Best Advice from Dani Reiss

“Best Advice” is a recurring column on The Message, in which industry veterans Jack Neary and Kevin Spreekmeester—and some of their colleagues—dispense practical advice for people who are just entering the industry.—

This week, Best Advice talks with Danis Reiss, president, CEO and chairman of the board of Canada Goose. Reiss has transformed a small outerwear manufacturer founded by his grandfather in 1957 into a highly coveted performance luxury brand, known and loved around the world. His passion for bringing Canada to the world has fuelled the brand’s journey from the Canadian north to the streets of Toronto, New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, and Beijing, among others.

Today Canada Goose products are available in 43 countries and the company employs more than 3,400 people worldwide. In 2016, Reiss was awarded the Order of Canada for his entrepreneurial success and charitable work in Canadian Arctic communities. He was also named Marketer of the Year by the Canadian Marketing Association in 2013; Canada’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011 by Ernst & Young, and received Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award in 2008.

Were you ever concerned your English literature and philosophy degree would negatively impact your career choice?

No, but that’s because I never planned on doing this with my life. When I was younger, this was just my family’s jacket business. It wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of, and my parents didn’t want it for me, either. My plan was to become a writer.

I do think, though, that by not going to business school—which most people would expect for someone in a role like mine—is why I’ve succeeded at Canada Goose. I’ve made unconventional choices and they’ve worked out well for the company.

Were there challenges at the start of your career that you wish you’d been warned about?

I think generally just becoming a “boss” was difficult and even more challenging when it came to managing older and more experienced employees. In my 20s, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being a leader and I had to learn that skill.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned early in your career?

When I became president or CEO (I’m not sure what title I actually had then), our landlord at the time, a very successful entrepreneur in his own right, told me that my job was not to produce “work,” but to make sure I gave employees the tools and resources they needed to do their work.

What’s your best advice today for young people entering marketing or fashion?

If you don’t love coming in to work every day, you’re doing the wrong thing. Success isn’t possible if you’re not passionate about it.

Who did you lean on most in your early days? 

Polling the audience has always been my style. I like to ask a lot of questions of a lot of different people to get a variety of inputs. I think context and perspective are critical to how you make decisions and see the world. In my early days, my closest advisors were people outside the company who had seen other businesses succeed and fail and could offer insights into why that happened.

Did you ever make any missteps that really mattered? If so, how did you recover?

I’ve made lots of mistakes over the years, like hiring for skill instead of culture fit or trying to manage two labels (Snow Goose and Canada Goose) without a clear distribution plan, but nothing has been a showstopper.

One I was recently talking about to our team was about getting into spring product too early. It was around 10 years ago, and it just wasn’t the right thing to do at that time—we didn’t have the resources to support it and it wasn’t even the right product. Canada Goose is an entrepreneurial culture and a fast-growth business, so we learn what we need to from any mistakes we make… and we don’t make them twice.

What’s the one Golden Rule for someone planning a career at Canada Goose today?

Don’t expect Canada Goose to become you. To be successful here you have to become Canada Goose.