Editor’s note: Deckers CEO Angel Martinez wowed the crowd at the SES Executive Roundtable Friday. Angel was insightful, funny, inspiring and forthcoming – he had no problem saying what he felt. SES writer Shelby Stanger summarizes his key points below.
Shop-eat-surf Founder Tiffany Montgomery interviewed Deckers Outdoor CEO Angel Martinez Friday at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach during the Shop-eat-surf Executive Roundtable.
Deckers owns the UGG Australia, Teva, Sanuk, Ahzu, Mozo and Tsubo brands.
Angel shared insights from his more than three decades of footwear experience. He also gave details about how the company grew UGG and Deckers, and his opinions on selling and hiring, competing with Nike, why Deckers brands will never sell to Costco and areas where he thinks action sports brands can improve.
Angel drew a big laugh from the crowd when he shared one set-in-stone hiring law at Deckers – the “no shithead” rule.
“Like termites, sometimes there’s an infestation and you have to eradicate them,” he said.
He also shared some of his personal history, including his immigration from Cuba as a young boy and separation from his family who he did not see for 34 years because of the Cuban revolution.
Here are some of the key highlights from Angel’s talk.
A runner in high school and at UC Davis, Angel wanted to make a living following his passion. He got into footwear sales back in the days when the sporting goods industry was full of good old boys selling camping and fishing equipment at stores with stuffed polar bears in the window.
He was one of the first three employees at Reebok and got his start as a road rep. He said he always views product and marketing from the view of a guy carrying a bag.
Angel started at Reebok in 1980. By 1982, the company had grown to about $13 million in revenue.
A turning point for Angel – and for Reebok – came from the idea for an aerobics inspired shoe, Reebok’s top selling “Freestyle,” which he said was partly inspired by his wife, Frankie. Angel credits his wife with a lot of his decisions.
In the early 1980s, he went to an aerobics class with Frankie.
“I was the only guy at the class and people were mostly barefoot. People were complaining about their feet hurting or that their shoes looked ugly with a leotard and leg warmers.
“It occurred to me we needed to make aerobics shoes. If we made it cute with the cushioning of a running shoe, the stability of a court shoe and the look of a Capezio. … that it could work.”
The Freestyle Reebok shoe was designed on a napkin, he said.
Reebok marketed the shoes by getting instructors to wear them after he noticed that women in the class copied the outfits and style of the teachers. Then, he helped Reebok set up a branded Aerobics Certification (AFA) course, the first of its kind. They ended up with 300,000 certified instructors.
The company grew to $65 million when Reebok introduced the shoe, and its rapid growth continued for years.
Angel spent 21 years at Reebok. He said most of the original Reebok alumni are all running companies today.
“We didn’t know what we weren’t supposed to know or do, and broke rules because there were none. We shook it up and it was a lot of fun.”
See Page 2 for Angel's thoughts on competing with Nike