Chris Sword

MBA '95


What do you do professionally?

I’m President of PEARL iZUMi, the market-leader in cycling apparel and footwear. I decided to align my love of the outdoors with my career about 16 years ago—a great decision for me.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

I was attracted by the strength of the brand and the long-term profound potential for the category. Bike is at the intersection of three critical macro trends:  health, environment, and mobility. The favorite part of my job is working with a passionate team to make a major strategic shift in our business, to realize our potential, and also play an important role in cycling’s potential for inspiration and impact.

Chris after a race

What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you?

I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world for fun events like motorsports, and now all things bike culture. The silver lining to so much travel is experiencing diverse cultures. I believe strongly in perspective, and traveling to places very different from home is one element of getting it.

What is the best professional advice you’ve received?

Play in traffic—put yourself out there, take chances, get involved—and good things happen. Have a personal vision, evolve it, but stick with it. Simple work ethic—when you’re passionate, work isn’t a burden, and you sacrifice because it’s the right thing to do.

What’s your career advice for those starting out?

I’ve long said for most of us, you don’t need to decide what to do for the rest of your life, only for the next 3-5 years. Anything less than three isn’t worth doing, and anything more than five is difficult for anyone to predict. This doesn’t mean it’s not important to have a long-term personal vision, but you need to tackle it in chunks—and while life is short, we do have time to make course corrections along the way. And in many ways the journey is the goal, so we should enjoy it.

Also, what I call controlled restlessness. You should be anxious for your next role and challenge, but not at the expense of excelling in your current role.

What perspective would you offer from your career?

My career has not been linear. To pursue general management, I made an early decision to achieve breadth rather than depth in my experience and to pursue my passion while aligning who I am with what I do. I’ve had incredible role models, which is critical, but at the same time you shouldn’t be a replica of someone else. I’ve worked hard at development, understanding my intrinsic motivations, and understanding who I am at my core.

Chris presenting

One outcome of this is my appreciation for the “subject matter” in all my stops, including automotive, technology, and sports/outdoor. At the same time, for any role to be fulfilling, you need to love the business and the core strategic challenges to make it successful. For me, bikes as the subject matter makes it more fun and engaging—and I wouldn’t be as successful without that connection.

I think when most people talk about work-life balance, it’s code for minimizing time at work and maximizing time away from work. That’s never been my mindset—I think it’s critical to love what you do, so you’re balancing one enjoyable thing with another.

What do you believe are some keys to success as the leader of a company?

Curiosity—question things that matter, be creative, seek non-traditional solutions. Be comfortable with discomfort—love a challenge. Have empathy—seek to understand others, and their unmet and unarticulated needs. Above all else, have trustworthiness.

What is your favorite Duke sports memory?

During my first year at Fuqua, Duke basketball lost in the national championship. We missed the tournament all together in my second year (the last time that’s happened). But I saw Jeff Capel’s last-second half-court shot that forced double-overtime against UNC in 1995. I also loved seeing Villanova beat Duke in the 2009 tournament—sorry, you have to go with your undergrad!

Chris and family skiing

What does Team Fuqua mean to you?

Lifelong friends. Which means learning, growing, and support. Fuqua has built a culture that is heartfelt, and in my mind focused on team, mutual success, and broad impact. My time at Fuqua was among the most challenging and rewarding of my life—I love Duke and Fuqua for it.

Why do you support the Fuqua Annual Fund?

I have to imagine my reasons are similar to many others. I have a strong sense of connection to Fuqua as an institution and a community (my answer to the previous question describes why). It’s similar to what we wish for our children—an even better experience and more success than we had. So for future classes, I hope they graduate with incredible inspiration and influence to truly make a positive contribution.

Chris and son

Chris and son skiing