Be open to suggestions. We deeply value the relationships we have with our clients and it’s because we welcome an open and honest dialogue with them that allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what we could do to improve our products and services.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carina Kuo.
Carina Kuo joined SportsArt in 2014, becoming vice president of operations. Serving as general manager from 2015 to 2018, she improved communication across the company’s global branches and reduced operating costs by 20%. Championing staff growth and celebrating individual contributions, Kuo, now the CEO and COO of SportsArt America, has cultivated a collaborative team environment among employees at all levels, creating a family-like culture in which Baby Boomers and Millennials work together seamlessly.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
My dad, Paul Kuo founded SportsArt in 1977 with a mission to leave the world a better place than it was when he was growing up. When I was growing up the company was starting to grow and enter into international markets, so what I think is unique about my childhood is the exposure I had to a wide variety of cultures. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with my family and experience different cultures and different ways of thinking firsthand.
Growing up my parents made sure my brother and I had as much information as possible so we could form our own thoughts and opinions about the world. I remember spending time with the priest at church, but also with the monks, and even the Amish to learn about their religious background and practices. Similarly, my family exposed us to each department of the business — from accounting to engineering — we spent time in each area to ensure we understood how each division functions and contributes to the overall success of the business.
This kind of global exposure had a lasting impact on me. From an early age I learned the importance of having an open mind, not to judge or allow someone to judge me based on surface knowledge. Every person and every situation can be multifaceted and is an opportunity to learn and grow, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think one of the most interesting things is that I actually didn’t join SportsArt immediately, I preferred to learn as much as I could on my own. My bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology, and after college I worked in a variety of fields including aerospace, manufacturing, and even a start-up in the fashion industry.
Taking this non-traditional route was really important to me. It was a big risk that ultimately paid off because I was able to experience and learn all aspects of what it takes to run a business. I worked in a variety of capacities, including those of manufacturing engineer, industrial engineer, and supply chain analyst that allowed me to develop skills that ultimately helped me see beyond my technical skills and background and understand the bigger picture in business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m actually the youngest of my generation, the baby of the family and my dad is a big part of how and why I got interested in the field of engineering.
Growing up dad was a big napkin drawer — it didn’t matter if we were out to dinner or having a discussion at home, he’d always grab the closest piece of paper draw out whatever we were talking about — whether it was airplanes or cars, or the physics behind it all, he’d take the time and describe to me in detail the ins and out of how it works. This combined with the early exposure I had to seeing how our equipment is developed and manufactured drove my interest in engineering.
Looking back at it now, I see my dad was way ahead of this time. Since I was young, he was a champion of the progression of women and diversity in the workplace. From the conversations we had while I was growing up, to the business exposure at a young age and his ever-constant support, I’ve been able to break boundaries and drive our business forward.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Early in my career I had a manager that would say to me “failure is just part of the job” and would remind me to “not to be nervous of what people think of you, even if you do fail.”
At the time when this individual was my manager, I was working as a manufacturing engineer. As a female in this role a lot of people made a lot of assumptions about me and my abilities. Make no mistake, this was a hands-on role and I was in a male dominant field. Often, my male counterparts perceived me to have less ability and knowledge and even authority. Most women who may have found themselves in a similar position would have been inclined to take a step back, because that’s what society expected us to do in the past, let the men lead. However, this mentor, who was male, understood and saw an opportunity to teach and uplift my position. He often asked me to lead, and even if the project failed, he taught me that failure was OK and helped me understand that sometimes things don’t work out and it’s part of the job. His encouragement ultimately helped build my confidence and made me understand how powerful my voice and ideas could be. Failure doesn’t have to be a negative thing, failing is a learning opportunity, there’s so much you can discover from failures that push you to be better and make better enhancements.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Be fearless and embrace the unexpected. There’s no doubt about it, uncertainty can be uncomfortable, however, there will always be hurdles to face and challenges to overcome so you have to face them head on. While it would have been convenient to jump into the family business, I wanted to explore and discover not only myself, but also what it takes to run a business. You have to have a willingness to try no matter what the outcome may be, that’s the only way you can get better.
- Transparency leads to trust. It’s because we’re transparent with our employees as well as our clients that we’re able to foster stronger relationships with them, strengthening our collective SportsArt community and building confidence not only in our leadership but also in our products.
- Resilience — at some point you’re going to fail, but it’s how you react and what you take away from those moments that matter. Failure can seem like a point of no return, but as a leader you can’t afford to get lost in uncertain and difficult times and let it drag you down. I’m grateful for the times I’ve failed, that’s where I’ve found my confidence.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
Since SportsArt’s inception over 40 years ago, there has always been a focus on ensuring that the impact of our business on the environment was as minimal as possible. Over time, we have infused our commitment to environmental stewardship into our manufacturing facilities and our products.
In 2007, we took a big step forward with the introduction of our ECO-DRIVE treadmill motor, which was designed to use 32% less energy than standard versions. The machine led the company’s evolution as a provider of human-powered equipment designed to produce energy, rather than consume it. Our ECO-POWRTM cardio equipment debuted in 2010 and is the only fitness equipment that harnesses human energy and converts it to utility grade electricity.
How do you think your technology can address this?
SportsArt’s ECO-POWR™ cardio line turns human energy into utility grade electricity through a micro-inverter similar to the technology found in solar panels and wind turbines. When plugged into a power outlet, the equipment will convert human energy into electricity.
Traditional treadmills use about one kilowatt an hour on average, which is equivalent to a refrigerator running for five hours. An ECO-POWR™ non-motorized treadmill, like all ECO-POWRTM products, converts up to 74% of human energy into usable electricity. So that one treadmill reduces the need to buy that one kilowatt from the electric company, while generating up to an additional 200 watt-hours. That means a single user on a single ECO-POWRTM treadmill can create a net positive up to 1.2 kilowatts of electricity per hour.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
It all started with my father, Paul Kuo. Years ago, he watched a video on global warming that really resonated with him. The video inspired him to think about how he and the company could give back to the environment. Since that moment, it’s been our hope that SportsArt offers the same inspiration and leads the fitness industry as a symbol of sustainability and green practices.
How do you think this might change the world?
At SportsArt, we’re focused on creating a positive influence on the world — going beyond our energy-generating equipment.
Whether we like it or not, it’s only a matter of time before sustainability impacts each of us directly — just look at how the UK and California are banning the sale of gas-powered vehicles. We believe that we can all be proactive to make the world a better place. And when everyone contributes, doing their part in both small and big ways, we can all contribute to the health of our planet and each other.
Honestly, I don’t see what a drawback could be to reducing your carbon footprint. The costs of renewable energy are just as competitive with those of traditional energy resources — and in some cases even less expensive. In fact, many environmentally friendly products are far more efficient and cost-effective over their lifetime than other, less clean options.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- Care about people. You can’t make something that benefits someone without knowing what kind of needs that they have.
- Don’t overthink your idea. Oftentimes business leaders want to pride themselves on their originality, intelligence and problem-solving skills to impress end users, but the reality is, the simplest solution is the right solution. The beauty of a simple solution is that it won’t be difficult for your team members or customers to understand your vision.
- You don’t have to start from scratch. Leverage your knowledge and experience to improve a product or technology currently in the marketplace and make it better.
- Be open to suggestions. We deeply value the relationships we have with our clients and it’s because we welcome an open and honest dialogue with them that allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what we could do to improve our products and services.
- Your passion for the business will drive business. Doing the work you love shouldn’t feel like work. If you aren’t excited to spend as much time as possible pursuing your goals each day, then your employees and your customers will sense this and will leave to support someone who is passionate about their business.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Everything we do at SportsArt is to change the world one workout at a time. We are connecting healthy bodies of all types to a healthy environment in a multitude of ways. We’re looking to sustain the health of the planet and the people at the same time, so I would tell young people just to be better and do better. Even the smallest action can make a big impact and leave the world in a better place than we found it.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I really want to meet Wally Funk. She was one of the 13 women who passed NASA’s astronaut training program in the 1960s, and is on the first crewed flight into space from Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin later this month. I was listening to a recent interview with her and I just think she’s so cool and fearless!
Also, I wouldn’t mind meeting Stephen Colbert, I just think he’s so funny.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can visit our company website www.gosportsart.com for the latest company information or follow us on social media.
- Instagram: @GoSportsArt
- Facebook: Facebook.com/GoSportsArt
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn.com/company/SportsArt
- Twitter: @GoSportsArt
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.