“We transform raw materials, such as carbon and aluminum, into real machines that create happiness.” This is what Mariano Gon, Orbea’s new American Sales Director, had to say. We took advantage of his recent arrival to get to know him better in an interview with Xabi Narbaiza, MTB Product Manager.
XABI NARBAIZA: Ongi etorri* Mariano. What motivated you to join our team? (*”Welcome” in Basque)
MARIANO GON: Eskerrik asko* Xabi; it’s a pleasure for me to be here. The identity of Mallabia and the Basque Country is felt in all the models that leave through the doors of Orbea’s facilities. This company is a family with the best tradition, and today it has become a leading company in super innovative technologies. And that’s what I love about Orbea: its history, together with tradition, innovation and the future. We’re talking about a brand with more than 175 years of history. That’s almost two centuries! Very few companies can boast that, and at the same time, look towards the future like Orbea does. (*”Thanks a lot” in basque language).
I’ll tell you something, Xabi; these days, here at the facilities in Mallabia, I was impressed by the youthfulness of those who work here. Engineers, designers, marketing professionals…a super young team with ideas and a tremendous desire to evolve. This enthusiasm is essential to make Orbea even greater. In a certain manner, it is as if I wanted to give back to the Spanish industry everything that it has given me so that the ‘American dream’ of Orbea USA becomes a reality in the very near future. There is a great team there, as well as here in Mallabia. I’m joining it so that, together, we can position Orbea as high as possible.
X.N: How do you see the future of Orbea?
M.G: Very bright, without a doubt. Orbea never stops evolving, regardless of the rhythm of the market, and that is essential so that no one catches you off guard. That’s very difficult to do in this industry. Evolutions occur very quickly, and we need to be prepared for them. New measurements, new standards, new materials…Those who are not ready can go down in a short period of time.
What's more, Orbea’s production system makes the Mallabia facilities the starting point for the business, by offering a 100% customized finish for both paint and components. That’s part of the brand’s success. It’s not a matter of having a warehouse and sending out the product. Here there is a total union between the user’s needs and their communication to design, engineering, manufacturing and assembly. This way, we offer users the products they’ve dreamed about and we’re the perfect ally for the best bicycle shops.
X.N: What will your first steps be?
M.G: Obviously, listening. I need to listen to what Orbea's employees in Mallabia have to say about the brand. How they want to evolve, what they can contribute to the American market. Likewise, working side by side with the Orbea USA team, with Gonzalo García de Salazar at the helm. I’m part of this team now.
And of course, it’s necessary to listen very carefully to the retail outlets. The dealers in America are the image of Orbea when an end customer wants to buy an Occam or an Orca. The relationship with the points of sale is crucial to ensure the growth of a brand. They’re that part of the family that needs to believe in the product the same way you believe in it. We have to be allies in their work and their ideas, so that what Orbea offers in the American market is what everyone wants. It a matter of listening, joining forces and everyone working together.
X.N: What's your opinion of the evolution of Orbea’s MTB bikes?
M.G: Fantastic. I’ve followed Orbea’s evolution very closely and I think it's been spectacular, especially over the last 5 years. But I’m not telling you anything new, Xabi, since you’re the MTB Product Manager… (he laughs).Seriously, the evolution of the Oiz has been incredible. You just need to take a look at the results of teams like the Luna Chix, led by Catharine Pendrel. The Occam is a super best-seller because of its travel versatility and the two wheel sizes available. The Loki is great and super fun…Besides the models and the ranges being very well-defined, the quality of the product and the finishes are extremely high level. And that’s very difficult. Producing a good product is easy. Producing an excellent product is very difficult. And that’s what Orbea is currently doing.
X.N: What is the first bike you’re going to ride?
M.G: I think my first time on an Orbea will be on a Wild. I love e-bikes. I’m sure that its growth is going to be unstoppable over the next 3 years. They’re also going to evolve very quickly and in a very short time we’re going to see many 100% carbon models, with more powerful, compact motors and batteries that last longer and with a lighter overall weight. The Occam is going to be another candidate. The Trail model, with 120 mm of travel and a 29” wheel makes it the bike for practically everything. And when I hit the road, I want to feel the same as the cyclists on the Pro Tour teams who ride Orbea, climbing on an Orca. And before you ask, yes, with disc brakes.
X.N: How did you passion for the world of bicycles get started?
M.G: My father, besides being a fantastic guy whom I miss, was a great fan of two-wheeled sports. From the time we were very young, my brothers and I went out on day-long excursions to do sports and be in contact with nature. And of course, the summers were dedicated to the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España on the talk shows of TVE2.Half asleep during the flat legs and with goosebumps during the mountain stages. My obsession with two wheels was so bad that in 1988, when I was 23 years old, I borrowed my mother’s Seat Panda and went with a friend to the Champs Élysées in Paris to watch Perico Delgado arrive wearing the yellow jersey. Now you can figure out how old I really am…(he laughs).
X.N: How did you get started with mountain bikes?
M.G: Well, like a lot of the great companies, I got started with my brothers Pedro, Juan and Luis in a garage. The topic of two wheels was always a favorite at home, and in an environment that was super favorable towards bikes, we started to sell high-quality parts from brands that barely anyone knew about in Spain, but that were very famous in the United States. We were barely more than teenagers, but my brothers and I knew that the world of mountain bikes was going to be very popular in Spain and we wanted to feel part of it. Now that I think about it, it was a little crazy to start from the garage of our house, but with a lot of work and a lot of enthusiasm, time proved us right. A little while later, we were able to found Bike Comp, the distributor of Santa Cruz Bicycles in Spain, and we opened our first LTM Racing store. Back then, I was already working as a sales agent at Santa Cruz Bicycles, where I had an 18-year career, during most of which as the brand’s Worldwide Sales Director. And now I’m at Orbea with almost the same feeling of euphoria as when I got started with my family in that garage.
X.N: What are your passions?
M.G: All of them? (He laughs.) I’m a very passionate guy in general…I love to read, and since I spend a lot of time in airplanes, I always have a good book in my suitcase. There are 13-hour trips that I spend reading until I finish the book. I love to travel. In spite of it being a hard part of my job, getting to know other cultures, working in other markets and understanding other ways of life bring me closer to the customers, by knowing how they live. That makes me really miss my family, which is another of my passions. Both in the USA and in Madrid, my people are super important to me and when I get the chance, we get together for a nice barbecue or bike ride. What else…I love to eat and in that aspect, I’m sure that Orbea is going to treat me well on my trips to Mallabia, at least I hope so… (he laughs).
Art is another of my passions. I love creating paintings and sculptures. The sensation of creating something from nothing, from the most basic raw material has always excited me. Maybe that’s why I also like bikes; because in the end, we are transforming raw materials, like carbon and aluminum, into real machines that create happiness. And I think that’s spectacular.