As a kid growing up in Hayward, California, the call of the wild frequently beckoned Damien Huang, who delighted in fly fishing in the Sierra Nevada or skiing the back country.
“I’ve always kept myself busy in the outdoors, no matter what the season or the temperature,” says Huang, whose career path, not surprisingly, can be seen as an homage to his rugged lifestyle: last June he was named president of the outdoor apparel company Eddie Bauer. He’s been there since 2010, after stints at competitors Patagonia and The North Face.
As head of the Seattle-based clothier, Huang oversees design, merchandising, marketing, retail, e-commerce, licensing, international, and wholesale functions of the business. Eddie Bauer operates more than 400 stores in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Japan.
When Huang first arrived at the century-old Eddie Bauer, the company had “lost its way a little bit,” he says. Huang, then senior vice president of outerwear, accessories, and gear, led the “Best at Outerwear” initiative, which has included an ambitious national advertising campaign each year since 2016.
“Eddie Bauer was making mostly cotton-based casual sportswear,” he says. “The first order of business was in trying to get the brand to align with the product, which meant the creation of a lot more performance products: for hiking, traveling, trekking, skiing, climbing, you name it.”
At the time, just 20 percent of Eddie Bauer’s offerings were performance based; today, through Huang’s efforts, it’s 70 percent. The bulk of the company’s wares are designed for a specific outdoor purpose, and they keep the wearer warm, dry, and comfortable.
Another of Huang’s roles is to elevate the customer experience, which he is doing by relying on the company’s new analytics-driven approach, using consumer insights to inform marketing.
The company continues to climb its way back to old heights, after surviving Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003 and 2009. Last June, private equity firm Golden Gate Capital established a new operating company, PSEB Group, that combined Eddie Bauer and PacSun, which has brought stability and efficiency to the two growing brands.
A revised product line, commitment to the outdoors, and focus on the customer has started to pay off, according to Huang. “We’ve won more [product] awards than any other major brand in the last five years and seen strong, consistent growth, so we’re getting back on track,” he says.
Huang is unequivocal about his reasons for success in the competitive outdoor apparel market.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am today without Haas,” says Huang, who took night and weekend classes at the school while he was product director at The North Face. “What I learned at Haas was complementary to what I was learning on the job. The MBA program teaches context and the ability to look at the business environment across industries and to learn from different cases.
“All of those things—in addition to learning fundamental skills in finance and accounting—are very helpful at giving you the raw skills you need to be a good leader.”