The CEO of Decathlon Malaysia, the French-founded and world’s largest sporting goods retailer, shares glimpses into work, play and a few things in between about his life here.
Options: Congratulations on the latest Decathlon store in Kuala Lumpur, this time at the swanky Shoppes at Four Seasons Place. Tell us a little about it.
Arnaud Sauret: Decathlon KL City Centre is more than just a sports store, [it is] a centre for unique sports experiences. We like to call it our new sporting area where like-minded enthusiasts can meet and share everything about our common passion — sport! As a community of sports lovers, we strive to gather the Decathlon teammates, partners, customers and users to talk, exchange and share our sports experiences as well as challenge our practice.
We have the MY Decathlon Club where members can enjoy our complete offerings of products and services, thanks to our collaboration with phenomenal Malaysian partners. Our mission is to make the pleasure and benefits of sport accessible to and sustainable for Malaysians. So, with this in mind, our new experience concept store offers various amenities and facilities like three Decastudios where you can practise yoga, fitness, metcon, HIIT, dance and spinning; luxurious changing and shower rooms; two medical rooms that offer pain, disability and movement-related therapies, and a healthy food restaurant.
How has Decathlon’s growth been since it opened in Malaysia?
We are fortunate and grateful Decathlon has been a success from the start. Growth has been fast and promising since we opened in 2016, with only Covid-19 serving as a setback to our speed of expansion. That said, it was also not without benefits as it gave us more time to study how to make sport better accessible to Malaysians. We are now focused on the quality of our growth, versus quantity. We took time to study KL and Malaysia so we [will] open where we are needed. I am confident 2022 is the year of rebound for us, where we will bounce back like a spring!
We’ve also read that the pandemic has been good for the nature of your business, with huge demand surges for fitness equipment and accessories. How true is that?
The pandemic has taught us to transform our business model over the past two years to cater to the new needs and expectations of our customers and users. That said, the pandemic has not been good for business. In fact, there has never been a more challenging time for us. But moving on, we are very proud to say all our teammates and their families were safe and received their salaries in full, despite our stores being closed for several months.
How did you come to work for Decathlon?
I chose Decathlon as I wanted to combine my personal passion for sport and business. I also wanted to work for an international company that would allow me to discover the world and learn about different cultures. I also joined Decathlon as I simply enjoy working with sports lovers, and I love it when I contribute in my own way to making sport more and more accessible to all.
What was your original childhood ambition, though?
I had always dreamt of being a helicopter pilot for the French army. While pursuing my dream, I actually obtained my aircraft pilot’s licence at the age of 18 ... even before getting my driver’s licence!
What is your own fitness and wellness regime like?
As a former competitive swimmer, I still make it a point to swim 1km every Saturday and Sunday. I also play two hours of tennis weekly, every Tuesday and Thursday. I am always trying to beat my coach but, alas, have yet to succeed.
What is your Spotify list like, then? I can imagine lots of great music to work out to.
I am actually a huge fan of classical music. In my Relaxation playlist, you can find a lot of Vivaldi. On the other hand, I am an equally huge fan of Eminem. My taste in music is … shall we say, eclectic? But when I am practising my sports, I honestly prefer the sound of silence.
What are you reading right now?
I am absolutely passionate about history, so I am rereading the Napoleon Series of books by Max Gallo, a French writer, historian and politician. This summer, I made a promise to myself to also reread the De Gaulle Series, also by the same author. I thoroughly enjoy his smooth writing style.
You have been based here for four years, give or take the last two, which had been in intermittent lockdown. What have been some of your favourite discoveries about KL and the country?
I have been on a guided tour of KL to better understand the city and its origins. I remember being very impressed by the number of modern art buildings standing in sync and in total harmony with cultural and religious buildings, like temples and mosques. KL is a magical city and its lush greenery an example for other cities to follow. I have also been agreeably surprised by George Town. I absolutely loved the spirit of the city. It is also so culturally sound and I completely understand why it is being protected with heritage-site status by Unesco. However, there is still a lot I have yet to discover.
Are you planning to travel, now that Covid-19 measures have eased a great deal?
I have not been able to go home for a while so my next destination will certainly be my home region of Burgundy in France. I will be very happy indeed to be able to reunite with friends and family and also enjoy the culture of this very unique place.
Where else is on your 2022 travel list, if we may ask?
My next destination would be Melbourne, to attend the Australian Open. I am also very attracted to visiting Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. And definitely, I want to continue travelling around Malaysia and getting to understand better all the cultural nuances of this country, which I have called home for the past four years.
How would you describe a perfect KL weekend for you?
My perfect weekend would always start with sports — preferably with my family and as soon as the sun rises. It is either a swim or a run. After that, we would go for brunch together and then a spot of exploring to discover a new place in the city, like a market, for example. It is the same for Sundays, which must start with sports, followed by some work and after that, a long family lunch. Sunday afternoons, however, are sacred and always dedicated to music and reading.
This article first appeared on June 13, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.