City Focus: Hamilton, Ontario
Business Chief examines Hamilton native Doug Putman, hailed as the savior of Canadian vinyl, as he prepares to take over operation of 100 HMV locations across the UK.
Located at the westernmost tip of Lake Ontario, immediately below Mississauga and Toronto, Hamilton is home to approximately 750,000 people. In addition to its proud history of industry and manufacturing — responsible for its nickname of ‘Steeltown’ — the city is also home to the country’s largest botanical garden, which covers an impressive 980 hectares. To this day, the city is home to some of the country’s largest steel companies, including National Steel Car, Canada’s largest manufacturer of rolling stock.
Founded in 1912 by a group of wealthy Hamiltonian investors, National Steel Car today creates 12,500 rolling stock units each year under the leadership of CEO and chairman Gregory J. Aziz. The town is also home to Stelco Holdings, another of Canada’s oldest manufacturers of steel. Although the company filed for bankruptcy in 2007, it was bought by US Steel, taken public and today operates in a diminished capacity refining rolled steel. While Canadian steel production plummeted during the 2007 financial crisis, dropping to less than half of its pre-crash output, according to Trading Economics research, the industry has made strides in the past decade, approaching if not reclaiming the grandeur of one of Canada’s oldest and proudest industries.
Another Hamilton-born businessperson investing in the potential financial returns of the past is Doug Putman, the man hailed by some in both Canada and the United Kingdom as the savior of physical entertainment and the independent record store. From the purchase of local record chain Sunrise Records in 2014, Putman has built a media empire stretching across 82 Canadian locations and, in February, he saved 100 of HMV’s UK locations as the company went into administration for the second time in the last six years. Sunshine records is the only national record chain in Canada, succeeding where so many, including Sam the Record Man, Music World and A & A Records have passed into history.
Capitalising on the Canadian vinyl market
Born in Ancaster, a suburb of Hamilton, the 34-year-old Putman gambled on the success of physical entertainment in 2014, capitalizing on the worldwide, decade-long resurgence of the vinyl market. According to Statista, vinyl sales in the United States rose from 1mn units in 2007 to 16.8mn last year. Following the growth of his Canadian music empire to 82 stores with the purchase of failed HMV Canada locations, Putman told Music Week in February 2019 that Sunrise Records’ operations were profitable at a time when brick and mortar retail is a shrinking industry, and the majority of the world’s population consumes audio media through streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.
In an interview with the Hamilton Spectator in 2017, Putman explained how he saw the opportunity to turn his own passion for vinyl as a medium into a profitable pursuit. "I like the warmer sound of vinyl and I feel there is a huge passion out there for physical content," he said. "People think the younger generation is all about digital. But the reality is that digital is all they knew growing up and now they are finding vinyl and they love the collecting piece of it. They just didn't have that experience before. And now that they have it, they are becoming hooked and absolutely love it."
The collecting element is a large part of Putman’s operating model for Sunrise. In his Canada stores, he reportedly allows his managers to alter their purchasing decisions based on local demand and preference. In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he explained that “people love to come into a store, have an experience, talk with someone who understands music, loves music, loves video and entertainment. If you think online is the only future, I just think that’s not going to be the case. There’s so much you get from coming to a store that you just can’t get online.”
A customer-centric experience
The Sunrise model also brings a touch of the esoteric to its in-store experience. In an interview with Spill Magazine, Putman talked about the customer’s desire for a deeper, guided experience when shopping for music that independent stores were providing but larger chains were not. While most record shops, he explained, would probably stock a Fleetwood Mac greatest hits album and a copy of the band’s iconic album Rumours (Putman’s favorite LP), he ensures that Sunrise Records offers a more in-depth collection. “Rather than having what I call the ‘basics’, we would offer Tusk and Tango In The Night. It takes it deeper and it gives the customer that assortment in the store.” Regarding his purchase of 100 HMV stores in the UK, he also noted that “it’s all about listening to what the customers want. I think HMV was so used to handling things the same way for years that they didn’t want to change, but we knew going into this that it would be quite the task, so our only option was to do things differently.”
Sunrise Records has its headquarters in Putman’s home district of Ancaster. Also headquartered in the small suburb is his other venture, Everest Toys, one of the largest toys and games distributors in North America, according to the Guardian.
Hamilton has a long and illustrious history of business leaders from Jack Kent Cooke, legendary sports executive and owner of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and the NFL's Washington Redskins, to Stephen Elop, the first non-Finnish president and CEO of Nokia. Now, Doug Putman is well on the way to carving out a place for himself among the city’s most celebrated sons.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.