Smithfield’s Derek Grundy’s Long Professional Journey Began on Solid Ground

By Paul Lonardo

Derek Grundy grew up in Smithfield and graduated from Smithfield High School 2001. Since then he has traveled to many exotic locations all over the world. Sports has always been a big part of Grundy’s life. As a member of a Sentinel basketball team that won the State Championship, he earned All State First Team honors and in his three seasons playing varsity basketball he became the school’s All Time Leading Scorer with 1,380 points.

Grundy credits his success in the game to his parents, Tom and Cathy, who always supported him, as well as his coaches Joe Bennett and Mike Tartaglia, who instilled in him the ideals hard work, dedication, and teamwork from the time he was 10 years-old playing for them at Saint Philip School CYO in Greenville.

“I truly believe that universally it is not about what you say to people, but it is about how you make them feel,” Grundy says. “I have tried to focus my management style around building trust and strong bonds with people no matter where the location is within the world.”

Grundy says that this was an idea he learned from his coaches. “It doesn’t matter where your teammates are from, you treat each other with respect and align on winning together and you can make it happen.”

Grundy’s father, Tom, a high-level distance runner and standout at URI, taught leadership skills to his son at an early age.

“He told me that a leader knows how to help other people get better and encourages them through good times and bad,” Grundy says. “I have taken that advice within my career, and so far, I believe it has worked well universally.”

Grundy went on to attend Endicott College in Beverly, MA, where he studied Sport Management. He continued to play the game he loved and also met the love of his life, Sarah, who became his wife. At the end of his sophomore season, he sustained an injury and opted to sit out his junior year. Unable to walk away from basketball completely, he decided to get involved in coaching high school basketball, spending four years at Pingree School in Hamilton, MA, first as head coach of the JV and then Assistant Coach of the Varsity team. While coaching at Pingree, Grundy worked with Hoop Mountain basketball camp company and went on to complete an MBA degree at Endicott College.

Before completing the program, his uncle, Dan Grundy, who worked at Nike for many years, put his nephew in touch with someone who suggested he join a startup footwear company called AQx. Embracing a nothing-ventured-nothing-gained attitude, Grundy signed on and moved to Oregon.

“It was a great way to get my foot in the door of the footwear world,” Grundy says, “doing everything from sales, to marketing, dealing with Asia suppliers, and even picking and packing shoes directly for our ecommerce business.”

After three years with AQx, Grundy moved closer to home when he went to work for Reebok in Boston. His six years with this company opened his eyes to a whole new world of experiences that educated and changed him on every level. He traveled all over the world, including Asia, South American and throughout Europe. He especially took a liking to his trips to Asia.

“Going to see factories that had over thirty thousand people working was incredible,” he says. “It made me realize all that went into making a single pair of footwear and I knew I wanted to be a part of that world someday.”

When Grundy was given the opportunity to move to Asia to start Reebok’s first Vietnam footwear creation center, he jumped at the chance.

“I spent four years in that role and grew the business, but most importantly made great connections and an accelerated learning curve on the footwear manufacturing business.”

Grundy hadn’t gotten on a plane until he was seventeen, and he didn’t have a passport until he was in his mid-20’s, but both of his sons, Brendan (7) and Colin (3), are world travelers with visa stamps in Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India.

“My wife and two boys really enjoy living in South East Asia, being able to travel frequently, and meeting people from all over the world. They truly embrace what it means to be global citizens. I get to see my kids grow up with this opportunity and it makes me very proud to see the impact that it has on them in terms of accepting diversity, being open minded, flexible to change, and being very inquisitive and curious about how the world works.”

Ready for a new challenge, Grundy began work for Taiwanese Footwear Manufacturer, Hong Fu Group. He currently runs their exclusive Nike Footwear factory in Than Hoa, Vietnam, which employs 25,000 workers and produces two and half million pairs of footwear per month for Nike. They recently opened a second factory employing 10,000 workers and producing a million pairs per month.

“It has been an incredible experience,” Grundy says, “to be able to lead and manage such a scope. Sometimes it is like managing a city due to the size and scale of the operation. I enjoy being able to give people opportunity.”

Grundy has embraced the Vietnam culture and the people. He has even studied the language to a level where, although he is not fluent, he can get by pretty well and engage in casual conversations.

“I have found that as your scope changes, you need to focus on improving a couple critical skills. Number one is listening and number two is prioritizing. I think if you can do both of those well, it will allow you to really understand the people you work with, internally and externally, and it will allow for you to focus on the right things that they are looking for. I think it is universal and can be applied in all industries.”

Grundy is looking forward to see what the future holds for him and his family in a world full of opportunity.

Today Grundy’s goals are centered around being a positive role model for his sons. He says, “I tell them each day that they have two goals: one is to be nice to everyone; two is have a lot of fun. I feel it is simple advice but if they follow it, they can have a complete day including helping others, building relationships, and having joy finding their passions within their day.”