Michael Marckx

Michael Marckx, founder of new company Creative Disruption.

Spy’s Michael Marckx Reflects on Time at Spy & What’s Next

Late last week we learned that Michael Marckx, president and CEO of Spy, is stepping down from his role after nearly five years at the helm. Spy’s chairman of the board Seth Hamot will currently assume the role of interim CEO. A decorated industry vet, Marckx has served in former executive roles at Globe, Op, and Surfrider Foundation, to name a few, so naturally we were curious what his next endeavor would look like.

An avid cyclist, Marckx introduced the Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR), a 140-mile bike race, during his first year at Spy and the event has thrived over the past five years, growing to be the only cycling event of its kind in the country. Today, the executive has connected the dots with his new company, Creative Disruption, “an agency dedicated to helping brands, events, and people find ways of creating positive change where the usual approaches are failing,” explains Marckx. He plans to keep building the BWR, with Spy remaining on as a sponsor, while also working with several other companies in the cycling arena, helping them bring marketing and distribution together in ways that haven’t been done before.

“My desire to leave is really just the desire to help more people and brands do interesting things,” says Marckx. “I want my sphere of influence to be much more productive in life, touching more people and offering creative solutions for many different things. I plan to apply the same methodologies and creative disruption that I did with SPY, Op, Globe, Surfrider and myriad other brands I’ve helped over the years.”

Parting ways with Spy has been bittersweet for Marckx, as well as for the company.

“MMX has done a great job for Spy for almost five years and the entire organization owes him a great deal of thanks,” says Hamot. “We are a much better brand than we were when he started here, and lots of that better positioning and point of view has to do with his leadership and creativity.”

As interim CEO, Hamot is also leading the search for a replacement. He says Spy is “seeking an experienced, creative leader in either the action sports, eyewear, or accessory industries, including previous roles in senior leadership at a stand alone firm or division of a larger company of, or having grown to, more than $100 million in sales.

Since May, Marckx has been recovering from two back surgeries that were the result of a crash someone else caused. While he just recently returned to riding outside and paddling last week, Marckx says he is grateful for the series of events that has led him to this moment: “The down time I spent just walking after the surgeries gave me the introspection I needed to commit to this big life change. It was a blessing.”

Creative Disruption will have an initial focus on cycling events, like the BWR and several others Marckx has planned for the next 12 months. We caught up with him to reflect on the career change, some key takeaways from his time at Spy, and the strategy behind the first year at his new company.

I love doing things that are disruptive and it’s really fun to shake things up a bit. I also really enjoy creating culture. Running a publicly traded company, for me at least, means way less time focused on the things I like to do and more on the things that just aren’t fun. In the roles of president and CEO, I was still able to drive the marketing and the culture, but these things were becoming more of a challenge.

What prompted you to make the decision to leave your position at Spy to start a new company?

It’s been something I’ve been thinking about since last year. I’ve been at SPY for nearly 5 years, when I originally thought it would only be 3 years. In the time I’ve been there we were able to accomplish so much. It was the best turnaround story anyone could have scripted. Now the company is strong, the brand is even stronger, and the wonderful things we have in place are really the byproducts of the past 4-plus years of hard work. There isn’t any reinventing or resurrecting to do now, and those are things I love. It was the same story at Op and Surfrider.

I love doing things that are disruptive and it’s really fun to shake things up a bit. I also really enjoy creating culture. Running a publicly traded company, for me at least, means way less time focused on the things I like to do and more on the things that just aren’t fun. In the roles of president and CEO, I was still able to drive the marketing and the culture, but these things were becoming more of a challenge.

At the time I came to SPY, I brought with me an idea for a unique cycling event called the Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR)—a 140-mile bike race unlike any other in the country that covers 40 miles of dirt, with water crossings, rock gardens, sand, gravel and terrain that is very difficult to ride on with a regular road bike. The BWR emulates the great monuments of cycling that have occurred for more than a century in Europe, especially Belgium. Now going into our 5th year for this event, it has become the pre-eminent race of its kind in the country. I will be running this event as part of my company, Creative Disruption, and SPY will remain one of the sponsors of the event.

In a strong way, the BWR is but one great example of Creative Disruption. It’s totally its own thing and it has captured the imagination of cyclists around the world. It’s uniqueness has creatively disrupted what cycling can be here in the U.S. and in this way it has become a hallmark of the changing face of cycling. My company will be conducting other similar events around the U.S., all under the banner of the “monuments of cycling USA.”

In retrospect, what are your takeaways from your time at Spy? What were some of the challenges, opportunities, wins, and losses?

The first thing is gratitude for the opportunity to draw a road map for success for a brand that had been run into the ground. I was given the chance to create a massive turnaround and with the willingness, savvy, and dedication of a small group of people, we did that and more; inventing the first-ever patented therapeutic lens technology, the Happy Lens, and the revolution of our company culture through happiness and the ethos of having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at life.

Michael Marckx

Creative Disruption will turn its initial focus toward building innovative ideas around marketing and distribution for cycling companies.

Our Happy Lens and the LENS WITH BENEFITS campaign tapped into the original character of the SPY brand that had been left behind years before. In a way, all we were doing is getting our brand back to its original intent. The campaign underscored our brand values and brand purpose: happy smiles sitting on faces everywhere.

A brand’s true meaning stems from its underlying raison d’être, and is expressed as some metaphysical vibration that extends from its soul. In this regard, if a brand is going to become something great, iconic even, it has to become a metaphysical energy that people love, the brand must evoke transcendent qualities of human soulfulness… the kind of emotive stuff that is aligned with the brand’s special purpose. We tapped into this and it allowed us to grow dramatically in a category that has been continually getting smaller each year.

That’s the brand side of things. That’s all about people working magic together, in product, marketing, and even sales, but with a vision and mission binding them.

On operations, you just learn that the machine can always run better and you are compelled to constantly monitor the machine for more efficiencies. There is nothing sexy in that, but getting better with timelines, product designs, purchasing, shipping, logistics, and delivery can be the differences that make or break the success of a brand, to the extent its promise suggests should happen.

The wins have been immense. Marketshare growth in surf, massive growth in our optical business, the Happy Lens, Locksteady and Quik Draw technologies, continual growth in snow, our cycling products and the BWR, and the culture we created.

The challenges are always managing people—letting people go for poor performance is never fun, even if they deserve it. It’s very unpleasant. There is also the familial aspect of it. When someone you love and work with breaks their neck, that weighs heavy on you, and I suppose my own bike crashes and resulting surgeries took their toll on the psyches of my co-workers.

How long has this new company been in the works, and how long have you been developing the concept?

I just conceived of it this year and it was an organic extension of the BWR events and lecturing I frequently do.

When you allow someone to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and then offer solutions you never knew existed for you, the execution of these new disruptive ideas can manifest greatness. This is what happened at SPY—everything was disrupted: the people, the processes, the product, the promotions, and the culture.

Can you describe what Creative Disruption is all about and your thought process behind why it’s needed in the marketplace right now?

Creative Disruption is an agency to help brands and people (leaders, managers, etc) create solutions to get out of a rut. The idea is that people often need a non-vested third party to show them things. People don’t know what they don’t know. When you allow someone to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and then offer solutions you never knew existed for you, the execution of these new disruptive ideas can manifest greatness. This is what happened at SPY—everything was disrupted: the people, the processes, the product, the promotions, and the culture. Creative Disruption, for those that are intrigued enough to listen, will help shake things up for people in profound ways.

Michael Marckx

Marckx says he is grateful for the series of events, including some recent downtime after  a bike crash, which have led him to this moment: "The down time I spent just walking after the surgeries gave me the introspection I needed to commit to this big life change. It was a blessing."

What key learnings will you bring along with you from your previous roles at companies like Globe, Spy, Surfrider Foundation, and SDSI, among others, to apply to this new endeavor?

I hate to say it, but I’ve been around a long time now, so I know what works and what doesn’t. All of these experiences have informed my thought processes for what success can look like. I also read an immense amount, almost exclusively about brands, cultures, happiness, and businesses. I am still a student, but I also give frequent lectures on marketing, business, and culture and will become an adjunct professor this fall. My lectures focus on creative disruption.

What does your 12 month strategy look like for the new company?

Just to execute on what I have with my existing clients, including SPY, and to add one or two projects that are meaningful. I will be rolling out additional Creative Disruption events as well.

Where will you be based, and do you have plans to bring any specific staff members on board just yet?

I will have an office in Leucadia and am already working with a few people…

Anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t bring up?

This is the most exciting time of my life and I feel blessed. Yet, there is sadness, because it’s always a bittersweet moment when you have to let something you love go. There is also pride at the huge amount we accomplished together at SPY the last 5 years. I am really proud of all that we have achieved, most of all the happy culture I've worked hard to build.

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