Building a Winning Team with David DellaValle – From the Battlefield to the Boardroom

In This Episode


Welcome to a new episode of the Leadership Narratives Podcast. I’m your host Angie Lee, and today we’re diving into what it means to build a winning team across dynamic environments with special guest, a leader whose expertise stretches from the structured world of military service to the bustling landscape of major retail brands – David DellaValle.

David’s distinguished journey reveals how the rigors of the United States Marine Corps have shaped his principles of mission accomplishment and team care into potent strategies for retail giants like Adidas and Nike. He reflects on the significance of empathy, diverse perspectives, and genuine connections, and how these have been instrumental in his success from the battlefield to the boardroom.

In the wake of COVID-19, David opens up about steering his team through unforeseen challenges, underscoring crucial leadership traits such as authenticity, adaptability, and servant leadership. He’ll share his insights on mentorship within organizations, the value of including diverse and global perspectives, and how transitioning between big names in the industry taught him invaluable lessons in strategy and execution.

Join us as David DellaValle offers his veteran wisdom, from enriching his team’s experience with personal stories to embracing lifelong learning. Whether you’re an emerging leader or well on your leadership journey, this episode is rich with narrative tools for anyone looking to craft a cohesive, resilient, and triumphant team. Stay tuned as we explore these narratives right here on the Leadership Narratives Podcast.

Key Takeaways

Introduction to David DellaValle and His Leadership Philosophy

  • Background and experience in the Marine Corps and its influence on leadership style.
  • Application of military principles in corporate positions at Nike and Adidas.
  • The importance of mission accomplishment and taking care of the team.

Adapting Military Leadership to the Corporate World

  • Differences in chain of command between the military and corporate environments.
  • Using influence skills to lead effectively in a corporate setting.
  • The role of empathy in adapting to non-military teams.

Empathy and Authenticity in Leadership

  • Leading a team through the loss of a teammate and the associated challenges.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on team dynamics and leadership approaches.
  • The concept of servant leadership and its application in a corporate setting.

Promoting Team Unity and Individual Development

  • Lowering the waterline exercise to share personal stories and build connections.
  • Importance of supporting and guiding employees as a servant leader.
  • Strategies for dealing with conflicts within the team through honest and open communication.

The Transition between Nike and Adidas

  • Differences in internal operations and approaches to the consumer marketplace.
  • Conscious effort to provide unbiased leadership after moving from Nike to Adidas.
  • David’s experiences with digital and e-commerce at Jimmy Jazz and Snipes.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

  • DellaValle’s involvement in Adidas’s program for hiring and promoting diverse teams.
  • Addressing unconscious bias through Adidas’s champion program.
  • Valuing diversity in the workplace to foster creativity and inclusion.

Mentorship and Continued Learning

  • Importance of providing mentorship within an organization.
  • Recommendations for resources such as “The Game” book and Harvard Business School courses.
  • Emphasis on being a lifelong learner in leadership.

Advice for Current and Aspiring Leaders

  • Being authentic and showing empathy as a leader.
  • The significance of self-care for leaders.
  • Listening more, finding mentors, and forming relationships for new leaders.

Guest Bio

David DellaValle is a former Marine whose journey of discipline and leadership began in the early 1990s. His military tenure, which culminated in 2003, laid the foundation for his core values, a testament to the indelible mark of the Marine Corps. Transitioning to civilian life, David has since adapted to the corporate world where, twenty years later, the core fundamentals instilled in him continue to guide his approach to life and work as the senior director of Adidas. His story is a reflection of enduring values shaped by an esteemed military past, seamlessly integrated into the fabric of everyday life.

Learn more about Dave’s work on LinkedIn:


Angie Lee [00:00:37]:

Welcome back to our show. This is Angie Lee and you’re listening to the Leadership Narratives Podcast. This is a show that will help you discover, build and embody your leadership voice by learning straight from the leaders who grow brands you know and love. I’m your host and today we’re discussing the principles of building a winning team with David DellaValle. Allow me to introduce Dave, a retail executive and a powerhouse in the global sports industry and a very special friend. Dave has an astounding track record, including unprecedented retail growth for Adidas and Nike Brands. He’s not just a corporate leader, though. Having served a country in the United States Marine Corps and the USMC Reserve, his impressive career span includes managing a whopping $110,000,000 accounts at Nike, where they saw an expansion from 100 to 150 stores under his leadership. Later, David went on to lead the Jimmy Jazz brand as its chief brand officer through the sale of the largest acquisition in Snipes history. However, Dave’s background doesn’t stop at the battlefield or the boardroom. Giving back to the community is something Dave holds dear to his heart.

Angie Lee [00:01:41]:

He is a mentor for Transitioning Veterans and a board advisor for adult education program at Rutgers University, and he even spends time as a youth basketball coach. Truly, David embodies leadership in all forms. We’re delighted to have him with us today. Can’t wait to dive into his insights and experiences. So stick around folks. You’re not going to want to miss this talk. Hey, thanks for joining us, Dave.

David DellaValle [00:02:03]:

Hi Angie, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here. I never quite heard myself described like that, so I was like, wow, it sounds know it’s like one of those things you don’t realize it’s you that you’re talking about. So I’m excited to be here, though.

Angie Lee [00:02:19]:

Glad to hear that I’m doing my job effectively and just making you sound amazing. Good. Thank you. You’re very welcome. Dave, to get started here, tell me, what did you have for breakfast today?

David DellaValle [00:02:32]:

I had oatmeal I had oatmeal. Very plain. Very plain. Very vanilla. I’m trying to watch my cholesterol.

Angie Lee [00:02:39]:

Is that a thing? Are you on a special regimen? Are you on a special diet of any sort?

David DellaValle [00:02:43]:

I try to eat healthy, and oatmeal is a safe way to do that and good way to keep my cholesterol down as I get a little older, if that makes sense.

Angie Lee [00:02:52]:

Yeah, well, I started incorporating oatmeal in my 20s, so I don’t think it’s an age thing necessarily, but I do. What you mean, it is very plain. Most people don’t understand the benefits of having oatmeal for breakfast or incorporating it into their diet. What does your morning routine look like? Do you typically have oatmeal to start the day?

David DellaValle [00:03:12]:

Yeah, I do. Sometimes I’ll have oatmeal. Sometimes I’ll have just eggs. I love coffee. I’m a big fan of coffee. During COVID I purchased this super fancy coffee machine that grinds its own beans, and it has a press, so I’m a big fan of coffee. And then I try to get exercise in every day. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

David DellaValle [00:03:34]:

It all depends on the schedule. But most of my communication in my role now is based on the West coast, so I have a little bit of a delayed start in the morning now. So that helps me have more of a routine in the morning versus having to jump out of bed, get ready, and start answering the phone. So it’s a little bit of a. Although my team is here, but my direct link back to the West coast usually starts a little later.

Angie Lee [00:03:57]:

It sounds like you have a pretty good routine going. And was that something that you started or you learned in your early days in the Marine Corps? Because I know going through the military, you’re super disciplined, right?

David DellaValle [00:04:09]:

Yeah. So it’s been quite a while. I mean, I left the Marine Corps in 2003, so I’ve been out of it for 20 years now. I graduated from boot camp in the early 90s, so I’ve been out of that zone for quite some time. But, yes, it did start there. The fundamentals of discipline and leadership kind of all began for me in the Marine Corps. Yet as you get older and you get accustomed to living life as a civilian and having a regular corporate job, some of that stuff, I wouldn’t say. I think the core fundamentals are still there.

David DellaValle [00:04:45]:

But I’m perhaps not as neat as I used to know. In the Marine Corps, you had to have everything in such a way in your wall locker. I’m a little more relaxed in that zone.

Angie Lee [00:04:56]:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s what age does to you, right? Age and experience.

David DellaValle [00:05:00]:


Angie Lee [00:05:01]:

Yeah. So tell us a little bit more about that. Curious to hear your story. And how did your time in the Marine Corps shape your leadership approach?

David DellaValle [00:05:10]:

Well, I mean, the Marine Corps has a fairly, I would say, simple view on leadership. Right. It’s the two basic leadership principles that I learned all those years ago is, one, mission accomplishment, and two, take care of your Marines as a Marine Corps leader. And it’s very simple. And I think how I’ve used those over the last 30 years is really interchangeable. In the military. And especially in the Marine Corps, mission accomplishment is everything. And unfortunately, sometimes that means people get hurt or injured.

David DellaValle [00:05:42]:

Right. In that situation, I think in the civilian world or in the corporate world, the same rules apply, not necessarily in that order. What I’ve learned there was if I take care of my team and whatever team that may be, we will get whatever work needs to be done and accomplish whatever task is in front of us. So that is really probably the biggest takeaway from the Marine Corps. I have what they call a combat arms Mos. So I was in the artillery and the infantry, so I didn’t learn, like, a technical skill that I could bring with me when I left the Marine Corps on the outside unless I wanted to join law enforcement. So what I chose to focus on were more of the soft skills that I learned as a Marine in my time there. When I left, I left as a staff sergeant, as an east six.

David DellaValle [00:06:27]:

So I was a platoon sergeant in the infantry. And that’s a difficult task to lead a platoon of Marines. Young, much younger. Well, much younger. Everything’s relative, right. So in my early 30s, as a staff NCO, leading 36, what I would say anywhere from 18 to 22 year olds. It was quite a journey, but I think those are the principles I took with me.

Angie Lee [00:06:48]:

Wow. I mean, leading a bunch of 18 to 22 year olds, I mean, that has to be a journey of its own, right?

David DellaValle [00:06:53]:

It is, and it’s one you have to take seriously when you’re deployed because you’re responsible for their well being. And I think the military refers to it a lot as the burden of leadership. And it’s something that I think everyone takes seriously in that position of having to make sure you’re responsible for the well being of people. So I think the soft skills that I took away with that have served me well over the last 25, 30 years.

Angie Lee [00:07:20]:

That’s amazing. So you talked a little bit about your approach to leadership that was really shaped from your time in the military. How would you say your leadership style has adapted or how have you adapted your leadership style over your career?

David DellaValle [00:07:37]:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. So transitioning from the military to the corporate world, or as you put it, which I find is cool, from the battlefield to the boardroom, I’ve never heard it quite put that way, but I really like that. It’s interesting because in the military the chain of command is everything. And working for as many years as I did at Nike, Nike is a very matrixed organization. So the lines don’t always go top to bottom or bottom to top. They go sideways, zigzagging all over the place. So I think one big thing was adapting, that it’s not just a straight up and down. And I think that title and rank in being very similar in definition, they don’t always mean the same thing outside of the military.

David DellaValle [00:08:20]:

So I’ve had to adapt that. I’ve also had to adapt influence skills because of a matrix organization. It wasn’t as simple in the Marine Corps and you give an order, it gets obeyed, it gets executed. That doesn’t always work that way in the corporate world, right? You have to show more influence. I think empathy is another way I’ve adapted my leadership style. What we did in the military was a much more difficult, challenging lifestyle than what we do in the corporate world. Now, some people may argue that, but having experienced both, I can tell you that you have to adapt your style coming out of the military. Otherwise you will not be as successful.

David DellaValle [00:08:56]:

The focus now on appropriate behavior, and I’ve watched that whole thing over the last 30 years change in the corporate world. I live through the MeToo moments at Nike. So you have to adapt as a leader, otherwise you won’t be as successful.

Angie Lee [00:09:09]:

That’s a great takeaway. Adaptability is certainly a skill that I think in the face of a challenge or a problem that we have to overcome, learn to overcome. We become better on the other side or we come out better on the other side, rather.

David DellaValle [00:09:21]:


Angie Lee [00:09:23]:

So talk a little bit about any sort of challenging situations you faced in your journey as a leader, both during your time in the military or even at Nike. How did you navigate those challenges?

David DellaValle [00:09:36]:

Well, I will tell you, in my last role at Nike before I left Nike in 2020, I was the senior director of Wholesale in the marketplace on the East Coast. It was a really large territory. I had a large team, probably close to 60 account executives, business planners, analysts and as well as nine directors. So I had a really large team, and I will tell you that. And I was in that role for six years, and in that last year, so was when COVID hit. And I can honestly say that COVID stretched my leadership ability. The situation. I had a lot of employees who lived in Manhattan, like yourself, and were trapped in studio apartments.

David DellaValle [00:10:19]:

I was based in New York City, so I should make that clear. So I had a lot of employees confined to their living situation. I had other employees that had Families who relatives got COVID, got sick, were in the hospital, and ultimately, I had a Sales rep, an account executive, who I was very close to, had a good friendship with, actually pass away in the middle of all of that. And he was a beloved member of the team, and getting the team through that really challenged me because no one could come together to grieve the loss in person because of the situation with COVID So a lot of it was done through Zoom, a lot of it was done through the internet and phone calls. But I think guiding my team of that size through the loss of a teammate in the middle of COVID probably was, I would say, one of the most stressful moments in my career from a leadership standpoint. I mean, we’ve all faced those stressful moments with deadlines and having to get things done and deliver a number in sales. Right. That’s incredibly important.

David DellaValle [00:11:27]:

This was something that I had never thought I would have to experience as a leader. And I think I will remember telling someone I had thought I had seen it all as a leader of a big team and many different teams, whether it was having to let people go for inappropriate behavior or expense fraudulence or. I’ve seen a lot at to that point, I had thought I had seen everything but the loss of a teammate in that situation, it was just really challenging. Extremely challenging.

Angie Lee [00:11:55]:

I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your teammate. And I can only imagine how difficult it is to lead a team or group of people through a challenge like this and trying to do that Virtually. Right. The bright side to that story, if I may, those moments define us as people, as humans, right? Because it’s inevitable that we all have to face death at one point in our lives, but we don’t think about that, right? So it forces us to really think about what’s important in our lives. Is it really all of those emails that go back and forth a million times, or is it the urgent requests that come through? Or is it the demands that we make trying to get someone to do something? But at the end of it all. Again, it really comes down to the fundamentals in life and really reminding us what’s important. And it sounds like you really had to force you to experience that in such a profound way. It’s a very complicated emotion for many.

David DellaValle [00:12:55]:


Angie Lee [00:12:58]:

For most. Right. And I think some people have more experience than others, unfortunately. But learning to navigate that piece, especially at that level where it’s a team member, someone that some may have felt close to at one point, but also just looking at the team dynamic, you as a team leader, having to sort of push your team members in a certain direction to make sure that the productivity as well as the efficiency of your team remains steady, but also making sure that you’re taking care of their emotional needs or at least making sure that they’re not falling behind or becoming sad or depressed.

David DellaValle [00:13:36]:


Angie Lee [00:13:36]:

Because of that incident. Right. There must have been so many things at play there when you think about that particular scenario.

David DellaValle [00:13:43]:

Yeah, there were. It wasn’t just, of course, Eric’s passing was, his name was Eric was traumatic. And I developed a relationship coming out of that with his sister and his wife that I still have to this day. We raised through GoFundMe a hundred thousand dollars during that time for his final services. So I think in that regard we were able to bring the team together, but at the same time we were also adapting to a new way to do our jobs. Right. So aside from the fact that there was all of this going on in New York City with mean, you lived through it too. I don’t have to explain it to you.

David DellaValle [00:14:23]:

It was a tragic time for the city, but adapting to a new way of working. Right. Sales rep Having to sell now virtually samples of product being delivered to their apartments, studio apartments, where there wasn’T room for that meet with retailers over the video through a virtual environment and do all of that. That alone was a massive adaptation in how we do our jobs to continue to deliver, aside from the goals that Nike was handing down around what we needed to do to adjust in the marketplace. So you had a lot of compounding issues. And I go back to what I said before about really stretching my leadership capability. It was a long year, I guess, to get through. But I do think, to your point, coming out as a stronger leader on the other side.

David DellaValle [00:15:09]:

Absolutely. Without question. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about my team. I think my team learned a lot about me, not only as a leader but as a human being. One of the things that I always, when people ask me all the time questions about being a leader. And what have you learned about being a leader over your career? I’ve learned to be empathetic and to be authentic and to show the human side. I think a lot of people have this vision that a leader has to be very stoic and always have the answers.

David DellaValle [00:15:41]:

And I have learned through my career, a long one, that being genuine and not having all the answers and showing the human side is beneficial, and it actually builds a stronger team. And I encourage that. My directors, we did an exercise called Lowering the waterline, where the exercise has been around for a long time in business journals and different training modules. But really what you do is you kind of go around the room and share about your life. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. And lowering the waterline, it shows the humanity of everybody in the room because no one knows what someone’s going through before they get to work and after they leave. I think, you know, the humanity of it and the authenticity. And being a genuine leader really builds a strong team.

Angie Lee [00:16:31]:

That is beautifully said. And as you were talking, Dave, what came to mind was the fact know nothing in life is by accident, right? When we think about challenging situations or those life defining moments, we think know how difficult or how hard it was or even just the hardship in itself. We look back and say, wow, that was a really interesting part of my life. But at the end of it all, there would have been nobody else that is better suited to take the team through that particular period, that challenging time at Nike. And you had to be that person to carry that torch and to make it successful or make it right. So I just want to acknowledge you for what you did there, because I know it’s not easy, especially when such complicated emotions are at play.

David DellaValle [00:17:21]:

I myself was dealing with the scare of COVID and my own family. It was definitely a stressful leadership moment, but I learned so much going through it. And again, hindsight is 2020. Until I got through it and we moved on and the world started to return to normal. I didn’t know just how much I was learning at the time. I remember before we lost our teammate, I spent the night. One night, I called every single person in my organization to check on them. And it took me about three or 4 hours.

David DellaValle [00:17:55]:

And some people I got a hold of and some I didn’t. But what happened was I had gotten some Feedback from one of my leaders that there was a particular person who was struggling. And it would be really great if I could reach out to them to check in on them. And I was like, sure. Absolutely. So I called that person and we had a great discussion, and I checked in on them, but then I hung up and I said, well, if there’s one, there’s probably more. And I just pulled out a list that my assistant had created for me years before of everybody’s cell phone number. And I just started going down the list.

David DellaValle [00:18:25]:

And for the next 3 hours, I did everything I could to touch base with each person on the team. And when I finished, I was like, okay, that felt really good. I guess my point is, as a leader, you just don’t know how much a single action could affect the team members lives, whether it’s a phone call or. I had another instance where I had a young woman working for me as my assistant, and her mom lived somewhere in the Midwest and she was suffering from breast cancer. And she said, hey, I really want to go see my mom. It was kind of towards the end, and I said, of course, take your computer. This is before the days know, virtual work. And it was well before, you know, years later when I left Nike, I got a card from her thanking her for me allowing her to spend her last few days with her mom.

David DellaValle [00:19:21]:

And I didn’t know. I was just doing the right thing. I was just saying, hey, of course, go speed with your mom. And there’s nothing you can’t do remotely with your laptop. So as a leader, even though you think a small action might not make a difference, it could make a huge impact on someone’s life like that. Like as simple as, hey, go take your laptop. Not a problem. I’ll deal without an assistant for a couple of days and to get a card from her years later.

David DellaValle [00:19:46]:

It was quite moving to think that just a simple action like that could change someone’s life or help someone in their life. And that shouldn’t fall short. It shouldn’t fall short on any leader that is watching this or listening, because a simple good morning could mean everything to someone.

Angie Lee [00:20:01]:

That’s a beautiful story, Dave. And as you were sharing that story, I just got goosebumps thinking about the emotions, especially as an assistant, someone who doesn’t have a lot of power, and to come to you with such a sensitive matter, to be able to ask, hey, this is what’s going on. And for her to be vulnerable with you, and that was encouraged right, by you on your part. You know what? It is absolutely okay for you to prioritize what matters the most in life, which is right now for you going to see your mom and spending time with your mom. And just to hear that. That only left a huge imprint in her heart, but for her to really remember what it felt like to be supported by her leader, her manager.

David DellaValle [00:20:47]:

So that situation occurred probably in 2013, 2014. So seven or eight years later, she still remembered it, and she’s gone on to be incredibly successful. She had senior roles at Nike. She’s out in the world now, well beyond what I expect, I think what she expected of herself. So, yeah, I was very moved by the card when I got it.

Angie Lee [00:21:09]:

That’s amazing. And that’s a strong show of your servant leadership abilities, right. How you showcase through leading others and supporting others, not to say you’re directing their behaviors or telling them what to do, necessarily, but being that servant leader and supporting their lives and their way of doing their jobs or getting their jobs done. And that’s something that I hear so often from my guests who have achieved certain levels of success, is that servant leadership is the key to building a successful team and team culture and making sure that people feel connected to you, right?

David DellaValle [00:21:48]:

Absolutely. As a leader, sometimes I think we, at least when I was early on in my career, I said this before, I thought I had to have all the answers. And what I quickly figured out was I don’t even to the point where now, over the last several years, even though I may know the answer and where I want to go, I still want to hear from the team. So whether it’s the exercise, like lowering the waterline to break down barriers, encouraging healthy debate amongst the team, because I think even though I may know the direction we need to go and what the answer is, I feel like as a servant leader, having the team share their point of view on it is only going to make it that much better of a decision, or it could cause me to reverse my thinking and hear a different way or a different approach. So, yeah, those are all things that I’ve learned over the years. It just doesn’t happen. You said it before, it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through trial and error.

David DellaValle [00:22:44]:

Right. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over my career. Fortunately, I was able to learn from them and fix them and not make the same ones twice. But maybe not all of them. But I think you do learn some things as you go through different experiences.

Angie Lee [00:23:00]:

Absolutely. On that note, Dave, how do you deal with conflict within your teams?

David DellaValle [00:23:05]:

So it’s interesting because there’s a lot of different approaches. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches. I’ve taken a lot of approaches to it where I’ve gone from ditch to ditch. Right? So, hey, I have the people that are having conflict in the room with me and I’ve become somewhat of a mediator and I’ve learned that that’s not the best approach. I’ve taken the approach of meeting with them each individually and understanding why the situation was the way it was. And then at times I’ve had to be very directive about, we need to put this aside because it’s affecting our working relationship and it’s affecting us accomplishing whatever the goal at hand might be. So I do think the best way to approach it is through honesty and transparency. And again, maybe not having everybody in the room at the same time is the best solution because that backfired on me a few times and I’ve seen my other directors do that and over time and they would always come back and say the same thing, hey, I don’t know, that was not such a great idea, putting them in the same room or being in the same room.

David DellaValle [00:24:05]:

Whereas, hey, let’s just have honest, open communication as a broader team and address whatever’s on the table at the time versus having the two people who have the direct conflict in a boardroom or in a conference room now fighting with each other. So I think hearing all points of view, honest and open communication and having a little allowing Grace and having some empathy for people and what they’re going through is probably the best way to, in my opinion, what’s worked for me.

Angie Lee [00:24:35]:

It sounds like there’s a bit of coaching and mentorship at play there. I know you currently mentor veterans and that is a big part of your work. What role does mentorship play in your.

David DellaValle [00:24:47]:

Leadership with a large team? If I go back to my Nike experience or my Jimmy Jazz experience where I had really big teams, it was really hard to. I can’t mentor everybody, otherwise I just won’t be able to get my job done. But I do think understanding the people that work for you and being able to be a mentor at times, and I think on top of that, provide a mentor somewhere else in the organization. It’s part of my responsibility as their leader. So maybe I can’t be the one to mentor and coach this person all the time or regularly, but assigning them with a mentor that’s going to help them get where they want to be is just as good, in my opinion. So keeping an eye on your team and what their needs are and some people I did mentor directly many times and other times I didn’t. But I assigned them with a mentor and found them a good person that they could lean on and glean experience from. So I think it’s an incredibly important part of what we do as leaders.

David DellaValle [00:25:50]:

I think mentoring and coaching is probably, if I had to split it down the middle, it’s 51% mentoring and coaching and team success and 49% the rest of it. I take it very seriously, and maybe that comes from my background in the Marine Corps, where it was always in the back of my mind to make sure I took care of the Marines that I was responsible for, and it just carried with me. So I take it really seriously, that aspect of my job or whatever job I have.

Angie Lee [00:26:17]:

Yeah, it really sounds like the values from the military is really brought into your corporate life. Right. And whether it’s discipline or the value of servant leadership or just the team leadership mentality and carrying your team with you or taking your team with you wherever you go and sort of thinking them as your military days, how you looked after other soldiers or other people on your team, whether it’s like you said, battlefield or the boardroom, the same principles apply, right?

David DellaValle [00:26:45]:

Absolutely. You know, skills I took away, aside from the leadership principles that I mentioned earlier. But teamwork, collaboration, influence, work ethic, hard work, empathy. I mean, look, one would look at the Marine Corps and say, it’s not a very empathetic organization. And again, it probably is a little bit on the lighter side of empathy. But there were moments in that part of my life Where I had to be empathetic to someone’s situation, a family situation, and help them. No different than I would do now. Whether it’s referring an employee to a Marine to the Red Cross, or referring an employee to know.

David DellaValle [00:27:21]:

I had an employee at Nike who was really struggling years ago, lost his son, and he was really struggling. And I took it to heart and connected him to eap so that he could get assistance. Right. I can’t be a psychiatrist. Most leaders can’t be. Sometimes I think by de facto, we are sometimes counselors. But I think getting people to the right resources is also part of leadership. But, yeah, I did learn a lot.

David DellaValle [00:27:50]:

Problem solving is the other one that I’ll throw out there. Creative problem solving. I remember. I’ll share a story. I was really young in the Marine Corps. I was like an E two, which is like a Lance corporal or whatever. And I was with another Marine, and our sergeant drove. We were in the desert out in California, and he drove us out to the middle of nowhere, and there was a shack, and he said, okay, I need you to fix that roof of that shack.

David DellaValle [00:28:15]:

He’s like, but here’s the deal. You got no hammer, no nails, and no roof shingles. Make it happen. And he just jumped in the Humvee and drove away. So we spent the next 3 hours with rocks hammering and nails and pulling them out. So I think I use that as an example of I took away creative problem solving, right. There’s always a way to figure it out.

Angie Lee [00:28:36]:

Going back to talking a little bit more about team and teamwork, how do you encourage diversity and inclusion within your team?

David DellaValle [00:28:45]:

So diversity, inclusion is obviously in the last ten years, diversity and inclusion has surfaced in many senior discussions. Right. And I think I value diversity and inclusion and equity because I believe that everybody’s personal experience lends something to the conversation. And I wouldn’t want a team of people just like me because I only have one view. If I go back to the military and diversity, and I learned diversity really quickly when I joined the military. I didn’t grow up in a very diverse environment. So the Marine Corps was an eye opening experience for me. From a diversity, it’s become, I think, as people realize how important it is not just to do it, to do it because someone says de I is really important.

David DellaValle [00:29:42]:

I think the value you get from De I is what really is most important, which is the difference in thought based on someone’s experience that they bring with them. Also allowing someone to bring their whole self to work without fear or a fear of reprisal or fear of judgment, those are really critical things. And I think at Adidas right now, I just got selected to be part of the Champions program. The Champions program at Adidas is really interesting. I’ve only been at Adidas for 15 months, so this is my first experience with getting involved, aside from my regular day to day duties. And it’s basically where I qualified just based on my experience. When people are hired at my level to engage the hiring panel to make sure that de I and unconscious bias is not part of the process, meaning that biases aren’t eliminate bias in the process, but that there’s a diverse pool of candidates, people are thinking through De I and the hiring process. So I’m really excited about that.

David DellaValle [00:30:44]:

I haven’t done anything yet with just the process selection was just over the last couple of weeks. So I think a long answer to. I think the more diverse and the more inclusive we are, the better the work culture and the points of view and the different points of view and diverse thinking.

Angie Lee [00:31:01]:

So that’s a great takeaway, especially for our audience who might be wondering what diversity looks like in the retail space or in the global sports industry. I have to say, I hear you talk about your time now at Adidas, but we haven’t really expanded much on that in that area. But just thinking about your journey right from the military, spending significant time at Nike, the direct competitor of Adidas, and now you’re Adidas. And as a senior leader in this space, making that switch from Nike to Adidas, what was that like?

David DellaValle [00:31:37]:

So I’m happy that, I’m grateful that I had some time in between, right? So I spent 18 months with Jimmy Jazz and Snipes. So that was a great moment still within the industry that I was most familiar with. But sometimes to decompress. I think Nike is viewed as one of those organizations that is not really a job, it’s a cause. That was said sometimes quite a bit while I was there. I think some people actually describe it as cultish. So having the time to decompress in between changing from one brand to the other was super helpful, I think is also really helpful for me because when I went to Jimmy Jackson as the chief brand officer, I’m not a digitally native person, just based on my generation. So learning how to operate an e comm business, social media, paid social media and all of the different KPIs that go along with that was incredibly valuable for me in my role now or to just to stay current and stay relevant.

David DellaValle [00:32:32]:

So now transitioning to Adidas, there are many things that are similar to Nike and there are many things that are think, you know, the way Nike operates and the way Adidas operate internally are very different product wise and marketplace wise. There’s similarity, different technologies clearly, and consumer wise, fairly similar. So I think the transition for me was, I wouldn’t say easy. It was a steeper learning curve than I thought it was going to be. I’ll say that much where I thought I was going to kind of step in and be ready to go. And it took me a while. It took me a while. Not from a consumer marketplace standpoint, more from an internal how things operate at Adidas differently from how they operate internally at Nike.

David DellaValle [00:33:19]:

It’s funny, when I joined Jimmy Jazz, it was the first time in my career where I could wear product or sneakers other than Nike, because I had spent 24 years of my life only being able to wear Nike as you could imagine. So that was a cool thing. And now I’m back right on the other side of it, where I’m pretty much just wearing Adidas for the most part in casual athletic weaR. That was an interesting know, flip back and forth. But there’s definitely similarities and there’s definitely differences. I also didn’t want to be that person, and I think I was very conscious of this. And you and I discussed this at times. I didn’t want to be that person because Nike is clearly the market leader.

David DellaValle [00:33:57]:

They are predominantly the leader of market share in almost every category and space they do business in. Right? If they’re not number one, they’re number two. And that’s globally recognized. What I didn’t want to do was join Adidas and step in and say, and be the guy that said, hey, everything Nike does is perfect. I have all the answers. We should do it this way. That was something I was really super conscious of and self aware of. And I don’t think, had I not have the experience that I had, I don’t know if I would have approached it that way or I learned about it myself and how to approach this whole thing.

David DellaValle [00:34:30]:

So I was super self aware to not be the guy on the phone that says, hey, this is how Nike does it, right? We don’t want to do. And because Nike isn’t perfect either, and they do a lot of great things and they do a lot of things that would benefit from some outside perspective. Same with Adidas. They do a lot of things great. And maybe they could share some best practices from Nike. So I would say it’s a very cautious approach to how I made that own of how I wanted to be perceived.

Angie Lee [00:35:03]:

Can you recommend any books or resources, maybe your latest read or maybe your favorite read for anyone who’s looking to advance in their careers, whether they’re on a leadership track or not, what books would you recommend that you really enjoyed?

David DellaValle [00:35:19]:

So there’s a book called the Game, and I can’t recall the author right now. I read it as a member of the Visage group. Really powerful book, learning how business and operating a business in the format of a game. So I think that’s really good. I think the other resource that I refer back to constantly in between leaving Nike and joining Jimmy Jazz, I actually was consulting for a period of time in the marketplace with retailers, and I took the Harvard Business School class of strategy and execution. And I still to this day, three years later, refer to that. Think, you know, one of the biggest responsibilities of a leader and running an organization or running a large team is to have a plan. And building a strategic plan is probably one of the things.

David DellaValle [00:36:12]:

If I was going to give anybody advice, just beginning their career and leading a large team, is build a plan. Build it inclusively with your team and it’s not hard to do, but I do find myself referring to that. It was an online course and it was work at your own pace with modules, but it was an incredibly valuable tool for me. It was strategy, planning and execution, really. And they have a great as a matter of fact, it’s funny, when I was in the course, Adidas was a case study and at that point I had no idea I would be joining Adidas with their previous president. So yeah, really valuable tool. But the game was a great book, the Great game of Business and the Harvard Business School course that I took on strategy and strategic planning invaluable to.

Angie Lee [00:36:58]:

Me, great resources and it sounds like based on what I’m hearing, you value lifelong learning, right? The learning part never stops with you. You’re always seeking out knowledge and new ways of doing things and encouraging people to seek out the type know skills or expertise that they need to build in order to be successful. So we can share those resources in the show notes to make sure that we can refer to them as Dave’s favorite book and course. Dave, you touched on this just a little bit in your last comment. What advice do you have? And I want to split this up into two parts. I want to seek your advice for both leaders that are currently managing teams as well as first time managers and leaders that are stepping into a leadership role. What advice do you have for each of these groups? And it could be just one advice that you would have for them.

David DellaValle [00:37:51]:

My advice for someone who currently manages a large team and has been doing it for a while is absolutely be authentic. Be an authentic leader. Be genuine. Do not be afraid to show empathy or the human side of who you are as a person. Because I think there’s a level in which you connect with the people that work for you, who work on your team, that they appreciate that type of approach. And it has served me really well over the years of being just a genuine, open, transparent leader. Meaning if I don’t have all the answers, I’m going to tell you I don’t have all the answers. But then let’s get together and figure it out and what the best solution is going forward.

David DellaValle [00:38:33]:

So that for me is a big one as well as something that I learned the hard way is you can be passionate about your job and your work and you can work really hard every day, but do not forget about self care and balance at the end of the day. And maybe this is because I learned I had that account executive pass you. I had a manager once, and he was a mentor. He was most recently in a senior role at the PumA brand. Tell me that this goes back years when I worked with them. When you’re gone, they’re not going to put on your tombstone that you were a great account director or senior leader. Right. That’s not how you’re going to be remembered.

David DellaValle [00:39:16]:

You’re going to be remembered for the way you made people feel. And that is something that I have taken to heart. And again, work life balance is incredibly difficult when you’re in a big role and you have a lot of people that rely on you, that work for you or you work in a big organization. So it’s hard to do, but you have to be good at it. You have to figure out a way to be good at it. For someone who is just beginning, I would say listen more than talk, right? And really listen. Don’t wait to speak. I’ve experienced a lot of new managers, and maybe it’s similar as someone who’s been in their role a long time, but generally experience brings wisdom.

David DellaValle [00:39:52]:

But where the newer leaders, they, one, think they have to have all the answers, and two, they don’t show that human side of them. I think that’s where a lot they get tripped up. So form the relationships. Listen, don’t wait to talk. And I would also say, find a mentor that’s not your boss. Find someone else in the organization that’s got experience that can help you. Because ultimately, as a leader, and I say this to my team now all the time, I want to help you get to where you want to be. I’m in this zone of my career where I wouldn’t say I’m at the end, but if I use a golf analogy, I’m on the back nine, right? These people are kind of just approaching the front nine.

David DellaValle [00:40:31]:

So my point to them is my goal is to help you get where you want to be. So getting a mentor and listening more than speaking all the time is sound advice for someone who’s new. Because without listening, you’re not going to really understand the problem or the challenge.

Angie Lee [00:40:46]:

I know the years of experience in business leadership that you bring to the table. And Dave, how can our listeners support you and your work?

David DellaValle [00:40:56]:

Wow, that’s a great question. I would say just reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m sure you’ll put my profile in the podcast. Feel free to reach out to me. I love to build new relationships with people as much as I’ve experienced. There’s still more to learn. I would never want to present myself as someone who knows. Although I’ve seen a lot, it doesn’t necessarily mean I know everything at all.

David DellaValle [00:41:19]:

By any stretch, I would never pretend to do that. So, like you said earlier, a lifelong learner. So I love to talk to people. I love to mentor people. I do mentor transitioning veterans, which is a great. Maybe it’s less about help and more about connecting and learning other people’s experiences and stories.

Angie Lee [00:41:37]:

Yeah, that’s great. Is there anything that you’re working on that you might want to share with.

David DellaValle [00:41:41]:

Our, you know, in my current role, really working on an Adidas at the moment, the importance of New York City in Adidas’s business, both culturally and through sports. So I work really closely with the New York City Mayor’s office and other organizations in my current role to help, really, Adidas’s goal and mission statement is to change lives through sport. And I think that’s where I focus a lot of my energy right now in this particular role is the GM in New York City. Because New York City is a vast place, right? It’s got 23 million consumers, and I think really connecting at the local level in the communities with the Adidas brand can help change lives. And I think that’s where I’m focused right now. I’m also focused on my mentorship with the transitioning veterans, which I have a veteran right now in San Diego, a Navy veteran that I work with who’s trying to develop his own brand and his own business. So I love doing that. And I’m actually myself getting ready to make a little bit of a next step in my own development, which is go back to school and get my master’s degree in history.

David DellaValle [00:42:52]:

So if the day comes when I’d like a second career, I’m prepared.

Angie Lee [00:42:56]:

Hey, Dave, what was your favorite part of this episode?

David DellaValle [00:42:59]:

I like telling my stories, so if someone else can find value in them, that, to me, is my favorite part. Right. Sharing the story about losing a sales rep is incredibly personal. But I’m a sharer. I’m a giver. I think we talked about this the other day. I like to give. I like to give back.

David DellaValle [00:43:19]:

And one of the reasons I wanted to be in that champion program at Adidas, from a de I and unconscious bias perspective is because I’ve learned so much, I’ve had so many great mentors that I want to just pass a little bit along of what I’ve learned, and that’s sincere. I have no ulterior motive other than to help people develop and let them get the level of success that they want, right? Because everybody has a different level and different point of view on what success is. So if I can help someone get there, that’s what’s important to me. So I think just sharing my stories and hopefully someone will have heard something and it listens to this and walk away a little bit better for it.

Angie Lee [00:43:56]:

That’s a great way to wrap up this conversation, Dave. And yes, you are an amazing storytelleR, and all the stories that we shared on this platform will likely be shared with many folks. And hopefully they can reach out to you and learn more about your work and also connect with you on a more, deeper level. Or more than that. With that, I just want to thank you, Dave, and for the audience for tuning in today. And I know this week’s leadership narrative episode was really around learning more about Dave’s leadership journey and all the things, all the contributions he has made throughout his career, both in the military and working for competitors, both Nike and Adidas. That’s so interesting. If you’ve taken away something today that will help you to tweak how you lead, tell us about it by reviewing the show wherever you’re listening to this podcast.

Angie Lee [00:44:52]:

And I want you to think about our next episode. Or actually, in the next two weeks we’ll be releasing another episode and it will be from another industry giant. So please stay tuned with that and I will be sure to refer Dave’s work in the show notes on So with that, Dave, thank you again for everything, your time and all those great stories. And know, really being you, I just want to thank you for that.

David DellaValle [00:45:21]:

Thank you, Andy. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve been here. I’m grateful and I’m flattered that you asked me to do this for sure.

Angie Lee [00:45:30]:

Thank you again, friend, and we’ll see you again soon.

David DellaValle [00:45:33]:

Okay, take care. Bye.

Next Episode

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top