One of the most respected executives in the run specialty and footwear businesses, Glenn Barrett will be inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame during the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) Leadership Conference in Phoenix, AZ, on May 22. Running Insight caught up with Barrett as he prepared for his induction into the Class of 2024 to find out his feelings about this honor for him and OrthoLite, how his business and the market it serves has changed in his tenure and where he goes from here. 

Let’s start with this: What does your Hall of Fame induction mean to you personally?

It means that I’m old. [Laughs.] No. Seriously. This is a distinguished honor for a shoe dog and I am humbled. I look at the list of past recipients and it’s honestly overwhelming to be included with these titans of our industry. 

Anyone you would like to recognize or thank as part of this honor?

I’d like to acknowledge a few people from early in my career, when I first had this audacious idea for a new product. There were several people whose confidence in that idea helped me move forward. I’m grateful to Peter Lunder, who encouraged me and backed my idea as a partner. Jim Davis, the founder and owner of New Balance, is the consummate entrepreneur. He was always a role model for me. Confidence, encouragement and trust are powerful for an entrepreneur. These folks gave me the fortitude to turn the OrthoLite concept into a business. 

What does this recognition mean to OrthoLite as a company?

It’s further validation that what OrthoLite brings to the performance footwear market (has been and is) truly revolutionary. I’m incredibly proud of what this says about our product and the team behind that product. 

What exactly does it say?

That together we created an entirely new category of materials to go inside of shoes. We identified a need and provided a solution that’s now universally accepted as a comfort and performance enhancement for all categories of footwear. We’ve always backed the concept of comfort. This honor may just mean we’re right — it turns out people do want to be comfortable.

What has been your role at OrthoLite over the years?

From coming up with the original idea to now, I’ve always been involved in every aspect of our business — often to the dismay of our troops. [Laughs again.] Seriously. What they may not know, and what I want them to know, is that I’m constantly learning from my team and our industry dynamics. 

Anything else?

I guess I’d say I’ve been the vision guy over the years. As anyone reading this knows, the footwear industry is a dynamic business and we need to constantly innovate in order to remain relevant. I’m always looking at new opportunities for us.

How does that impact how OrthoLite does its business?

That applies to our company culture, too. I try to encourage our people to be the best that they can be and to find mission in the value-add OrthoLite brings to our customers’ products and the global footwear market. From day one, I have stressed that individual ego doesn’t have a place in our company. That energy is otherwise focused on company and brand excellence. 

How have you seen the running and sporting goods business as a whole – and OrthoLite in particular – change over that time?

Innovation drives everything. It’s in the development of specific products and in how we bring those products to market. I’m not sure that concept has changed so much over time. But when you take into account the intensity of competition that’s pushing innovation, there’s been huge change.

That’s an interesting way to look at it.

You know what? I think the competition is a beautiful thing and reflective of sport itself. I thrive on it and I think it’s good for our industry. 

Where does that change and competition come from?

We can all be grateful to consumers for this. Consumers are far more knowledgeable now. They understand what works, what feels good and what to ask for. Just look at the evolution in comfort in athletic footwear over the past 40 years. Can’t you just feel what it was like to lace up a few decades ago compared to now? We’ve come a long way. 

OrthoLite has certainly made some impact in sustainability in its products. Why is that and how does that impact the way you do business?

Since the very beginning we have aspired to be better to the planet. Before sustainability was even a conversation in the industry, we were putting recycled tire crumb into our insoles. From our very first OrthoLite insole in 1997, every OrthoLite product has included a minimum of five percent recycled material. We didn’t even talk about it for the longest time. We just did it because it felt like the right thing to do.

And how is that continuing in 2024?

While we’re proud of our heritage, we also feel it’s incumbent on all of us to accelerate the pace of positive change in terms of lowering our impacts. That’s what you’re seeing from us. OrthoLite is committed to developing more sustainable processes and products to strive toward a reduced environmental impact on the planet.

What’s your role at OrthoLite these days? You aren’t retiring yet, are you?

Retired? Absolutely not. I don’t even know what that would look like. I suppose my friends and family have a healthy – and reasonable – fear that if it weren’t for my day job, I’d be lost to golf and ski bumming. But the reality is, I still love my day job. 

So what’s a typical day like?

Nothing is typical in my world.

What are your favorite parts of your job these days?

That’s easy. My favorite part of the job is the people. I’m incredibly fortunate to work with a tremendous team of 3200 people across the globe and more than 550 of the world’s best footwear brands. The opportunity to work together and to inspire our teams across a variety of cultures fuels my curiosity. Learning to respect and how different people respond to similar goals is really what this thing is all about.

What about your least favorite?

My least favorite? Well, I believe listening is a skill that requires practice. It’s give and take and I’m sure I can always sharpen my own listening skills. Sometimes I wish more people would share my belief that our collective listening skills could use a tune-up.

Any hobbies/pastimes our readers should know about you?

Skiing. Golf. The Yankees. My grandchildren, who are the coolest people that I know. 

Go Yankees! Any message you want to send to the running and sporting goods industries on the eve of your induction into the Hall of Fame?

As an industry, I know we share the feeling that it’s a privilege to help millions of people experience sport through safer, better-performing and more comfortable gear. It’s a big thing, because sport is one of the greatest joys in life. Sports enrich our lives. We learn teamwork, discipline and passion. We develop skills and good health and get to have fun, too. The passion for what we do is fully present in the business side of running and sporting goods. I see the energy and commitment of the people who make up these industries. I’m honored and grateful to be a part of it. 

Finally, what’s the future hold for Glenn Barrett — near-term and long-term?

In the near-term, I am on a constant quest to learn and evolve myself and our business. I will continue to travel and to listen to our people around the globe. And hopefully, I can inspire our team and provide concrete opportunities for each of them to be the best that they can. Long-term. How long?!