini

Staff Photo: David Friedlander Mizuno's Bob Puccini

For anyone who participates, or has a child who participates, in such sports as baseball, softball, volleyball or golf, among others, Mizuno is likely a household name. While the name Bob Puccini may not be, his impact on many youth and adult sports as president of the international sporting goods company's U.S.-based operations is major. The Eastchester, N.Y., native and current resident of nearby John's Creek has served at his post at Mizuno's U.S. headquarters in Norcross since 1996 after starting with the company a year earlier. In October, he began a one-year term as vice chairman of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, which works to promote sports and fitness participation and industry vitality. Puccini recently spoke with Daily Post staff writer David Friedlander on a variety of subjects, from his vision for the SGMA for the remainder of his term as vice chairman to upcoming innovations in sporting goods and apparel and its affect on participant sports.

DF: What exactly do the duties of the SGMA's vice chairman entail?

BP: It's evolved over the years, but really, the mission (of the SGMA) is to promote sports and fitness participation and industry vitality. ... I joined the board (of directors) four or five years ago, and I made a motion that said we need to think of our future. I worked on our strategic plan. ... I was appointed to the executive committee. And as a result of a strategic plan we put together recently, the thought was it might be helpful if I help execute it.

My charge now is to see that we execute that strategic plan and make sure that funding and allocation of resources -- human capital and financial, as well -- get focused and directed towards those initiatives. As you imagine, there are many manufacturers within many different sectors. So, there's many different agendas among the group. So, it's what is the best way to serve the constituents?

DF: With as many different agendas among its members, including some who are direct competitors in the marketplace, I imagine it's a fine line you have to walk sometimes.

BP: No doubt, and for compliance reasons, as well, there's a third-party attorney that always sits in the room to make sure we're not going where we shouldn't be going. Here again, it's a higher level mentality ... about the industry. Imagine boats in the bay. If the tide rises, the boats rise. So, it's not about a particular boat, or company in this metaphor. It's about the tide, and trying to raise the tide.

That's why the mission we decided on is about sports and fitness participation, because there's a general belief that sports and fitness participation benefits society.

DF: Two months into your term, what have been the biggest challenges for the organization in executing its mission?

BP: Gaining consensus (laughs) because there is no direct authority. Before (being) elected as vice-chairman, I was a member of the executive committee and chaired the strategic plan committee to put this together. And it was a matter of compelling thought about why we exist and trying to build a consensus around those things that benefit the constituency in its entirety versus any particular sector. So, we had a lot of debate about it, lots of different points of view. You're talking about a lot of 'C' level executives who aren't ... shy about putting their thoughts forward. But we did come to four platforms about which we will continue to build on.

DF: And those platforms are?

BP: Thought leadership, No. 1, i.e. education and events to raise the level of competency as a group of manufacturers and suppliers to improve our ability to serve that mission of driving sports and participation by being leaders and better managers.

(No. 2) Public policy. It's very important to gain our government's support, congressional support. We have a National Fitness Day (designated), for example, where we use our athletes to gain entry into some of the doors in Washington to speak with congressmen and women to speak about the importance of physical education in schools and participation. For example, the PEP program, which is the Physical Education Program, which has garnered the support of the SGMA with over $700 million in funding for schools and communities to get youth involved in sports. Is that good for the industry? Of course, the more people playing, the more sporting goods (bought). There's no denying that, but from a more holistic point of view, society benefits. There are studies -- and I can't quote them all, but I have access to them -- about those who participate in sports, and those who don't. Right now, obesity is a major issue in the country. We feel clearly that participation in sports and fitness early on, you have a greater tendency to be involved in sports and fitness later on in life, which is a preventative measure some of the diseases and conditions without such.

DF: That's two of the platforms you mentioned. What are Nos. 3 and 4?

BP: Member services is what we define as another one. For example, there may be certain issues that require or have government engagement where there may be a point of view on behalf of the constituency of the SGMA that needs to be brought forth to the governmental agencies so they can make an informed decision. For example, one of which right now is, 'Don't Take My Bat Away,' ... which is the wood bats versus non-wood bats, safety issues and things like that. There are issues related to helmets and the whole issue around concussions now. So, based on facts and studies, the SGMA, on behalf of the constituency, may lobby in certain way to propel a point of view.

Four is research and insights, and this ties really to thought leadership. One, we measure sports participation. There are many syndicated studies that talk about whether participation is increasing or decreasing, which serves the constituency. Obviously, as a supplier of baseball products, I want to know if there are more people playing or not. If not, why not? So, those kind of syndicated general ongoing studies happen. They're trend studies. But then, there's more behind that. There's an opportunity to do proprietary and/or custom studies. ... Beyond research, it's the insights that matter, ... from the people who have lots of industry knowledge and can provide insights to trends and future development. That helps our thought leadership platform, in terms of bringing executives together and saying, 'Here's what's going on.' ... We're not prescribing any business plans for any of our member companies. The whole idea, though, is to provide that education and information to serve the industry so that we can do a better job of making sure we're serving consumers, which helps participation, which helps industry vitality, which goes back to our mission statement.

DF: I'm sure our readers would be interested to know what sports you have participated in, and currently participate in.

BP: My dad was a life member of the PGA. He was a teaching pro. So, I was always around golf. I went to Fordham University as an undergrad, and I was on a baseball scholarship. So, baseball was my primary sport. I play golf now today. Not as much as I'd like (laughs). I run. ... So, I've always been around sports. It's been part of who I am. That's why, it's very natural for me as vice chairman of the SGMA to lead this organization because I truly believe in what we do.

It's certainly great being around products I love and can relate to, athletes that I watch and admire, and I think the parallels between sports and business and life are just incredible. ... I have a great job. As they say, it's an opportunity to combine your avocation with your vocation. It's not just they industry, it's the company. It's why I've been (with Mizuno) for 17 years.

DF: Turning to your company (Mizuno), is there anything on the horizon that participants in sports that you manufacture equipment and apparel for can look forward to in the near future?

BP: Yes (laughs), however, I can't divulge those corporate secrets right now, but Mizuno ... we have really been about innovation. Our corporate society is contributing to society through the advancement of sporting goods and the promotion of sports, kind of a similar benefit to the SGMA. Our wave technology in running shoes ... has been a platform on which we've really been able to build an avid following among core runners and enthusiasts. That technology continues to evolve.

In golf clubs, for example, grain-flow forging technology, which is patented technology, has allowed us to provide, we think, greater feedback and feel and workability in golf clubs versus other manufacturers.

In baseball, we have 4-D technology in terms of how we develop ball gloves. We'll actually put sensors on a ball player by specific position and find out where the key pressure points are and how we should build patterns for ball gloves and where the flexibility should be, where the rigidity should be by position. So, we really try to use this technology and database of learned knowledge and evaluated experience over all these years to give us that platform to get to the next level.

New products are the lifeblood of this business, but meaningfully differentiated new products. ... That's what Mizuno is about.