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This CEO is Launching a Global Campaign To Make Mental Health Care a Reality Around the World, Marcello Leone

“In order to achieve greatness, you sometimes have to take big chances. You need to break through barriers that you may not have even been aware existed when you first started. Tune out those who say it can’t be done. Be clear on what your vision is. Build a strong foundation and stay true to your culture and DNA.”
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Marcello Leone, President and CEO of Respect Your Universe (RYU) Apparel, an urban athletic apparel company with a social impact mission. Currently with five stores in Canada and a thriving ecommerce business, they are slated to open their first U.S. location in New York City in early 2018.

What is your backstory?

In 2011, RYU (Respect Your Universe) was a mixed martial arts brand serving a niche market that was shrinking rapidly. But I had an immediate, emotional connection to the name. The concept of respect, and being respectful, is a core belief of mine and something that is very important in my life. I was a passive investor in the company for three years, then took over in 2014 as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board when the former leadership team found themselves out of their depth. A grueling 18-month reinvention of the company followed, completely transforming the DNA of our brand and our purpose.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

A year after rebranding RYU, WGSN, the world’s leading trend authority serving the fashion and creative industries, nominated our flagship store for the Futures Award. We got a good chuckle out of that knowing heavyweight favorites like Topshop, London, Primark, Madrid and Gentle Monster, Busan were also nominated. We didn’t attend the award ceremony in London but our store architect was there on unrelated business. He called us the next morning to inform us that he had accepted the WGSN award on behalf of RYU for Best Retail Store in the World! We just about fell out of our chairs!

Are you working on any meaningful non-profit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’re all fighting battles others know nothing about. That’s why RYU just launched the “One More Rep for Mental Health” in support of making mental health care a reality around the world. Our goal is for a million reps­ (of kettlebell swings) to be completed within the month of November. Our goal with One More Rep is to raise awareness of the issues, open lines of communication and demystify the stigma of mental illness. I encourage everyone to take the challenge, tag a friend and make a difference. #RYUOneMoreRep

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

There have been so many people who have come forward with their stories since launching the campaign. Brent Price was one of the first. Here is what he said in his own words:

“The day I started talking about my struggles with mental health and depression was the day I started living my real life. The life that has brought me from constant thoughts of suicide to being the happiest and most optimistic person I can imagine. Opening the lines of communication has made me realize I am not alone, and that I have the power to change the course of my life. Most of all it has made me believe that the life that I wanted to end has more value and purpose than I ever thought possible. The opportunity to be involved with ‘One More Rep’ comes at a time where I feel truly at peace with my past, my struggles, and at a time where I have become 100% comfortable with vulnerability, so the decision was easy. I am so honored to be involved in a campaign that might bring light to an issue that plagued my life for too many years.”

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started”?

 Anyone who has ever had their own company knows what it takes to roll up their sleeves and start from scratch. That’s why surrounding yourself with entrepreneurs who have already built successful businesses to lead key departments makes so much sense if you want to scale quickly and take your company to the next level.

 Scaling your business to be a global brand requires a completely different perspective to leadership than having one regional store. You can’t micro-manage every little detail, so you need to build a culture in which your people are empowered to execute. You need to breed confidence within your team to achieve the goals you set together, that way they trust that they can grow as the business grows.

 When building a business, you must be true to your DNA and purpose. You must hold the line, even when it gets difficult. That means being true and authentic in everything you do. Sooner or later it turns. When it does, it can be really powerful and exciting. I see a lot of businesses that, if their first year doesn’t go the way they like, wonder what to do next. You have to stay true to what you’re doing. It takes time.

 This isn’t for the faint of heart. You worry every day that you’re doing the right things. We’re a public company. It’s much different from a private family business like I ran before. Here I am accountable to employees, their families and shareholders. You need to take that responsibility very, very seriously.

 I believe that everything in life is possible. Decide what you want and be relentless in taking action every day to bring you closer to your goal. Yes, it’s going to be tough. But no matter how hard, you have to keep going. If we have learned anything from our time on Earth, it’s that anything and everything is possible.

Is there a person you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Reading Phil Knight’s memoir Shoe Dog was like looking in a mirror. The adversity and challenges he faced in the first 16 years at Nike resonated deeply with me. I feel we have many interesting stories we could trade with each other.