One-on-One with Bill Hunt

Bill Hunt (far left) with Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill (in white shirt) and Bono (far right) visiting the Champro factory in Ethiopia in 2002. The Champro factory was the first to export to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act actory in Ethiopia in 2002.
Everyone probably knows the Champro story, but can you give us the “elevator pitch” on where the company came from?

When I left Wilson Sporting Goods in 1986 and decided to start my own company, I knew it would be very tough competing against big, well-established brands. Initially, I went out and talked to a lot of team dealers and developed a product line drawing on their knowledge. Their input also convinced me there were three things I could do better than the big brands. 

And those three things are …

First of all, I thought I could make gear that was equal to or a notch above the big brands while, at the same time, offering better value. I felt that putting money into the product was more important to the consumer than paying for advertising. With a low payroll cost, initially just me, and not paying for endorsements or giving away promotional product I planned to minimize overhead and thus offer lower prices than the big brands. 

Secondly, I wanted to be the easiest company in the industry to work with, to be responsive to customers and offer an extreme level of service. My third goal was to ship product faster than any company in the industry. I learned from talking with dealers that the teams they serviced weren’t able to predict their needs far in advance and dealers thus needed a resource with inventory on hand that could ship quickly. I wanted to be that resource. 

What does your Hall of Fame induction mean to you personally? 

This recognition gives me great personal satisfaction because I think it validates what the Champro team has accomplished and demonstrates that a family-owned company can succeed and compete against companies that are many times larger. In sports, I have always rooted for the underdog and respected teams that find ways to win when the odds are against them. I enjoy the competitive aspects of our business and feel that when I go to work every day it is like the start of a new game and I get excited when our team wins another day.

How about to Champro as a company? 

We have always stressed that we can only succeed as a team. From the very beginning, our team members have had the attitude that they will do whatever needs to be done for the company, even if it’s not specific to their job description. Everyone at Champro should, and I think does, take pride in this recognition. I think they understand that I am accepting the award on their behalf.

What do you think has made Champro such a successful company? 

I didn’t start out with a well-defined business plan. I think what helped Champro in the early years and continues to make us successful is a willingness to learn from our customers and respond to them. Our business has evolved along with the industry, but the goals we set early on have become our core values as a company. We tell ourselves every day that we need to develop high-performance products while offering the best value, the best service and the fastest speed in the industry. 

How do you communicate that with your team?

My son (and company president) Ryan (Hunt) meets with of our senior leadership team every week to reinforce these goals. As we add new teammates, some coming from larger competitors with different corporate cultures, we stress that as a company we need to have a higher sense of urgency than other brands while maintaining our core values. I constantly think of business as a team sport with players at every position working together to contribute, while constantly keeping an eye on the scoreboard. 

How do you track that?

Every morning Ryan and I both run a series of reports to see how we did in all facets of company performance the previous day. If we scored poorly in any facet, we try to figure out how to improve it. Ryan is now much more involved and aggressive in these efforts than I am, but I don’t hesitate to offer my point of view. 

So what’s your role at Champro these days? 

Ryan runs the company, but I try to help coordinate between different departments and offer suggestions without getting into micromanaging. We have great players on our team so they don’t need constant direction from me. Since Champro has been growing at a rapid pace, there continues to be opportunities for me to help. 

Anything specific?

I am currently working to improve efficiency in our screenprint operation while serving as “Interim” Sourcing Manager and “Interim” Key Account Sales Manager. Once we fill these two roles I will see if I can help in other areas.

What’s a typical day like?

Fortunately, there are no typical days. I heard a quote not long ago that “the pace of change in the world today has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” 

Yes, that certainly sounds about right.

It is important that as a company we recognize how quickly the world and our industry are changing and think about what’s next and what we need to do to stay ahead of the changes. At this stage I think of myself as a trouble shooter, helping Ryan identify operations and processes we need to improve as a company. I truly enjoy being in the office and the interaction with our team. When I am in town, I am in the office five days a week. A typical day for me is sometimes shorter and more frequently remote as I am traveling a little more for fun. Fortunately, I can work every day from wherever I am. 

Champro is certainly committed to the team dealer channel. Why is that partnership so successful? 

We have been an important partner for team dealers because we have constantly tried to learn about their businesses and understand what they need in order to succeed. I attribute our success to listening to and learning from our customers — team dealers, brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as e-commerce companies. We know they need product quickly, they need simplicity in the relationship and they need product quality and value that enable them to compete and make a reasonable profit. 

You work closely with your son, Ryan. Please explain your feelings of that and some of the challenges and benefits of working with your son. 

Ryan started working at Champro when he was in grade school loading and unloading trucks, picking and packing orders and assembling bases. Ryan has worked in almost every operational area of the company. His transition to president has worked out extremely well for me and the company and I think also for him personally. His wife, Megan, has been manager of quality and compliance since 2010. Our other two sons, Evan and Nolan, spent quite a few hours after school and summers working at Champro when they were younger, but went in other directions to start careers. Evan is now a pilot and Nolan is a risk management field consultant for forestry companies. My wife, Terese, also helped out a lot in the early days doing whatever was necessary. 

Any hobbies/pastimes our readers should know about you?

I love sports, but the only one I still attempt to play is golf. I play golf whenever opportunities arise. 

Champro supports a school in Karsa, Ethiopia. Can you explain how that all came about, what you do for the school now and what it means to you personally and to the company? 

In 1999, when we entered into a joint venture to start an apparel factory in Ethiopia, an Ethiopian friend who taught school with Terese during my Peace Corps days asked if I would help provide funding for a school he wanted to start. I asked him why and where he wanted to start the school and he pleaded with me to take a day and travel to the site with him. I agreed and the next day we drove two hours from Addis Ababa, then hiked into the hills for three hours to a village with no electricity, no running water and no school within a three hour walking distance. 

What happened after that?

He explained that without a school, the kids in the area would be illiterate and could only grow up to be subsistence farmers as their parents. I agreed that, if Champro could make a profit from our factory in Ethiopia, we would provide funding to start the school. Fortunately, our manufacturing operation in Ethiopia was profitable and we started construction on the first school building in 2001, for incoming first graders. 

Any message you want to send to the team sporting goods industry on the eve of your induction into the Hall of Fame? 

Those of us in the team sports industry should take pride in the fact that our life’s work enables people to play sports. We need to recognize that the benefits of team sports, for young people especially, extend beyond those derived from physical activity. Players on a team learn the importance of teamwork, leadership, respect and the value of practicing to improve performance. Players on a team also learn to work with and support teammates who may be very different from themselves. The sporting goods industry helps provide a means and in some ways indirect encouragement for kids to play sports. We should take pride in that and do whatever we can, as an industry, to help increase team sports participation. 

What’s the future hold for Bill Hunt? 

I have always been a competitive person and get satisfaction both from low golf scores and high scores on our company performance metrics. I’ll enjoy going to work at Champro every day as long as I feel like I am contributing to higher scores in our company performance.