Each day's a joy for Berghaus boss

Richard Cotter is a man on a mission. With the outdoor clothing market expanding rapidly, he is determined that Berghaus is going to claim at least its fair share of that growth.

Richard Cotter

Richard Cotter is a man on a mission. With the outdoor clothing market expanding rapidly, he is determined that Berghaus is going to claim at least its fair share of that growth.

A radical growth plan has been announced, with Cotter aiming for the Sunderland company to double its sales, hitting £100m inside five years.

He does not appear to be the "shout a bit louder" type of boss, but prefers to make his targets very clear and then expects all company employees to pull in that direction.

He uses the sportsman-like phrase "ruthless focus" to describe his approach to the business, which gives you the distinct impression that his time as a professional golfer has been brought to bear on his managerial career.

The Cotter CV is almost a throwback to a bygone age, given that he never attained any formal qualifications - and he has risen to the post of chief executive (or "brand president" as Berghaus has it) through proven performance, rather than through letters after his name or a flashy MBA, as is more common today.

He says his school days in Redditch, Worcestershire, were almost entirely focused on his sporting career, and he was in the fortunate position of choosing at the age of 17 whether to pursue football or golf as a profession. He chose the latter.

He says: "I had eight or nine years as a golf pro. I spent a couple of years learning the game in a club, and playing in local tournaments, then spent two years on the European tour.

"For the last three years I was a teaching pro at a top club in London called South Herts. I taught Des O'Connor, Barry Took, Selina Scott, and various Arsenal footballers.

"I was in my mid-20s, living in London, but I got to a point where I was either going to do that all my life or do something different."

So eventually the time came to leave and Cotter got his first "proper" job working for a major department store, in what was a dream role for a sports nut.

He says: "I went to work for House of Fraser as a sports equipment buyer. It was Christmas every day of the year.

"Then I went to work for Head, and was managing director at 29. You just get a feel for what makes people buy certain products and what they are looking for. I was always able to spot what people wanted to buy, and then you develop the other skills of being an executive."

Cotter went on to hold a series of positions in the sportswear business, before deciding that he wanted to change direction a little.

He explains: "I was running a company in Scotland called AMG, one of Berghaus's biggest competitors, and I decided it was time to develop my career.

"I joined Aga Food Service Group and ran a big manufacturing plant called Falcon for them. It was an intellectually fascinating experience, but it was a business to business organisation and I missed working with consumers.

"Here I can't wait to come to work each day, but I never got that at Falcon. I honestly believe I've got the best job in the world here."

On the day when we meet at Berghaus's slick corporate headquarters on Sunderland Enterprise Park, Cotter and his team are in the midst of preparing for the company's new Spring/Summer 2008 collection.

They were expecting more than 120 distributors from around the world at a big event in the Lake District the following week, to sample the merchandise, test it out on a walk up a fell or two, and network with Cotter and his senior team.

Cotter has previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with fellow Pentland managers, and Berghaus chairman Sir Chris Bonington, so a few Lakeland peaks should hold no fears.

And this kind of event is clearly something the boss looks forward to.

He says: "The big message right now is about the growth in what we would call the outdoor lifestyle market. Traditionally, the way we would structure our product range would be from the top of the mountain range to the bottom - we had different ranges at different altitudes.

"But we can no longer just be the brand that serves the classic hill walker. It's still a massively important part of the business, but so are high street consumers buying a weatherproof jacket to take the kids to the park.

"In the last three years, there has been a huge growth in people participating in outdoors in a broader context. A massive growth in related sports. Indoor rock climbing is the fastest growing participation sport in the UK.

"And now that is extending into lifestyle clothing people are buying - casual cargo pants, casual shoes. However, we will only do something if there is a performance point of uniqueness."

Cotter is enthused by the Berghaus T-shirt that has what they call "dry release" technology which means that it dries out four times quicker than a normal cotton T-shirt.

And he is very excited by a "seven-day" T-shirt that is said to be so advanced that it won't smell even with a week's continuous wear.

Cotter says: "While we design something to look like a lifestyle jacket, for instance, there will always be a technical performance aspect. Because if you give that up, you give up your brand. If you don't differentiate, you end up just competing on price."

Cotter is convinced that if Berghaus do not grow to keep up with the wider industry's growth, his competitors will be more than willing to fill the gap.

He says: "The outdoor market is mushrooming. You travel all over the world and people wear cargoes, and multi-active shoes. Everything is waterproof, breathable and stylish.

"If we don't do it, effectively, for sure there will be a bunch of other brands that will have a go at it. But while Berghaus does very well with that section of the population which loves to go hill walking, rock climbing, orienteering, etc, it also seems to have a less easily explained fascination for urban youths too.

What does Cotter make of Berghaus's popularity with the kind of young people who hang out in groups on street corners, or on the Metro, wearing shell suits and baseball caps with the peak pointing skywards?

Does he worry that, just as Burberry has become popular in the same way, this negatively affects the brand? He won't be drawn too much on the subject, but gives a very clear indication that they are not a demographic he is pursuing too vigorously. He says: "Their money is worth exactly the same as anyone else's. But do we actively target them? The answer is `no'."

And does he worry that not all those who wear the Berghaus brand are wearing the genuine article? Not very much it seems - as the parent company appears to be on top of the problem.

"Because we are part of Pentland, they have their own security function. There is a team of ex-policemen who actively target counterfeit products.

"Before Christmas, we had a problem with market stalls in the North-West. The product was so good, we struggled to tell the difference from our own. But the counterfeiters can't get hold of Gore-tex so that's how we could tell.

"A bunch of guys got arrested, and we eventually found a lock-up garage which was full of stuff.

"In a funny kind of way, it's an inverted compliment to us. The time to worry is when people are not counterfeiting your brand, as you are on the way down!" So if he is not worried about fake goods, what does worry him? Surely the R&D departments of Jack Wolfskin and Helly Hansen are on his mind all the time?

He says not.

"I'm a great believer that I don't worry too much about the competition. Every minute you do that, you are not spending positively developing your own brand. We execute our plan with ruthless focus - you are almost not that interested in what other people are doing.

"If we are not creating `drop dead' product, we are missing what we are trying to do."

Given his impressive CV, what does Cotter believe lies behind the success he has enjoyed? And therefore what does he look for in others?

He says: "I'm not interested in qualifications. Just show me what you've delivered - that is far more important than an MBA or a business degree.

"I had no qualifications, but I have recently attended Ashridge Business School, which is one of the top 10 in the world. It's been fascinating to learn the theory of what I have learnt in practice over 20 years.

"I don't think business is that complicated. If everyone has bought into what the organisation is trying to achieve, it's not that complicated to execute it. And I always believe wherever we are this year is a just a stepping stone to where we want to be next year and the year after that."

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CV

Education
1972-1979 Bridley Moor High School, Redditch, Worcestershire.

Professional Experience
2006- Brand president (chief executive), Berghaus.
2003-2006 Managing director, Brasher.
2001-2003 Managing director, Falcon Foodservice Equipment.
1994-2001 Managing director, AMG Outdoor Ltd.
1991 - 1994 Divisional director, Head Sports.
1989-1991 Managing director, Yamaha UK.
1986-1989 Group equipment buyer - Astral Sports.
1979-1986 Professional golfer.

Interests & Activities
Walking, climbing, skiing.

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