The Lead Summit Speaker Spotlight:
Barry McGeough, AmeriCo. Group

This week on The Lead Interview Series we sat down with Barry McGeough, the GVP of Innovation at AmeriCo. Group. AmeriCo. Group manufactures, markets, and distributes consumer products for many of today’s largest brands, and Barry heads up innovation globally for the organization.  In this interview, we spoke to Barry about his professional journey, his approach to vetting and testing new technologies, what advice he would give his younger self, and more. Read the full interview below!

Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today, Barry. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a GVP of Innovation? Is there a mentor, or experience that you can point to that set you on this career path? 

As a latchkey kid raised by the ‘me’ generation my friends and I, raised by wolves and bad TV, looked to heroes and role models like William Shatner and Sean Connery who never accepted defeat and always preserved who both exemplified the ethos Adidas now coins as ‘Impossible is Nothing’. Since learning this, every time I was told something couldn’t be done, I always tried to figure out a way around the problem that would end in a solution and not a dead end, never accepting no as an answer.

When running product at The North Face I was introduced to world class outdoor athletes like Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk and I once had the great fortune to share a bouldering expedition with them both in Joshua Tree. As they competed with one another, they both looked at a giant rock and before they ever touched skin to stone, they each predicted how many moves they would make to top out: this is what they called “The Problem” and I realized then that problems to solve are not qualitative. There is no good of problems, there is no bad…. They simply exist to be solved, or not. This was also the first time in my career running product that I had an advanced concepts team and together we developed a suite of consumer electronics called IO GEAR: an ecosystem of heating, lighting and ventilation for tents, sleeping bags and apparel that, while it never made it to market, as an outdoor product person was my first foray into the digital: wearables, firmwear, and CX. This greatly informed my ability to work with Misfit to develop the world’s first swimming wearable device for Speedo which ended up being sold in every Apple store on the planet concurrent with both the Rio and Tokyo Olympics.

This set of experiences led me to understand, a dozen years ago, why people kept saying ‘data was the new gold’ and that everything would soon be digital, from product reaction to experience. While nothing in my training would have indicated I could drive success in the digital and wearables space that the ‘never say no’ ethos I learned from Captain Kirk and James Bond served me well indeed; where I longed to reside was being able to deliver the future state at global scale, that I was addicted to impact, and that as they said in the Three Body Problem: ‘the future is not as far as it used to be’. These events and experiences have punctuated my journey to shape me as the practitioner of Applied Innovation I am today.

Throughout your career, you have done a wonderful job of keeping your finger on the pulse of true innovation and it appears you do this (in part) by joining groups, organizations and associations that are focused on innovation in our category. Can you share with us some of the roles you have outside of the day-to-day at AmeriCo. Group? 

When I started at Wolverine Worldwide the new CEO, Brendan Hoffman asked me a simple question: If you’re my Innovation Lead, why are you working on digital projects if I already have an IT department ? To which I answered, ‘Because nothing isn’t digital now’. That was six months into Covid and however unlikely the expectation – delivered – was that in the face of IT and ERP overload, that my team would massively deliver on ‘the stuff that goes on shoes’  but ALSO that we still needed to deliver the digital future that IT was too overloaded to execute on: half a dozen fully shoppable virtual showrooms for Merrell, Sperry and Saucony, stuffed with thousands of 3D Assets that could then be used along the value chain, from 3D DPC to VTO, and monetize the digital transformation initiative. While indeed my time at Google helped shaped my digital-first view and my product agnosticism, projects delivered like this have made me understand the urgent need to deliver, for brands and consumers, these expected solutions, and I am inspired and even awed by the explosion of new AI accelerated solutions both in and around our industry, and in society, being developed that we learn about at future-forward events like CES, NRF, SXSW, and The Lead.

At The Lead Summit in July, you’re speaking about the latest regulations that could impact AI technology, as well as the most impactful AI apps for brands. Can you share your thoughts on this topic?

This year at the Lead I’ll be focusing on the current state of AI and aspects of AI legislation that brands need to pay attention to. Last year there were less than 60 pieces of legislation in the US addressing AI, now there are over 400 including:

  • The White House Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of AI
  • The House Bipartisan Committee on AI
  • California Executive Order on Ethical AI
  • The European Union Artificial Intelligence Act (the “EU AI Act”)

With the proliferation of laws about to be enacted covering everything from Data privacy, IP Creation and Protection, NIL (name image likeness), and Cybersecurity obligations, I’ll be sharing some of the risk cases and our industries thoughts on which legislation we anticipate hitting our industry first, and what levels of compliance programs we should be prepared to react to and when.

When it comes to finding your path and crafting your career, what advice would you give the 25-year-old Barry McGeough? 

With the benefit of several great coaches and mentors I live my professional life now with the understanding that in today’s workplace, in the middle of what I call ‘the great contraction’, that our careers are not defined by the organizations we work for. We must define ourselves. And if we can define ourselves we can get to a state of Ikegai: the sense that brings our lives meaning and purpose where we can simultaneously follow our passion ( do what we love ) follow our vocation ( do what we’re  good at ) follow our mission ( do what the world needs ) and pursue our profession ( do what we can be paid for). I love what I do and I count myself fortunate to be able to drive applied innovation, build brands, and do well by doing good every day. But it took too long to get here!

Understanding this, my advice would be to start as soon as possible to build your brand. Life, like technology, is exponential: It accelerates as it progresses and spits you out at the end like the most exhilarating roller coaster ride. Stay curious, throw yourself into the world as soon as and fast as possible, follow what attracts you, and make it uniquely yours. And that will define you.

Join Barry at The Lead Summit, July 10-11 in New York City!

Brand and retail attend free!

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