Carnegie Mellon University
February 02, 2015

Edward Stack on Retail’s “Seismic Change”

Edward Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, discussed growth, industry change and leadership with Tepper School of Business students as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series.

It began with one small store, opened with a $300 loan. The down-to-earth Stack opened the hour with the inspiring history of the company. With his grandmother’s cookie-jar money, Stack’s father Richard opened a small fishing supply store in 1948. Today, Dick’s Sporting Goods is a Fortune 500 company with approximately 700 stores in nearly every state in the country.

Along the way, the younger Stack grew from a 13-year-old who “hated every minute” he was forced to work in the family store to a gifted leader who took the reins in 1984.

Stack described the company’s years of rapid growth and change, peppering the tale with beneficial advice. 

When describing the acquisition of a capable competitor, Stack noted, “Be careful not to get too full of yourself. Understand that there are others who do things as well — and sometimes better — than you do.” 

He then detailed observations on retail’s “seismic change.”

"Retailers today are becoming brand builders and technology companies,” Stack began. “We all sell basically the same thing, so you really have to differentiate yourself in the eyes of the consumer.” He described the changing purchase decision, stating that a successful retailer must provide the new generation of customers with “what you want, when, how, and where you want it” and rely on entertainment as a point of differentiation. 

Stack went on to describe the changes in competitive strategy brought on by the Internet. “You used to be able to out-position your competition based on your real estate,” he said. “Today your competition is one click away.” He pointed out that partners have now also become competitors, for example, when a Dick’s customer clicks to 

“In retail — or any business — it’s good to have a healthy sense of paranoia because the world is changing so quickly,” he cautioned. “Every single day we’re talking about how we can improve because you can never stand still. You stand still, you’re losing ground.”

With the time remaining, hands quickly shot up with questions.

On his changing leadership style, Stack remarked on the challenge of learning to delegate and the importance of listening. He described his company’s upside-down organization chart with his own name at the bottom. “At the top is the customer,” he indicated. “And I’m a firm believer that the further you get away from the customer, the less you should talk and the more you should listen. Every stage I’ve had to learn to listen more.”

Regarding motivating the company through trying times, he noted, “You can’t lie to people. We knew the issues and knew that we could fix them. You have to communicate that.”

On his company’s meteoric growth, he advocated hiring talented professionals and “spreading the wealth” — which he graciously did in counseling the students.

“I enjoyed my time here,” Stack smiled in closing. “Good luck with everything.”

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2014-2015 W.L. Mellon Speaker Series