“I want to grow a billion-dollar business.” These words may sound like a pipe dream to many, but when Gymshark founder Ben Francis said this to the ORESA team during their second meeting back in 2017, we knew this was a statement of intent – and we were committed to helping make that happen. Three years later, Gymshark achieved a valuation of $1.45 billion, becoming one of only 25 British companies to reach ‘unicorn’ status since 2001.
“When we first went to market for Gymshark, nobody knew who they were,” explains Leandro Martins, Client Director at ORESA. “We had to really educate candidates and sell the story and the vision to help attract the world-class talent that they needed to scale internationally.” However, ORESA did just that, with one of their early moves being to bring on board Gymshark’s first Chief Product Officer from Adidas, relocating them from Germany to their office in Solihull.
Since those early days, ORESA has worked closely with Gymshark to recruit a significant number of their critical board and senior level appointments over the past five years, advised on the organisational design, and senior leadership team structure. “Because we have developed a deep partnership with them, we have intimately understood their culture, their aspirations and the types of individuals that would fit the Gymshark culture,” Leandro explains. “Because of that, they have been able to trust us with their most important, most senior hires because they know that we can get the fit right. In an entrepreneurial, fast-paced scale up organisation, there is no time for organ rejection.”
Gymshark was drawn to work with ORESA thanks to our history of helping other scale-up founders on their growth journeys. Our understanding of the dynamics of founder-led businesses, combined with our expertise in ecommerce, sports and DTC sectors enabled us to stand out.
However, Gymshark didn’t want to follow the same formula for growth as other brands, endeavouring to be industry disruptors from day one. “They wanted to do things differently,” Leandro explains. “Because their structure charts probably changed on a six-monthly basis, we would regularly spend time with them, looking at their structural plans and how they were evolving, giving feedback and discussing those.”
ORESA became partners on Gymshark’s journey to successful growth, with that partnership approach seen by Leandro as an essential ingredient to the growth process. “I think that partnership bit is just so important,” he says. “One of the reasons our relationship with Gymshark remained strong was our open, honest conversations and adaptability. If the brief needed to change slightly, or the direction needed to change, being open, being flexible and understanding that their business was moving quickly meant we needed to remain agile and adapt together as things evolved.”
ORESA’s science-meets-art approach to executive recruitment has always ensured that technical, cultural and behavioural fit are aligned. Gymshark placed confidence in our data-led approach, psychometric guidance, our intimate understanding of the culture, and our deep knowledge of the sector to deliver for them.
When recruiting for executive roles, we presented them with shortlists made up of individuals we knew could make an impact. “The work that we did in the States was phenomenal,” says Leandro. “Each of the shortlists of four or five people presented directly comparative candidates with nuanced but interesting angles, offering different qualities, each with the potential to make their own mark. Then it was up to them to decide whether to go with X or Y.”
|CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
The decision was made in late 2020 that in order to really scale up in the USA, roots needed to be formed across the Atlantic and a team established. ORESA worked with the Gymshark leadership to determine what structure would work best, balancing how to leverage a central group structure with a local leadership structure. Considerations as to what a ‘hub and spoke’ or central / decentralised model would look like and helping to determine the right levels of ownership locally vs globally was key to this working.
With the North America team reporting into the Group, the first obstacle was brand recognition overseas. With only a vague awareness of the Gymshark brand, when headhunting in the US, ORESA needed to sell the Gymshark story passionately and authentically to engage the best talent and most dynamic industry leaders. The onboarding of North American natives helped to bring a first-in-class market expertise, to localise Gymshark, seed the brand for growth and equip the business to speak authentically to American communities with the style and sensitivities required; rather than as a British brand airdropped Stateside!
Gymshark’s growth story demonstrates the impact that vision and leadership can have on a brand’s trajectory. Thinking back to the first time the team met the Gymshark leaders, their goals and vision were crystal clear: “Ben was taking us round their new headquarters with a hard hat and high viz. The new office hadn’t even been built yet. They were building a massive office that could house 500-600 people, but there were only 100 people in the business at that point in time. Again, it was a big statement of intent,” says Leandro.
For the Gymshark founder, growing the physical space was only the foundation for investing in growth where it really mattered: the people. Leandro continues: “They were saying, ‘we are investing in this big space and making it authentically ‘Gymshark’ in style, because we believe that we can fill it. We believe that we can grow at the rate that will require this size of office.’ And they were right.” This was no ordinary HQ – it had the authentic Gymshark stamp and originality. They have outgrown that office and subsequently put a state-of-the-art ‘Lifting Club’, photography studio and a second office on the same site.
The Gymshark and ORESA story shows how investment in people, and clear, focused plans for growth in a collaborative, trusting partnership can accelerate businesses and brands to new heights. For Leandro and the ORESA team, their relationship with Gymshark and contribution to the now legendary brand will be a source of personal pride for decades to come – and never again will prospective candidates say “Gymshark who?”