The success of the ASICS brand is said to originate with an octopus salad. In 1951, founder Kihachiro Onitsuka was enjoying a cold salad amid an otherwise failed occupational attempt into basketball footwear. Onitsuka realized if he could replicate the shape of the octopus’ suckers, he might be able to create a shoe capable of gripping the playing floor more effectively. The design stuck if the name didn’t. The Onitsuka Tiger company eventually became ASICS, an acronym for the Latin phrase Anima Sana In Corpore Sano, or “Sound Mind in a Sound Body.” For seventy years, the company has maintained high standards of affordable and high-performance footwear and athletic gear.
As vice president of human resources for ASICS North America, Barbara Turner feels it’s precisely her job to promote a sound mind in a sound body and to ensure ASICS employees feel engaged, fulfilled, and rewarded. Turner says that engaging employees and making them feel holistically fulfilled not only in their careers but also in their personal goals is the difference between two startling different worlds.
“Most of us have worked at companies where we are excited to wake up and go to work,” Turner explains. “Most of us have also probably worked places where we dread going to work the next day. What’s truly shaped my own leadership style is recognizing the difference in the contribution of the employees in these two examples and my ability to literally influence the outcomes.”
Turner says that in coming to ASICS three years ago, she’s been able to make the most of one of ASICS’ most fundamental principles. “Over the course of my career, I’ve worked at large, well-run companies and I’ve worked at some companies that haven’t been run so well,” Turner says. “Through these experiences I’ve observed that the best companies invest in their people.” Turner says that ASICS views their people as their greatest asset, a crucial philosophy for not only Turner to be effective in her own role but also in contributing to the top-to-bottom satisfaction of employees.
The VP is also a vocal advocate for ensuring the company’s talent strategy aligns with the business strategy. “It is critical to understand and balance both your current and future needs for talent. From there you must strategically build and execute action plans to meet those talent needs,” Turner explains. “I’ve personally seen and experienced the positive impact of employees who work at companies like ASICS that embraces strategic talent leadership, and it’s part of the reason it’s such a passion point for me.”
In focusing on people, Turner recounts a story she’s heard many times over but never fails to deliver its point. “A CFO asks a CEO, ‘What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave?’ The CEO replies, ‘What happens if we don’t and they stay?’” The VP says she’s seen this situation play itself out day in and day out and it is why she’s committed to internal development.
Turner says that along with meeting the needs of today’s business, she partners with executive leadership and takes an active role as part of the team. “Whether it’s specifically HR related or another business topic, I ensure that I understand our business,” Turner says. “Our needs are changing every day, and it’s my job to ensure we’re always operating with integrity.”
When it comes to integrity, Turner says company culture is a huge part of ASICS’ success. “We’re very proud to live out the values set by our founder seventy years ago; we’re a brand of ‘sound mind, sound body’ and you can see that come to life in our offices all around the world,” Turner says. “If you come to our Irvine [California] offices, you’ll see employees in workout clothes, utilizing company bicycles, taking part in a company-sponsored boot camp or yoga class, or even playing basketball in our company gym.” The VP says ASICS’ brand values truly are at the core of the business, and it permeates a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration.
“Through these experiences I’ve observed that the best companies invest in their people.”
And while culture is strong, the lowest employment rate in fifty years does offer some challenges regarding recruiting new talent. “What has worked for us is to show people the company has a purpose bigger than making a profit,” Turner says. “We make it a priority to show potential candidates that the company has a social conscience; employees can fulfill their personal purpose along with their professional purpose while working at ASICS.”
With more than twenty years of HR experience, one might think that Turner had accomplished all that she had hoped in her field. She’s worked for small companies, larger public companies with thousands of employees, and helped drive HR innovation in consumer products, construction, power, and even tribal government gaming. But Turner says that the fulfillment she gets from her work is continuing to see the impact she is able to make to improve the lives of those around her. “It’s great that my professional goals and personal goals tie together so well,” Turner laughs. “It’s probably why I’ve been in this space for so long.”
Turner says her native SoCal roots means she’s always happy to be relaxing on a beach under the sun and that working for such a great company makes it easier for her to truly enjoy that time. She’s intent on spreading that message through her own voice and the voices of the employees of ASICS, the greatest brand ambassadors, who the company continues to emphasize as their greatest asset and best investment.
Mercer is honored to partner with Barbara Turner and ASICS in creating a diversified benefit offering to meet the needs of its employees. We congratulate Barbara Turner on being an inspiring and influential executive leader. We wish Barbara Turner and ASICS continued success.