Bryan Chapman: Diversity and inclusion make us a better business
Bryan Chapman first came to North Carolina in 1999 to play basketball for Fayetteville State University while pursuing a degree in business administration. More than 20 years later, the former forward says he’s still got a good touch on the ball, but his knees no longer cooperate.
“The knees go first,” he says with a laugh.
Basketball’s loss was Kontoor’s gain. Chapman left the court and returned home to get an MBA in New Jersey, but the northern winters kept Carolina on his mind. “I was looking for a way to get back to North Carolina,” Chapman says. VF became his ticket.
For the past 15 years, Chapman has worked his way up through the company ranks of VF and then Kontoor to his current position as VP/GM of Wrangler Merchandising for North America.
Though Kontoor is still a newish company, Chapman says it has a corporate culture that is mature beyond its years, thanks to a bottom-up cultural transfer from Lee and Wrangler. It gives the new team a deep bench.
“The people have always been great,” Chapman says. “Even through changes of leadership, there's been a consistent thread of good people that care about one another. It’s the culture of the whole organization. And that’s a reflection of the brands’ identities. There’s a lot of history there. And at the core is the people. That’s the brands’ guiding light.”
With the commitment to people comes a commitment to diversity.
“I think one of the things we've learned is how to utilize that heritage to speak to a broader market,” Chapman says. “We are grounded in the Western lifestyle, but those attributes apply to everyone.”
To truly walk the walk on diversity and inclusion, first you have to talk the talk. Companies need to be intentional about creating space for open conversations about race relations and identity issues, rather than simply mandating policy in a vacuum. Kontoor understands that, Chapman says.
“The conversation at Kontoor around inclusion and diversity is way more open than it used to be because people realize the conversation is needed,” he says. “That’s allowed for richer discussion and honesty around what we need to do to go forward. That’s a real thing and you can see it in the workforce.”
For Chapman, Black History Month is a time to recenter himself in that conversation and the collective effort to press forward.
“I know what I represent within the company,” Chapman says. “I'm a Black man within the company. I'm a leader within the company. And that does come with responsibility. I take that responsibility very, very seriously. It’s about how I present myself, and how I can help others in the organization find a way. If you are a minority within an organization, I think you always feel that weight to represent your culture. And do so in the best light.”
Chapman adds, “Black History Month is a reminder of how serious I take that for myself and my family, my two sons and my wife. I want to make sure that they realize the kind of example that they're setting. How best to represent those who have paved the way for Black culture, and those who are trying to take the torch forward.”
Black History Month isn’t just a moment for reflection, but also inflection — an opportunity to pivot and move the ball down court as a team.
“I love the fact that Wrangler and Kontoor speak openly about the celebration of Black history. It lets me know that they acknowledge our history, that they understand it's unique. They understand that the perspective we can provide as a culture will help the organization as a whole,” Chapman says. “Diversity and inclusion make us a better business. It’s the right thing to do, but it's also the right thing to do to better your business. And being able to work for a company that understands that and believes that is empowering.”