Tom Ruiz to Retire; Jason Shelton Named Salty Crew North America GM
Legendary industry sales leader Tom Ruiz, who was instrumental in the growth of brands such as Volcom and Salty Crew, is retiring from his current role as Salty Crew global sales director in June.
Tom remains a partner in the brand, which he joined in 2015 when Salty Crew was quite small. Salty Crew has become an important player in the industry since then and is now 50% owned by Globe International Limited.
As a result of Tom stepping back from the business, Jason Shelton, who joined Salty Crew as VP of sales in January after a long career at Billabong and Quiksilver, has been named general manager of North America.
We talked to Tom about his career and what’s next for Salty Crew. We also reached out to Volcom co-founder and former CEO Richard Woolcott for his thoughts on Tom and his role in Volcom’s growth story.
Finding a Successor in Jason Shelton
Tom said he had wanted to dial back for about a year, but there were a few things he wanted to accomplish first, including launching a women’s line and finding a successor.
“After spending the past four months working with Jason, I knew he was the guy,” Tom said. “He’s got 30 years of experience, he’s worked for some of the best companies out there. He and I both were mentored and learned our craft from Tom Holbrook (former Quiksilver sales leader). Jason went and got his MBA, he’s very business minded, he has great relationships with retailers, which is key.”
“Now that he’s in place, I want to go spend time with my wife and kids, and do some other things. It’s been a 40-year grind, it’s been a long ride. As an owner of Salty Crew, I’m still a part of it and I’m here to help if they need me, but I’m ready to pursue some passion projects and not be in the office five days a week.”
At Salty Crew, Tom handled more than sales – he also was in charge of marketing, design and production, and co-founder Jared Lane oversaw content development, the athlete team, and other marketing initiatives.
With the newly formed role of GM of North America, all those functions will roll up under Jason, Tom said.
“We are all so stoked for Tom and this next chapter,” Jason told SES. “Tom has had such a legendary career and has played a giant role in building a couple amazing brands in our space. Salty Crew has been the incredible beneficiary of his leadership, passion, and 40 years of experience.
“I am also fired up to be taking the baton as general manager,” Jason said. “We have such a passionate and authentic crew with Jared Lane, CJ Hobgood, and the rest of our talented team. I can’t wait to share all of the exciting things we are working on!”
The Volcom Rocket Ship
We asked Tom for some of the highlights of his career, and he did not disappoint.
“My first job at Quiksilver with Bob McKnight and Tom Holbrook and guys like that, and the Volcom years with Wooly (co-founder Richard Woolcott) and Jason Steris. I’ve worked with a lot of awesome designers over the years from Jeff Yokoyama, Mel Matsui, and Neil Harrison – they are some of the best. Being involved in the creative side in addition to sales has always been exciting for me.”
“And then just all the retailers and relationships – it’s been pretty amazing. Some of my best friends today are still from the industry.”
When Tom joined Volcom, the brand was doing about $5 million a year. When he left, it was in the $300 million range and had gone public, and then was sold to French luxury company Kering.
We asked Tom what he learned during that crazy ride.
“Becoming a public company was quite an education,” Tom said. “Working with Wooly’s dad, Rene Woolcott, was awesome – he’s the smartest guy I know. Selling to Kering was another interesting part of the process.”
“When I worked at Quik, they were public, too – they went public when they were small. From all that, I learned public companies can be a handful for sure, especially if you are on the sales end. It’s a lot of stress – you’ve got to be prepared for that.”
“But you’ve always got to remember it’s all about surfing, that’s what brought you here. So try to enjoy being a part of that. It’s a challenge, there’s always the yin and the yang.”
“Over the years, I realized I really liked the surfing part more – let’s just leave it at that,” he said.
“The best, most fun parts of my career were the surf trips – going to Tavarua 17 times between Quiksilver and Volcom. Man, we had a lot of fun during the Volcom years. It was pretty amazing – party in front, business in the back. Tiffany, there are so many stories, we would need a lot more time than this to cover them all.”
Tom got to start again with a smaller brand poised for bigger things when he joined Salty Crew.
“It’s been an awesome ride with Salty Crew, being here almost from the start with Milo Myers (one of the founders),” Tom said. “I’ve got to thank him for inviting me to be a part of it. And now that Globe is involved, they’ve been great partners. It’s been really fun with Salty Crew, because I was able to guide the ship a lot more, and we’ve done really well. I think this is a brand that has a lot of runway ahead.”
Gary Valentine, chief operating officer and president of North America for Globe International, told SES that Tom was instrumental in Salty Crew’s recent success.
“The list is long as Tom’s achieved so much over the years, and we’re super grateful for everything he has brought to Salty Crew,” Gary said. “Having such an experienced exec in the ranks has been instrumental in building the brand and team over the last seven-plus years and he’ll be missed on the day-to-day management side for sure, but he’s obviously still deeply connected to the brand as a part owner.”
“It’s definitely been a pretty wild ride, particularly over the last few years navigating from the pre-pandemic period to where we are today, and the type of approach needed couldn’t have been more suited to Tom’s skill set,” he said. “We’ve always talked about this time coming, but it’s bittersweet for sure, we fully appreciate Tom’s decision to dial it all back after the 40-plus years dedicated to the industry.”
Richard Woolcott on Tom Ruiz
We reached out to Richard Woolcott, the co-founder and former CEO of Volcom, to share his thoughts about Tom.
“I have known Tom Ruiz since the early 1980s as we both grew up in Newport together,” Richard said. “He’s always been a close friend and one funny guy.”
“As Volcom was starting to take off, we hired Tom to come in and lead our sales program. We needed someone with his expertise and experience to help take Volcom to the next level. Tom fit in perfectly with the team and off we went!”
“We had so much fun working together. Whether it was building long-term strategies, budgets, sales forecasts, hosting sales meetings, weekly executive sessions, Cabo Surf Summits, or Tavarua trips, Tom was always in the mix, firing up the troops!”
“His strong relationships with the retailers definitely helped open doors for Volcom and grow the business. The accounts loved Tom and he did a great job working with them. Tom is a smart guy and he knows the game as good as anyone in the industry. I feel fortunate to have been able to work with him for so many years. We had an awesome run together and it’s something I will always cherish.”
“I’m stoked to hear Tom is retiring. He earned it big time. Now he can slow down a bit and enjoy more time outside of the work world with his family and friends.”
“Love you Tommy Gun. Thank you for being you.”
Tom’s Take on the State of the Industry
Tom has seen a lot during his 40-year career, so we asked him how the industry of today is different from when he started.
“When I started out, I don’t think there were any public companies,” he said. “There were still guys like Bob McKnight and Michael Tomson and Joel Cooper leading brands. It was the heyday of the industry for sure. The industry was run by surfers, and everyone wanted to work for a surf company. I don’t think that exists today as much. I have a son who is graduating from college and he’s like, ‘I want to work in the surf industry.’ And I said, ‘Are you sure?’”
“Things are so different now. Everyone is either public or owned by venture capitalists – so it’s just different.”
“On the other hand, I think it’s also an exciting time because there are some cool, little brands out there, and I think there’s actually opportunity for them right now. I think that with everything that is changing, I think there could be some shifts coming. So there’s opportunity for smaller brands and mid-sized brands like Salty Crew right now.”
“Even with some smaller brands, there is opportunity because retailers are looking for something new, and that hasn’t happened for a long time. In the past few years, brands like Salty Crew, Katin, Dark Seas, slipped under the fence, and I think even more of that will be happening now. It’s exciting.”
Lastly, we asked Tom if he had any advice for the next generation of sales leaders.
“It’s the same advice I was given: Never make a promise you can’t keep. Work hard. There’s no replacement for that, especially in sales. You need to always be selling.”
“You need to know a retailer’s business better than they do,” Tom said. “I don’t care if you are just starting out, you need to go through sell-through reports, understand inventory levels, understand turns, so you can walk in really knowing a retailer’s business. That gives a retailer confidence that you’re not just some guy trying to get an order out of them.”
Dave Nash, the owner of Sun Diego, a large industry account with seven stores, said he will miss Tom’s business acumen.
“Tom Ruiz is a unique individual with a sound business mind and an incredible, if not a little strange, sense of humor…he’s just not afraid!” Dave said. “He’s threatening to continue to help small/new brands and it will be great to keep his mind and ideas in our industry.”
“Tom touched several brands and a lot of people in a very positive way. I will personally and business-wise miss Tom a lot, but super happy for him to be able to retire at his ‘very young’ age!”