Board Interview: Sean Cady on Building a Career of Purpose

  • Leadership
Photo of Sean Cady speaking at a Cascale event with Tamar Hoek
March 15, 2024

As part of a recurring series, Cascale details the involvement and vision of its Board members. Here, Sean Cady,  VP Global Sustainability, Responsibility, Trade and Government Affairs, VF Corporation, and Interim CEO, Cascale, shares his perspective.

Cascale: Sean, you’ve been involved with Cascale from the start, beginning when you were at Levi’s. Why?

Sean Cady: Yes, from the beginning, I used the tools and implemented those throughout our supply chains.

I got involved because I believed in the vision and the mission of the organization. Just like today, I believe in the revised vision of Cascale to lead an industry that gives more than it takes to both people and the planet. That’s important to me and I am passionate about this work – about using business as a scale for good. We recognize the impact global businesses have around the world, both on the planet and people, which can be either positive or negative. Cascale brings us the tools that enable us to have a positive impact.

Cascale: You mentioned the name change, and the rebrand is certainly top of everyone’s mind. Why do you think the timing was important?

SC: We’re at a very pivotal point right now. There’s a sense of urgency, we all have to have a sense of urgency, because we see what’s happening around the world. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the impacts of climate change on the planet – whether it’s rising sea levels, more extreme storms and weather events, or climate migration.

We see these impacts firsthand in our communities, in our countries, and around the world – from wars to supply chain disruptions. We all need to have a shared sense of urgency to create the change that we all want to see in this world.

We have to recognize also that Cascale has created a tremendous amount of value for the apparel and footwear industry, building convening power and bringing the industry together to harmonize on key assessment methodologies. Cascale built credibility in the tools by equal partnership and outreach to different stakeholder groups to align on where we need to prioritize our focus to drive change.

That credibility, that harmonizing power of Cascale, is now ready to be applied to new industries and adjacent product categories. This expansion enables us as an organization to drive impact far beyond what we could achieve previously.

What’s in the name? We wanted to honor the history and the legacy of the SAC. And so the first three letters of Cascale are SAC reversed. And then scale – that’s exactly the point we’re at right now. We’ve built the harmonized credible assessment methodologies that are ready to scale across not only apparel and footwear, but also adjacent product categories and adjacent industries to drive more positive change at that scale that we’re all hoping to see.

Cascale: Your role – as board director and interim CEO – is also about unifying. What is that like? 

SC: I’m honored the board asked me to step into the interim CEO role as we’re searching for a new CEO of Cascale. The work is exciting. It enables me to participate in different situations and different roles to drive change that is continuously focused on improving the lives of people and the planet and reducing our industry’s environmental impact. So it is super exciting for me to be in multiple roles. One of the things I learned about Cascale coming into this interim CEO role is that the team is comprised of experts; the team is very, very strong. The strategy is solid, and now it’s all about how do we build for the future.

Cascale: What is the best part of your work? What are the highlights? 

SC: I have had the fortune to lead a number of teams here at VF, and I’m proud that VF is a purpose-led organization. That’s why my VF colleagues and I come to work every day.

We have great brands like The North Face and Timberland, and we make great products that help people get outdoors and live active lifestyles, but at the core of all of it – why we show up at VF – is because of that purpose. This enables us to drive a positive impact, which also aligns with Cascale’s goals.

Why do I do it? Well, we know that if you don’t focus on people or the planet, you harm your brand reputation. We know consumers care. We know our stakeholders, our investors, NGOs, and governments care about this work. We know it’s the right thing to do. But really, the best part of my job is the people. It’s the people I get to work with and learn from every single day of my job, whether that’s my job as a board member or interim CEO of Cascale or my job at VF. I love people, and I love the opportunity to work with people all over this world and learn every step of the way.

Cascale: It’s so exciting to have that clear purpose. What has been the hardest part about balancing these roles at such a high level? 

SC: The hardest part is the time I need to spend balancing the roles and delivering exceptional results for each organization. But because of my passion for this work, the time commitment is worth it.

This is the reason I’m here. And I’m willing to give, because I know that if I give today, in the future the value will come back to me and to my family and to others around the world. But the biggest challenge now is balancing the time commitments.

Cascale: You mentioned time, what are you doing with any free time outside of your day jobs?

SC:  One of the things I’m really passionate about is my family – both my extended family all over the world in New York, Colorado, Hawaii, and Asia – but also my two kids. I am super passionate about raising amazing, global citizens in this challenging world. One of the things I’m focused on with my kids as they grow up is to give them the opportunities to see the world through other people’s eyes. So I bring them into our supplier factories to see what life is like outside of the developed world where they live.

Aside from family, we live in Denver, Colorado, and I can look out my window here and can see the Rocky Mountains with snow on top. I love getting into the mountains, whether that’s mountain biking, or hiking, or now in the winter, getting out and spending a whole day snowboarding. That’s where I get my energy, and it’s a passion that I hope never to lose.

Cascale:  What is on the travel list? 

SC: Well, we’ve gone all over the world; they’ve spent a lot of time in Asia and both of my children were born in Thailand. Our recent trip out of the country was to Tokyo, which was culturally an eye opener for them. This summer, I’m taking them to Kathmandu, and we’re going to do some trekking up in the Himalayas in Nepal.

So that’ll be a new country for them to go to, and it’ll be a different perspective. I have plans to bring them to Bangladesh, to go to my friend’s factories in Bangladesh, and that will also be eye opening to them.

Cascale: As we’re tracing the arc of your career, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

SC: There are two pieces of advice that I continue to live by. One, I don’t know where I got it or who gave it to me, but it was to, “Say yes to everything.” And it’s truly benefited my career trajectory. Whenever a challenge was presented to me, I would always say yes. Even if I didn’t know how to get it done, I would go figure it out. And these types of challenges are always an opportunity for me to learn. When the board asked me if I would step in as Interim CEO of Cascale, my first reaction was, “Of course, I will – yes!”

The second piece of advice is to “plan your work, and work your plan.” I believe in that because the number of distractions there are today, the amount of people or technology apps or things on the computer, phone or text messages, just seeking our time distracts us all from delivering exceptional results.

I plan my work; I am very clear on the objectives and the goals of my work, and the work plan to achieve the desired objectives. Then, I work my plan – step by step by step without distraction. That’s one of the areas, I believe, that has made me successful in my career. It’s not just an objective that I set for myself. I build a plan to achieve it, and then I work on that plan step by step by step.

Cascale: Where do you see uncharted territory in your own career and for Cascale as it enters its new era?

SC:  For me, personally and professionally, I’m very fulfilled. I feel extremely fortunate in where I am today. My career has taken me to different industries, it’s taken me to live on two different continents, and I’ve worked all over the world.

Because I’ve been able to engage and build friendships with experts around the world, I’ve been able to lead challenging work to deliver exceptional results. I feel as though the work that we’re trying to drive here takes a systems view. It’s not just one person, or one team that’s going to drive exceptional results anymore. We live in a connected world. And I enjoy being able to pull on many different levers to create outsized change. I know that we’ve achieved a great amount of success because of the work we’re all focused on, and I’m particularly honored that I get to play a small role in driving positive impact. I think for Cascale, the organization has an amazing opportunity right now. The tools we built are adding so much value to the apparel and footwear industry today, and I can only imagine how much more change the organization can drive with tools that have proven to be successful time and time again.

Cascale: Anything else to add?

SC: My last message is a huge sense of gratitude and thanks to the Cascale team. All of the staff, leaders, and managers are experts. I also give a huge thanks to all of the Cascale members today for offering your advice and sharing your perspectives and for leveraging the work that Cascale delivers throughout your own businesses.

I’m grateful to the Board of Directors of Cascale for their trust in me and their partnership in driving the entire organization forward, and lastly, I would say thanks to all of the stakeholders that Cascale touches – from the brands and retailers to the manufacturers. From the farmers and the raw material suppliers to the governments and the NGOs and the investors who care about how the tools deliver meaningful analysis of a company’s impact. I feel a  huge sense of gratitude for all the people that have helped me become successful and have helped Cascsale become what it is today.

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