Pushing Forward: Toby Claudio on Crisis Leadership, Working Out Better, and Coping Through Fitness - LA Lives

“When things are this bad, it’s necessary to plan for the worst, but also to keep everyone’s hopes up that ‘this too shall pass,’” says the Toby’s Sports president.

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“I literally grew up in the store,” shares Toby Claudio. “I was [five] years old and was given my first job to sit on my skateboard and roll over all the freshly-laid tiles of our first Toby’s store in Greenhills.” The vivid memory of seeing the store open with his name on the sign realized the role he was about to play in what will become a family legacy.

His family founded and owns the full-line sporting goods store Toby’s Sports and its succeeding businesses, Toby’s Sports Arena, RUNNR, and urbanAthletics. These are all under Quorum International Inc, with Claudio currently sitting in as president.

When he officially stepped into the family business, he brought and spearheaded major projects like Toby’s Arena and the first RUNNR store.

This and his childhood memory took roots in his commitment to thrust the family business to greater heights. “Those two experiences really taught me the value of innovation and constantly finding ways to give customers something they didn’t know they wanted or needed yet,” he explains.

New essentials

The long periods of quarantine in the country made online shopping the norm. But this means businesses that are out of or have yet to navigate the digital landscape suffered. Physical stores closed down indefinitely, including some branches of Toby’s Sports. Fortunately for the company, Claudio shares, “Fitness gear started to be treated as ‘essential items’ during the pandemic.”

Living in a health crisis highlighted the importance of keeping fit. People started investing in sports equipment and fitness accessories as they spend more time indoors. As a leading sports retail in the country, Toby’s Sports found ways to accommodate this growing need while keeping their employees safe.

They shifted their attention to e-commerce and along the way, and discovered better ways to communicate with clients. “Aside from our online stores, one way was [through] our Viber Chat and Collect hotlines,” Claudio explains. This allows customers to navigate through their preferred gear, and pick up or have these delivered from the branch closest to their home.

“We’ve even expanded our e-commerce operations to include tobys.com, runnr.com.ph and urbanathletics.com.ph,” he continues.

Crisis leadership

In any crisis, leading an entire company, let alone different businesses, to survive is not an easy journey.

To illustrate his point, Claudio draws on the image of a bike riding through a rough terrain. “To avoid taking a fall, you just have to keep peddling [through]. You may not know exactly where you’ll end up, but as long as you keep the wheels turning and pedal hard [through] the roughest stuff then you will eventually get [through] the other side.”

As the pandemic affected even the rich countries, posing threats and exposing vulnerabilities, the response lies with the cooperation of people. But without proper leadership and a solid purpose, this unity may fail. Claudio explains this is how he led Quorum International Inc. to pull through the ongoing crisis. “I believe that leadership is both an art and science,” he affirms.

To be an effective leader, he believes his background on playing sports like basketball, tennis, badminton, and baseball shaped him. “I learned how to maintain composure [through] adversity, and strategize when you are up against a tough competitor.”

Beyond experiences, having an open mind and honing of one’s skills are crucial. He points out constant learning, possessing a clear vision, and having genuine passion as the three most important values a leader should have, especially in a crisis.

Above all, leadership is also about encouraging harmony within the team. For Toby’s Sports, he believes it is teamwork that enabled it to survive. Cooperation and dedication continue to help them achieve their ultimate goal which is to “help Filipinos become champions in sports and life.”

A good future

When the anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic takes a toll on him, “a regular fitness regimen helped me cope,” Claudio shares. He does triathlon consisting of 1 to 1.5 hours of cardio through cycling or running.

On alternate days, he does weight training. When he cycles, he takes an average of 130km every week. It may be a rigorous routine, but for someone who grew up playing sports and is constantly surrounded by it, working out is the most natural way to help him relieve stress.

“I realized that you really have to take care of yourself to be able to function at your best and lead your team,” he adds.

From caring of oneself, he emphasizes the effect of being an optimist. “When things are this bad, it’s necessary to plan for the worst, but also to keep everyone’s hopes up that ‘this too shall pass,’” he clarifies. Holding on to a possibility of a good future influences his team to keep working hard despite the difficulties.

Along the way, he earned realizations that will always resonate with him. He understood how “valuable our small freedoms are. [It] gives me a better appreciation of all the things we can do and enjoy when we are all safe from the pandemic.”

For now, he leads his team to help Filipinos live their best through upholding the values of their multi-retail sports companies: “passion for sports, excellence in our products and services, and innovation in the way we help our customers.”

The full story on Toby Claudio is in the May 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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