What does a red-headed snowboarder have to do with strategic HR management?

Uniqueness, creativity, taking risks, seeing beyond the obvious…

If you are a like me, you probably enjoy the uniqueness of Fast Company articles. Recently, I had the opportunity to do an assignment for school, based on an article related to strategic human resources management. While, being in the HR industry, I tend to read a variety of articles, newsletters, etc., on related topics – for some reason though, I was drawn to the Shaun White article featured in Fast Company.


At first, I wondered how I would spin an article about a snowboarder into something relevant for my assignment. Many people in human resources tend to narrowly focus on their own functional realm – which was the case with many of my classmates. They all seemed to select safe and typical subject matter such as layoffs, performance reviews, decentralizing, out-sourcing, and so on to present to the class… The interesting thing about that is that within the HR profession, there seems to be a constant buzz about how HR is not viewed as adding value within a particular business. My theory on this is that many HR practitioners miss the big picture when it comes to understanding the businesses they support.  

Shaun White’s story was compelling to me for many reasons. Some of those factors were that he is great at what he does, remains authentic and uses creative thinking to build his personal and professional brand. Some of the business decisions he has made whether intentional or not – were quite strategic. For example, his partnership with Target to develop his own affordable apparel line was brilliant. Joining forces with Ubisoft for their snowboarding game was also a slick method to diversify his fan base. The article presented several other successful business ventures between White and well-known collaborators, all of which have led to enhancing market share and revenue generation for all involved.  

What I believe is White’s main differentiating strategy is that he maintains a true balance of exposure and mystery. His image has a distinct edgy appeal to the youth, action sports demographic, yet parents of those fans and other adults feel attracted to White as well, for his athleticism and wholesomeness. As I’ve observed his career and conduct, he comes across as a truly gifted individual with a bright future ahead. With his sports talent and genius marketing ideas, he is sure to enjoy longevity in all that he does!  

Now, back to my assignment… Once I started to delve into the situation, it become clear that this story was far more than a report on a snowboarder. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but as I evaluated several article selections, this one just kept my attention more than my other options. Needless to say, when the first slide on my PowerPoint presentation showed a half-pipe picture, my instructor and classmates were a bit perplexed…

Maybe that is the rebel in me and why I felt driven to think outside of the traditional model to combine creative thought into my otherwise dry assignment. Shaun White provided some much needed inspiration to view things in a new and different way…