Marcello Leone, 50, is the president and CEO of Vancouver-based athletic-apparel company Respect Your Universe (RYU) Apparel. He bought, refreshed and relaunched the brand in late 2015. Previously, Mr. Leone worked in his family's specialty fashion retail business, Leone and L2.
I was born in Montreal and when I was six years old my family moved to Vancouver. My parents were inspired by the West Coast, so we drove across the country.
My father started off as a hairstylist in Vancouver and owned his own shop. My mom was working as the salon receptionist. They later started to sell shoes and apparel at the front of the shop. My mom went on a buying trip to Italy and Europe and started to import Italian and French shoes and clothing. They eventually opened three shoe stores and three ladies' apparel stores. My father sold the hair salon. Later, they also sold the shoe and apparel stores and opened up one destination store, Leone, in 1986, which was considered the largest independent specialty store in Canada at the time.
I started selling in the family business when I was 13. I had a part-time job in the summer selling shoes. That's where my sales training started.
I later studied psychology at the University of British Columbia. The way I saw it, I was getting my business training in the family business. I knew I was going to be dealing with people. I felt psychology would make me well-rounded. After I graduated, I went and worked in the family business right away. It was there that I continued learning my business and management skills.
I had the luxury of working with my mother and father and then being exposed to the fashion industry, including to some of the best professionals in the industry. It opened my eyes to what the business world was about. Also, being in a family business, you're at the dinner table and you hear all the trials and tribulations, what's working and not working. You can't get any better business case study than being in that scenario.
In my late 30s, I started thinking about what the next 40 years would look like for me, my family and my children. I loved the family business and the people I worked with were amazing, but I also realized the industry was changing.
At 42, I left the family business. It was the right time for me to move on. (The family business sold a few years later, when I was 47, and still operates today). After leaving, my wife and I started to research areas of business to get into. Innovative wellness was something we were interested in. We invested in an apparel line called Respect Your Universe (RYU) in 2011, which at the time was a mixed martial arts brand. I had an emotional connection with the brand; being respectful was something that was important for me. In August, 2014, we took over the business, relocated it to Vancouver and rebranded it to create a performance-based urban athletic apparel product.
I surrounded myself with entrepreneurs who have created businesses and been a part of business like I had. We know what it's like to roll up your sleeves and start from scratch. We're still in our infancy stage, but working hard to take it to the next level.
From a leadership perspective, when you start going global and scaling your business, it's completely different from having one regional store. This isn't a business where you can micromanage every little detail.
You need people who lead their groups in order to achieve the goals you set together. You have to trust that those people can execute. People also have to feel confident and trust the fact that they can grow with the business. That's the culture we have. I think it's a fair culture.
When you're building a business, you must also be true to your DNA and purpose. You must hold the line, even when it gets difficult. You have to do your research to know what you've done, and that you're in the correct space. You have to be true and authentic in everything you do. Sooner or later it turns. When it does, it can be really powerful and exciting. I see a lot of businesses that, if their first year doesn't go the way they like, they wonder what to do next. You have to stay true to what you're doing. It takes time.
You worry every day that you're doing the right things and that the community and people connect with your brand. This is a public business. It's different from a private family business. We have a responsibility to employees, their families and to shareholders. I take it very seriously.
I'm a big believer that everything is possible in life. You just have to want it and go. No matter how hard, you have to keep going. If our ancestors have taught us anything, it's that anything is possible.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
As told to Brenda Bouw