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STRAIGHT FROM THE TOP with: Massimo Lazzari, Columbia Sportswear

Columbia Sportswear’s Japan Head on music and escapism, Japanese anime, and running a bar in Southern Spain

Massimo Lazzari is one of the most experienced Italian retail executives in Japan. Currently VP, General Manager Asia Subsidiaries at Columbia Sportswear, he has lived in Japan for over 25 years, and was previously Managing Director for Tod’s Japan and Sixty Japan. Massimo graduated from the University of Turin in Italy, holds an MBA from INSEAD, and speaks fluent Italian, English and Japanese.

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?

“Logic and chaos.” On the one hand, I have a very rational, logical, and data-oriented side; and on the other, a creative, risk-taking, and impulsive one!

What's the most exciting thing happening in your life right now?

Seeing my kids grow up and learn to fly for themselves – becoming independent, living on their own in different countries, and going through new experiences in life.

Which figures (historic or present, public or private) played the most important influence in your life so far?

On the personal side, my wife. She has been my biggest source of strength since I came to Japan 25 years ago.

Professionally, my mentor when I was at Ferragamo Japan. He was a senior Japanese manager who taught me all the tricks of the trade working in Japan’s fashion and retail industry. A very human guy who enabled me to grow. Thanks to him, I learned the importance of having a great mentor early on in your career.

What's been your biggest failure or mistake in life/work so far? What did you learn?

When I left Tod’s in 2007, I wanted to try my hand at business consulting, and set up as an independent consultant supporting Italian companies with operations in Japan. I was hired by one struggling Italian brand who wanted me to help them figure out what they should do next. They then asked me to join them full-time to implement the plan I had proposed – and I did so, against my better judgment.

Then the Lehman Shock happened, the company went bankrupt globally, and was acquired by a Chinese fund. I ended up having to close down the business in Japan, lay off all Japan employees, terminate all contracts with landlords and department stores, while losing face with all our partners. It was the toughest time of my career, and a huge learning experience being with a company going out of business.

My biggest lesson was that business is all about people, not just about operations and profit. It shaped the way I run my business today. I consider myself personally responsible for 600 people and their families. If you have a strong team, you can do anything. Never underestimate the power of having the right team.

Looking back, what key pieces of advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Always have a plan and think about where you ideally want to be in 5 years professionally, personally, and as a family. Because things happen so fast in life. That, and sleeping on things before making any major decisions. Things can always look very different in the morning.

What key values do you live by?

Hard work. Honesty. Candour and being straightforward in general. Having a sense of humour. Learn and have fun, connect with others, and enjoy whatever you are doing!

What keeps you up at night?

Writing music.

What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?

When I attend meetings and listen to my sales, product, and marketing teams drive their businesses along, talking about the next year ahead, and about achieving their goals. Watching my teams create a vision together, and seeing how people are moving forward together, I know we will be successful.

What are your morning rituals for getting a great day going?

I wake up every morning and my first thought is literally, “I want to go to work!”. I have the same ritual every morning. I wake up, have a light breakfast (bread, fruit, and coffee), get ready quickly and am out the door. I always commute by train so I can observe people around me going about their everyday lives, staying in touch with how their lifestyles are shifting and moving.

Where/when do you have your most "A-ha" or "lightbulb" moments?

I usually get into the office between 8:00 to 8:30am, before people start coming in around 10am. That one hour of quiet, without any emails or calls, is where I get my ideas, and can think about my day ahead.

How do you energize outside of your work?

I love music – listening, composing, performing. I taught myself saxophone and keyboard when I was growing up, and found enormous freedom and escape in music. You have a blank sheet of paper and it’s up to you what to do with it. You are in your own world, which goes beyond any limitations of body and mind.

What's your biggest vice?

In personal life, I have been known to procrastinate at times!

What are the top: Business, Fictional, and Biographical books you've read lately?

“Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal”. Reading it is like being forced to take a medicine you don't like, but it will make you stronger!

Top movie of all time?

Top Gun – I was still 19 when it came out! A bold movie with a simple story, strong heart, and a positive message.

Favourite cartoon character growing up?

I grew up in Italy in the late 1970’s / early 1980’s, when Japanese animation was becoming very popular. I loved Gundam, Lupin 3rd, Mazinger Z, Captain Harlock, and many others. Compared to Western anime, they blended deep storylines with human psychology and emotions. Now I love Studio Ghibli – my favourite titles are Laputa, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, and Howl’s Moving Castle.

What's on heavy rotation at home right now?

Late 80s and early 90s Japanese pop – the likes of Komekome Club, Southern All Stars, Kubota Toshinobu, Amuro Namie

Favourite travel destination?

Anywhere around the Mediterranean. Spain, Southern Italy, Greece. Last year we took the 12-hour night train from Torino (north-western tip) to Salento (the tip of the boot). When the morning comes, it’s like waking up in a totally different world.

Top bucket list travel destinations?

Driving from Italy to Japan by car. And traveling Latin America.

What will you be doing post-retirement?

A few years ago, I went with my family on a trip to Andalusia (Southern Spain) and we fell in love with the region. Whether you are in the main city of Malaga or visit smaller towns like Torremolinos or Benalmadena, you will enjoy (in no particular order) beautiful beaches, friendly people, great local food (and drinks!) and an amazing Movida with live music that will keep you up until the next morning. After retirement it would be really fun to be running a bar on a beach somewhere in Andalusia.

And to close with, your favourite quote?

There’s an old proverb from Italian culture that goes something like, “When you go through life, your destiny is up to you. If you approach things with enough conviction and energy, there will be a hand from above in the end.” Basically, that it’s up to you to take control of your life and be active, to believe in what you do, and to set your course ahead. If you do so, you will receive a helping hand. But it's all got to start with you.


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