Who matters more: Employees or customers?

This CEO believes that creating wins for all stakeholders in business can lead to more long-term sustainability.

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In partnership with Conscious Capitalism

The journey to profitability and beyond often pushes startup leaders to prioritize money over people, but one CEO believes that a focus on creating wins for all stakeholders in a business can lead to more long-term sustainability.

While the old saying goes that the customer is always right, Matt Altman thinks that’s just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Altman is the co-founder and CEO of Sportiqe Apparel. At Sportiqe, what’s best for all business stakeholders is what’s best for the company.

As a CEO, Altman’s focus stretches further than the consumer to those who make the product possible, from employees to vendors, and the company’s values aren’t sacrificed for its bottom line. This means squeezing the lowest possible price out of a vendor isn’t always the best call. It could also mean turning down some investors who aren’t aligned with the overall vision.

“If the owners and the investors are winning, but the suppliers and the employees are not, something’s going to break,” says Altman. His success at Sportiqe proves that you don’t need to drive a hard bargain to make a smart deal.

A Win-for-All Business Model

Prior to co-founding Sportiqe Apparel in 2006, Altman worked for over a decade as the director of merchandise for professional sports organizations such as the Arizona Diamondbacks of the MLB, the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL, and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. The Phoenix, Arizona native oversaw all aspects of retail operations from designing and sourcing to development and sales.

Altman used the expertise he gained in the sports industry to create an apparel company that specializes in active and comfort wear that looks good, feels good, and provides superior performance. To date, Sportiqe has outfitted more than four million people across the world and collaborates with brands like Peloton, the NBA, Warner Bros., and Nintendo.

The brand is now setting an example for other corporate leaders on how to operate under the principles of conscious capitalism and inject humanity back into business. What sets Sportiqe apart is that the company’s vision stretches beyond merely increasing profits, to creating a win-for-all business model.

Each of the employees at Sportiqe’s operating office and warehouse is seen and treated as an valuable asset in the company’s ecosystem. They’re not just employees but stakeholders in the business who help it thrive.

What are “stakeholders” in business? Stakeholders refers to owners, investors, employees, customers, supply chain partners, vendors, and others who are directly affected by the success of a company. Treating employees as stakeholders helps them feel a sense of ownership in the work they’re doing and increases motivation.¬†

Why Are Stakeholders Important?

Stakeholders have a direct impact on the success or failure of a business. Cultivating strong relationships with both internal and external stakeholders is the key to keeping operations running like a well-oiled machine.

One guiding principle of Altman’s leadership style is stakeholder integration. “To me, stakeholder integration is looking to have balance within that business ecosystem where all parties are winning,” he explains. “It’s really putting humanity at the core of what’s happening.”

Altman strives to make a real impact on his business by ensuring each step along the process is done respectfully, responsibly, and consciously. But balancing the interests of all stakeholders in a business can get tricky at times.

“What happens a lot in business, where things get off kilter, is you might have investors who are pushing an agenda that may not be the best for employees or the customer. That might work for the short-term scenario but it will not create long-term sustainability in the business,” Altman says. “Something will break. We’re all connected. What happens to one will affect the other.”

To foster a truly healthy company, there are a lot of other people who need to be just as satisfied as the consumer. One of a CEO’s biggest jobs is ensuring that harmonious and synergistic relationships exist among all parties.

Putting People First During a Pandemic 

During the uncertain times of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Altman and Sportiqe have doubled down on this people-first operational model. Now more than ever, many have valid concerns about their financial and physical well-being.

Altman says his leadership approach in the pandemic was to remain steadfast in the principles on which his business was built, ensuring that his employees and other stakeholders continued to feel safe and valued.

To expand its impact, Sportiqe launched the “Together We Win” campaign earlier this year. As part of the campaign, 100% of profits made from sales of the “Together We Win” tee shirt are donated to Americare’s COVID-19 relief fund, which helps provide frontline healthcare workers and those in need with protective equipment and other necessary supplies.

“Together We Win” is a fitting mantra for a company which operates under the understanding that its success should be evenly shared by all those who help create it. Sportiqe is proof that putting people first does not mean neglecting profitability, it simply means valuing the people who help achieve and maintain it.

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