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Success Interview with Hap Klopp, Founder of the Northface Company

Hap Klopp Interview with TJ Hoisington

Welcome to Unleash Your Greatness Within podcast!

In this Success Interview, TJ Hoisington interviews Hap Klopp, Founder and former CEO of the Northface Company.


(*Transcript. Edited transcript represents 25% of the entire interview. To listen to the full interview download here: iTunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio)

TJ Hoisington: We are all in for a great treat today. Welcome, Mr. Hap Klopp. Hap, how are you today?

Hap Klopp: Thanks, TJ. Glad to be here.

TJ Hoisington: My first question for you today is: you say that there are three keys to success. What are your three keys to success?

Hap Klopp: So, the first one's passion. The second one's a sense of urgency. And the third one is centralized and decisive decision making in a crisis, and I'll explain each one of those.

Passion, to me, is a differentiator and differentiation is key to being successful in business. I ask people in business, "When was the last time you cried when you lost a sale? I mean, honestly cried?" And if you don't care that much, there's probably someone out there competing against you who does, so you've got to think about that. Interestingly, when you talk about passion, that's what leaders do, and everybody follows that passion.

In terms of the issue of urgency, speed is a differentiator, again, in today's market. Speed may be a new quality. Speed may be the new thing that gets you forward, and if you look in Silicon Valley, where all the great successes are, you listen to Mark Zuckerberg when he talks, he always talks about, "We need to increase the speed more." And the reason is very simple. We don't have time any longer for things to be developed in an orderly way, so we have to figure out a faster way to get there because if we don't, the competition is getting faster. Things are moving at an increasing speed, and it's not a straight line, not linear, it's actually an exponential rate of growth. If you think about all the things happening out there, 95% of all patents ever created were created in the last five years, and that sort of speed is hitting everything we're dealing with.

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And then, centralized decision making in a crisis, by that what I mean is: lots of organizations have become fairly flat, and fairly delegating because everybody's running very hard. The problem with that, and the good side with that is you have a lot of collective decision making and get buy-in from everybody, but if you use that in times of a crisis what you're going to end up with is too slow response, too weak a response, and perhaps something which isn't driving.

TJ Hoisington: What advice you can give someone who is maybe working at a job that they don't like? In one of your books you say that you have to find, "the nerve endings that glow." Maybe they have a passion or an inner desire to go after a dream, but they fear. So, what are your thoughts on fear and some of those tough decisions that have to be sometimes made?

Hap Klopp: Well, you can't cross a giant chasm with two small steps, and that is just something you've got to come to grips with. What I try to advise people to do, and what I've tried to do my whole life, instead of looking at a decision and saying, "Which way are we going to go?" What I look at is: what is the end goal that I'm trying to accomplish? And work back from that, because if you just look from where you are, there are hundreds, or at least 20 or 30 different ways you could go, none of them often distinguishes itself as being better. But once you set up the goal and say where you're going to go then, working back to it, gives you a very linear path that you can follow and tells you that those decisions are right.

TJ Hoisington: In preparing for this interview I read a lot of your articles. How do you recharge your batteries and get yourself out of those low points?

Hap Klopp: There are a number of ways, but two that really worked for me. The first one is surrounding myself with people who are better than me. I mean, the smartest managers I know, are people who hire smarter people around them and that helps. It also allows you to get input. Effectively, a manager has to be ... and manager's a word that I hate to say because it sounds like you don't have any of that passion, that excitement, but a person in a leadership position or a management position has to be able to look at people and be inspired by them at times, not always inspiring them. And be challenged by them, and allow them to ask questions, allow them to disagree, allow them to be themselves because, in doing that, it expands the horizon of the individual, and it also charges them up, and exciting people excite people around, and if you hire those people to work for you, don't try to keep their light in a bushel but flourish, it helps you, helps me, for sure.

The second thing, which I do, and which is interesting, based on the start of this conversation, is I like to read a lot because when I read I find new ideas, I can take myself to different areas. Inside a business, sometimes you have to constantly push the same strategy, the same plan over and over again because, if you don't do that, the company gets off track.

TJ Hoisington: You are a consultant for many companies, there's one thing I think we have both seen over and over, and it's based on this thought that you write about. You say, "A title makes you no leader." You talk about a person who “glorifies in his or her own title.” Please explain.

Hap Klopp: Leaders have people who follow them, as I said in my books, not because you have a title, they follow you because they believe in you. And people who are so wedded to their title or think that's so important lose the essence of being a leader. Being a leader is able to convince somebody to follow you, and they follow you because of what you're saying, the direction you go, and not what you put as your title. The title ends up actually being a shield for many people because they aspire so long to be CEO, or they aspired so long to be the leader that they hold that out in front of people, it actually creates a disconnect. And so, what I felt, and do feel, and what I've experienced is: get away from the titles, get away from all of that false glory, create something that actually convinces people in the direction you're going, and they will follow every single day. That's what leadership's about.

TJ Hoisington: And sometimes, the easier it is to be good the more difficult it is to be great, and the tendency of human beings that I see is that they often will begin to coast, or they'll begin to relax, or they'll become content. See how much more we can make out of this product line instead of going out and reinventing it, and making it better.

Hap Klopp: Yep. You got it spot on, TJ.

TJ Hoisington: Okay. So, what would be some simple advice that you would give someone, whether they've been in the business world for some time, and they want to start new tomorrow, what would be one thing that they could do differently that would separate themselves from the masses and put them on the path of high achievement.

Hap Klopp: Well, what I would suggest is: differentiate in everything you do. The way you go to market, the channels that you use, your pricing strategy, your approach to people because differentiation is what allows you rise above the norm. Being the same makes you just one of the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. So, sit back and differentiate. And if it starts with an interview you're going somewhere, have a different approach to it. If it's going to a banker to ask for money, use a different approach to be able to do that. If it's a marketing strategy, and everybody's using a traditional tool, find a new tool. Whatever you can do that makes you stand out from the crowd, which is differentiated, will start building your brand, and your brand could be your company, or it could be you as an individual.

TJ Hoisington: I always say the ugliest four-letter word in the English language is the word “can't,” and the one thing I took away over the years from reading your works is that you really do have to think BIG; you've got to think out of that box, you have to stretch yourself, you've got to believe in yourself, and you've got to believe in others.

So, in one of your books, you call it “The Land of Can't.” So, I don't know; maybe you could give us your thoughts on the word "can't."

Hap Klopp: Well, an awful lot of businesses are run by lawyers, accountants, MBAs, and they know all of the reasons something won't work, and it's stillborn before they ever attack it or before they ever go after something. We were lucky, and I was lucky to be at the North Face, and we were around a lot of mountaineers, and climbers, and people, and these people were pushing the limits, they were doing things that people couldn't do, had not done previously, would not be expected to do. And whether it was their own personal limits, or concepts, going after things, rowing from the tip of South America to the Antarctic, climbing Mount Everest, and working in the harshest conditions. Now, we would always bring those people in, and they'd talk about their adventures to us in business, and we would tell them about our challenges, and once you surround yourself with people who are accomplishing the impossible, then it's a wonderful world. But if you sit there and say, "We can't do it." You're in trouble.

There's an old saying, I don't know who created it, but that's, "The difficult, we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer." And that's how you really should be approaching it. I personally believe that there are no limits, and I try to tell people there are no limits, and it's only within your own mind that that's constructed.

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Hap Klopp: I just love that sort of thinking, and I think you have to re-pot yourself. There is a guy who ran the Stanford Business School when I was there, Ernie Arbuckle, and his concept of a job was, he said, "No matter how good I am at breaking out of something, I construct a world and has got some threads around me that lock me into a job, so every 10 years I have to go to another firm." So, he ran Stanford Business School for ten years, before that he ran Wells Fargo. He ran a non-profit organization after that, but he said, "I've got to break out because I've got to surround people with new people, with new ideas, with new belief structures that can go forward."

TJ Hoisington: Wow, that's really powerful stuff.

Now, with all your experience and friendships with some amazing athletes and adventurers, did you ever go on any crazy adventures yourself?

Hap Klopp: Oh yeah. I was in one of the first groups to go down the Zambezi River. The Zambezi River's in Africa, it goes from Zambia in Zimbabwe, and we headed down there, we didn't know what we were doing, but we had some guides from the Sobek people, and we decided we'd shoot a catalog down there. And so, we were the first to pioneer that. And there were crocodiles, and there were hippos, and the water spilling over Victoria Falls, where you start out, is huge. And it's scary, but it's energizing, and when you put yourself on the limits and find out what you can do under the limits, you start feeling better about yourself and it's the sort of thing that fuels you when you come back to the office to say, "Listen, I did that, I can conquer any problems here because these are small."

TJ Hoisington: Exactly. When you stretch the mind, right? And it could be any goal that you feel like is way beyond your comfort zone, and then you do it, or maybe you're forced to do it, and you realize, "Wow, it's a lot easier than I thought it would be." It's just amazing, the human mind.

Hap Klopp: And you start feeling better about yourself. And so, the next challenge, you'll take on a little more gusto because you believe in your own capabilities and that's what it's all about. In this negative world, in the world of can't, people telling you-you can't do it, you can fall prey to that, so you have to overcome it. It's who you surround yourself with; it's how you challenge yourself, not only within your specialty but outside of your specialty.

TJ Hoisington: Well, Mr. Hap, this has been a wonderful discussion. It's been my pleasure as I feel like my history with you goes back a lot of years...

Hap Klopp: It does.

TJ Hoisington: Yeah. So, this is, I assume, and feel, and believe, that for everyone listening to this it will be greatly benefited.

Mr. Hap Klopp, I appreciate your time. You're a great man.

Hap Klopp: Been a pleasure. I hope people get something from it; it's certainly served me well.

TJ Hoisington: Thank you for your time.

Hap Klopp: Thank you.


*Transcript End. Edited transcript represents 25% of the entire interview. To listen to the full interview download here: iTunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio

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About TJ Hoisington:

TJ Hoisington is the bestselling author of If You Think You Can!, The Secret of the Slight Edge, and Return to Robinson Island. He has authored several high-performance training programs focused on personal development, leadership, customer service, sales, and creating thriving cultures. TJ's insights and workshops have been shared with many organizations around the world. (client list) Whether he speaks to audiences of 10 or 15,000 people, his mission is the same: to provide inspiration and tools that help people and organizations unleash their greatness within.

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