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In 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack made a dramatic decision that would cost his company some $250 million in revenue and infuriate some of its most loyal customers.
He permanently removed assault rifles from his 850 stores and stopped selling guns to anyone under the age of 21. By doing so, he also put his family-run business in the center of a culture war.
In our November issue, editor-at-large Bill Saporito sat down with Stack ahead of the release of his new book, It’s How We Play the Game. In an in-depth interview with the fascinating entrepreneurial figure, Saporito explores everything that went into making the decision, including Stack’s traumatic upbringing working in his family’s store.
Stack’s difficult relationship with his father is the best way to understand why he took a stand on the gun issue, Saporito told me Friday when I swung by his desk. Dick’s Sporting Goods was founded in 1948 by Stack’s father, Dick Stack, as a small bait-and-tackle shop in Birmingham, New York. When Stack was 13, he started working at the family business–and he hated it. As Saporito describes, “The hard-drinking no-nonsense pop was scarred by early failure and was notoriously tough on his son.”
Sounds like a picnic, right? Predictably, Stack wanted nothing to do with the company post-college. But when his father had health issues in 1975, Stack returned to help run things and never left. At the time, he had trouble understanding why his father was such a cautious business owner. Part of it was past failures, Stack told Saporito. “Now I think it’s just that fathers and sons, one generation to the next, have different agendas.”
Indeed. After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year, Stack–a gun owner himself–watched the surviving kids speak about it. He watched their parents. And every time he talked about it, he got choked up.
Stack realized it was a pivotal moment for his own agenda as a CEO. As he puts it: “Do we really have to wait for this to happen to one of our kids before we do something?”
For anyone who grew up in a family business–or any entrepreneur who hopes to one day be succeeded by his or her own children–that’s about as relatable as it gets.
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