Roots CEO Meghan Roach leaned into the challenges of the pandemic — and transformed the lifestyle brand.
She shares how her career journey and collaboration helped her guide the company through.
By Hailey Eisen
In January 2020, Meghan Roach was appointed interim CEO of Roots. The nearly-50-year-old Canadian outdoor lifestyle brand, known for its iconic salt-and-pepper sweats and beaver emblem, was underperforming. Meghan’s job? To improve operational efficiency and execute on profitable growth opportunities, while honouring the brand’s heritage.
A mandate that would have proved challenging under normal circumstances, Meghan’s task was compounded when the COVID-19 pandemic hit just months into her tenure. But for someone who admittedly thrives in chaos, the pandemic played to the 38-year-old’s strengths. “Honestly, it was one of the most invigorating experiences of my career,” she recalls.
The obstacles facing the retail industry were unprecedented: store closures and layoffs, a pivot to e-commerce, upended work schedules, sweeping lockdowns, increased demand for safety protocols, and the repurposing of resources to provide PPE to those in need.
The way things were always done would no longer serve. Meghan embraced a company-wide shift that included a focus on outcomes versus ‘face time’ or hours worked. She put trust in her large team — from head office to factories, distribution centres, and retails outlets — to do what needed to be done in a much more flexible format.
With two small children at home, Meghan also had to adapt. “When COVID hit, we were living in a condo and my husband was also working from home,” she says. “My kids were literally running in and out of my meetings all day.”
Developing the skill set and mindset needed to thrive in these unsettling times started at a young age for Meghan. She credits her family with teaching her the value of hard work and perseverance. It was her grandfather who sparked her interest in finance and investing when he gave her BCE shares as a child. An undergraduate degree in Commerce from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University allowed her to expand upon those interests and solidified what she wanted to do beyond school.
“I am not the smartest person in the room and never want to be. If I am, then I’ve failed at my job. Working with others who are smarter or more experienced creates a better business — together.”
“It was unique at the time to have a four-year program in Commerce which focused on finance, investing, and marketing, among other things,” she says. “We focused on case studies, group work, and leadership skills, and learned to think on our feet, collaborate with others, and work to our own strengths.”
After graduation, Meghan explored a variety of career paths, including accounting, investments, and private equity. She served on a number of boards, including a stint on the Roots board from 2015 to 2017. In the summer of 2019, she was brought on as Roots’ interim CFO, and come the New Year was promoted to interim CEO. The CEO title became permanent in May 2020 after she had proved herself in the early days of the pandemic.
Meghan says there were times she felt like an “imposter,” being a young woman in her CEO role. But she’s held on to an important lesson from her business school days that proved helpful on her C-suite journey. “I am not the smartest person in the room and never want to be,” she says. “If I am, then I’ve failed at my job. Working with others who are smarter or more experienced creates a better business — together. That’s how we succeed.”
Bringing in a variety of perspectives, deeply understanding Roots’ customers, and collaborating with local and grassroots partners have all been part of Meghan’s strategy over the past year. “Roots has done a great job creating high-quality, long-lasting, comfortable products, and we wanted to expand upon that legacy with a focus on diversity and inclusion, sustainability, and global impact, among other things. This includes looking at our corporate culture, suppliers, and marketing.”
Meghan’s current focus is diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion in terms of campaigns, product development, and partnerships. “Being a well-known brand in Canada and internationally, I want to use our platform to amplify different voices and talk about issues going on today in a way that’s aligned with our values,” she says.
“Having gone through a pandemic and come out stronger, we know that muscle is in us and we have the capacity to deal with challenges, whatever they may be.”
Under Meghan’s leadership, Roots has partnered with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in support of its “Dear Everybody” campaign to include more people with disabilities in ad campaigns; signed the BlackNorth agreement with the Canadian Council of Business Leaders; donated to Indigenous communities; and launched a limited-edition collaboration collection in honour of International Women’s Day, which saw a portion of proceeds go to Girls E-Mentorship (GEM), a program that helps high school girls overcome barriers in their transition to adulthood.
Meghan has also embraced the idea of storytelling, ensuring a variety of voices are heard and represented within Roots — as part of the Diversity and Inclusion Council she leads — and through partnerships and campaigns aimed at developing unique products and spotlighting existing favourites.
A self-proclaimed small-town girl, Meghan says her love of nature and connection to the Roots brand began as a child in Pembroke, Ont. Like many, she recalls getting new Roots clothing for back-to-school. She also developed an appreciation for outdoor sports while attending the 315-acre natural campus of Lakefield College School during her high-school years. These experiences shaped her into the ideal Roots customer and helped form connections she draws upon in her role as the brand’s CEO.
“I am so grateful for the connection I have with the Roots founders, Michael Budman and Don Green, who met at Camp Tamakwa. Michael even recalls traveling through Pembroke on one occasion during his camp canoe trips,” Meghan says. “Michael and Don have lived the Roots lifestyle since its inception and their support has been invaluable as we move forward during these exciting times.”
A strong connection to the past with forward momentum is what’s propelling Meghan these days. “Having gone through a pandemic and come out stronger, we know that muscle is in us and we have the capacity to deal with challenges, whatever they may be,” she says. “I have a lot of optimism for the future.”