words by Nick DePaula
interview by Zac Dubasik & Steve Mullholand
(Originally published in Sole Collector's Industry Issue : Issue 26)
Name: Todd Krinsky
Current Title: Vice President of Sports Entertainment Marketing
We really aren't trying to get overly inspirational or show you that you can make it to the top of any major footwear company by starting at the bottom, but Todd Krinksy, VP of Sports Entertainment Marketing at Reebok, just so happens to have made his name in the industry after humble beginnings. A desire to work with footwear at a young age and soak up anything there was to learn about the industry has allowed him to enjoy a career where he would travel the world many times over, work hand-in-hand with Allen Iverson and also build the RBK empire up from scratch through partnerships dealing with the likes of Jay Z, Pharrell and 50 Cent.
Twenty years after getting his start, Krinsky has lived through it all, like the time in his twenties when he moved to Asia on a whim to work closer to product, or the Sunday evening in Oakland when AI didn't feel like wearing the All-Star Weekend shoes that he had so heavily invested his marketing efforts into. Read along for the full and un-cut interview from our Industry Issue and a look at how one of the most powerful men in footwear earned his way to the top, and it'll serve you best to soak up all the knowledge from Krinsky that you can!
Steve Mullholand: Can you tell us about what your job entails?
Todd Krinsky: My first 14 years at Reebok were in product. My last two years have been in sports entertainment marketing. So, what I do now is I'm responsible for all the athletes that we sign globally to wear our product and endorse the brand and then kind of negotiating those deals, fostering the relationships with the agents and athletes. On the entertainment side, any artists, actors, rappers, or musicians that we get involved with, I'll negotiate those deals and then be involved in product placement in different films or other art projects, things like that. So, anything that really involves sports or entertainment assets is in our area and we're involved in the marketing, the relationships, the servicing of those assets. That's my job over the last two years. My first 14 years of life here was in the product side.
Could you talk a little about that and how you first came to the company?
Yeah. I started selling shoes when I was 16. I worked at a couple different footwear chains and I worked there for probably three to four years, even through college I was selling shoes. So I've been collecting shoes since I was young and I've been selling shoes since I was 16. I always knew I wanted to get into the sports and entertainment field. I didn't really know what. When I graduated from college in New York, I came back to Boston and it was a really bad ... it was 1992 ... and it was a really bad time for young people to get jobs. It was really one of those periods, probably like now, where no one's hiring. And so I had majored in film and television and I was going to move out to L.A. At the time, I wanted to write screenplays like a lot of people in the world wanted to and some things happened in Boston at home that made me stay here for a little while, and I needed a gig. So I ended up coming up here and interviewing and they had nothing open except administration jobs. So, I took like a typing test and I typed like eight words a minute and ...
That's not good right?
That's not good, no. [laughs] I didn't even know that wasn't good until she told me. So she was like, 'Look you really can't be in Admin.' So basically, I gave like that Jerry McGuire speech, you know, you're in the building one time. It's this big beautiful corporate building. I've been selling shoes since I was 16 and I got one last swan song before I'm out the door. So I just gave this woman this big speech about how I was born to make shoes and I was born to be in this industry. I love sports, I love music, I love ... I've been selling shoes, blah, blah ... and I gave her this speech and then that was it. I drove away and I remember looking in the rear view mirror being like, 'I ain't never going to see this place again.' Then I got a call about this temp pool that they have where you come in on a daily basis.
They would call that morning and you'd come in and work on whatever the project was that you could do. They called me like on January 20th in '93 and they were like, 'You know, you want to come in? We've got some odd jobs.' I was like, 'Yes!' So I came into Reebok wearing a three-piece suit and they had me packing Super Bowl jerseys all day. [laughter] I'm doing this shit in like a three-piece suit. It was crazy. All the other warehouse guys are walking by like, 'Yo, that's the kid who's wearing a suit.' I realized pretty soon that Reebok was a pretty chill place and you could wear whatever. So I got a couple other odd jobs like that. I would come in ... they would call me in the morning and I was bartending at night so I could do anything during the day. So they would call me in the morning and be like, 'Yo, pack these boxes,' or do this or do that. It was cool, I was coming into the building. So then I kind of ended up seeing that there was an opening to work in the mailroom and when you go to four years of school, your family is not really supportive of you working in the mailroom. [laughs] But I was like, 'Yo, this is what I want to do, this is the career I want to be in, and this is the place I want to be.' So, I took this job delivering mail and sending faxes.
The crazy thing about it was that I'm not that old but back in the day then they didn't have e-mails to send files via e-mail. You had to fax to Asia blueprints and designs. So, here I am loving shoes, been selling shoes for the longest time and every night I would get this stack, three inches thick stack, of all these blueprints of shoes that I had to go and send overseas. Just sit there at a fax machine and just sending them over, sending them over. Every day. As well as delivering the mail. In the daytime I was delivering the mail and meeting all the people. I would take mail instead of putting it in their mailbox, I was bringing it right to their desks.
People all thought there was this new service, you're getting mail to your desk. And that's how I was meeting everybody. The other thing is I used to run ball at lunch with the guys. I was young and was able to meet all the guys playing ball at lunch. So I got to network that way and then at night I was staying there and I was faxing all these blue prints, and back then all the dudes that worked here that did shoe design and shoe development were like shoe heads, like been in the business for years. So at night I would just be looking at the faxes, I had nothing else to do. Looking at the blueprints, asking questions. So after a while, they started to be like, 'Who is this kid?' because I was interested. Old shoe dogs love to talk. They'll tell you about all the different last shoe making methods and the history of the 80s and 70s. I was eating it up. To make a real long story short, I worked in the mailroom for a year and half, just hustling every day, meeting people, trying to figure it out. One of the guys I met was head of Marketing and he said, ... "Is that good?"
He said, "Look, if you want to be successful in the industry, product is king." That's the one thing he told me, and that's the one thing I've always remembered and I tell everyone. I think you can do anything in this industry but if you learn product, if you learn the design and the development, the manufacturing, the marketing of a product and you really respect it, I think you can do a lot of different things. I ended up getting a job as an associate product development manager when I was 25 and basically I was responsible at that point for working on various shoes and liaisoning with the factories and working on the construction of the shoe and things like that. I really didn't know a lot about it, but I just jumped into it and it was a better gig than the mailroom. After a year and a half delivering mail, they gave me the chance to do that and I just started working for some really, really good people and I just learned so much from a lot of these guys. They're still in the business in different companies, but they just taught me so much. So I did that for three or four years and I was working on tennis product, basketball product and some lifestyle product.
Then, in like '98, they asked me if I wanted to move overseas and I was like, 'Yeah, definitely.' Single, no kids and it was a chance to go to Korea, which is where one of the first athletic shoe making countries was. Koreans have an incredible expertise in just making prototypes and the prototypes are beautiful. The crispness of the samples and just the overall quality of Korean samples has always been great. So, they offered me a chance to go over there and help hire and build a place called KDC, which is our Korean Development Center. So I was like, 'Yeah.' I left Boston, left that job and moved to Korea and actually got to live in a small factory for like over two years, like two and a half years. So that was an incredible experience. Every day working with the Koreans, every day just working with designers, and just learning every single aspect of product. That was cool and I always had a passion for basketball and I always had a passion for the product marketing side, and so in about the year 2000 I was offered a gig to come back.
I was offered a chance to head up Basketball Marketing and I knew nothing about Basketball Marketing, but I was like, "You know what, I've done my time here." I think I've learned a lot on the manufacturing side. If you know how the shoes get made, and you know how the shoes get costed, and you know how the shoes get delivered ... you understand all those nuances, it's easier to do the marketing side. So, I was like, "I'm going to do it, I'm going to try it," and I jumped into it and I started working with A.I. and started working with a lot of other athletes we had and started delivering and working with designers on signature shoes and I kind of learned that side ... I learned how to work with the Foot Lockers, I learned how to really get immersed in the culture of the consumer. I spent a lot of time like just ... I would be on the road all the time. I would be in Chicago, I'd be in New York in every borough, I would be in L.A. and you start to learn the fashion trends in different parts of the country. You learn the difference between sneakerheads and urban kids and suburban kids. I had a good pulse on how to make different products for different consumer bases. It was cool, it was a great experience; just building lines and product in the basketball category.
One thing that was really lucky for me was I did get to work with a lot of great designers and a lot of great developers and I think that I was always able to center myself around people that knew more than me that I could learn from. That's one of the things I did all the time. People didn't even know I was pulling information from them when I was but I always try to ask designers a lot of questions. There is one guy at Nike now who I learned a tremendous amount from. I would just pick those guys' brains because they just knew so much about how to make the perfect shoe, or how to attempt to make the perfect product. So, I did that for a couple years and our basketball business grew and we delivered some new things in the marketplace like Above The Rim and the A.I. franchise and some other lifestyle stuff in basketball and then they expanded my role to be involved in Cleated and Training, so I dealt with kind of all of Young Men's Business. I did that for a little while and the business was good but we weren't really ... we were kind of in quicksand a little bit.
Nike and Adidas were just getting more traction in those areas and that's in 2001 when Paul Fireman came back in as our CEO. When Paul came back in, he said, "We need to decide what we want to be." We decided we wanted to be relevant with young men. If you want to be relevant with young men, you can't just do what the other brands are doing. That's when we created the RBK business. I think my greatest experience in part of my 16 years here was building the RBK business. We went from nothing to signing Jay and signing Fifty and signing Pharrell, creating Ice Cream, creating G Unit, S. Carter and bringing Iverson into the fold and Above the Rim. Before you knew it, we went from being a brand that a lot of kids and retailers didn't care about to being very relevant in that space. We did something no one else did before by creating the S. Carter. That shoe right there that kicked it all off was like, if TMac and AI can sell shoes, why can't that guy? He's as relevant culturally and fashion-wise and so that started the RBK business, which became a huge, incredible business for us. I was involved in building all the product with those guys and delivering the product lines and so that went on until about 2005 or 2006. Then we were purchased by adidas, and the music business was kind of taking its course.
To be honest with you, man, after being in product for 14 years at different capacities, it was great. I went from U.S. development, to manufacturing in Asia, to product marketing. I did all the different disciplines outside of designing the shoes. Although some designers would tell you I tried to design the shoes, too, [laughter] but after doing all that, I got kind of burnt. For me, building product is a passion and it's an honor to be able to do that and it's an honor to be able to make shoes and then see kids down in Florida wearing your shoes or go to Fulton Ave and people wear your shoes. That's a tremendous honor and if you really, really can't put your heart and soul into it, it gets hard. For me I felt like I was coming in every day and looking at designs and not really adding the value I used to add. I felt like I needed a break. Like anything, it's very intense and so I met with some people here. Since I had worked on the RBK business, I had a lot of relationships with the artists and the athletes, moving over to this role in sports marketing wasn't that big of a jump for me. I had to learn different things in the contracts and the deals and all that but it wasn't a huge jump. I did that and I left product after 14 years and I definitely miss it and I'm still involved in certain things but I made that move and came over to do Sports Marketing.
In Sports Marketing, we're doing things a little different. Instead of just signing athletes and servicing them with product, we got involved in kind of how you can market athletes differently. So we created a T.V. show called Framed on IFC and I executive produced it. Basically it was showing the world a different side of the athletes. We're trying to do unique, creative things like that on the Sports Marketing side versus the traditional path of just signing them. I still get to be a little creative. It's just not with shoes now, it's with the athletes and stuff like that. So, that's kind of the journey.
It's been a crazy 16-year journey, but for me it all started with the passion for wanting to be in this business and then taking any opportunity that came to me. So when the opportunity came to work in the mailroom, "Yeah, I'll deliver mail." When the opportunity came to go to Asia, I didn't know what the hell it meant. I had never been outside the U.S., but I was like, "Yeah, I'll do it." I think it was kind of like just being open to everything and not being set on, "I want to do this." Just kind of letting the opportunities come and then seizing them and that was kind of my journey I guess.
That's a hell of a journey.
Amazing. I can already see a lot kids are going, 'Where do I sign up for the mailroom?'
I think it's cool you guys are doing this because one of the things I've always said is people don't know that there's this whole area called Development and Product Marketing. Those two areas, you don't really learn about them too deep in school, so it's like a lot of young kids think if I can't put pen to paper and draw that I'm not really going to be able to get into the product side of the business. But there's two huge disciplines that you don't need a specific degree for. You can get into development and you don't need to be an engineer. You just need to be someone that has good communications skills, good organizational skills, is easy to work with ... and can be a liaison with the factories and designer and you can learn a lot of the construction in shoes by being in a factory.
At good companies like Reebok, we help train people to learn about shoes, how shoes get made and all that. So that's one area that a lot of kids just don't know about. It's just not a common, common thing. The second area is Product Marketing, which is where you're actually line building, where you're actually deciding what the line's going to look like. You're accountable for the margins of the shoes and the overall look of the line and what KG's going to wear versus TMac or Iverson or whoever. Then, you're in charge of presenting that line to all the regions across the world as well as retailers and buyers. That's another area, Product Management, which a lot of people don't know about. I think people just know generic things like Marketing and they know P.R. but there's so many avenues to get into product that I don't think a lot of younger people know about. Those are two disciplines ... there's really three disciplines when it comes to product creation. There's Product Development, Product Marketing, and then Design. A lot of people don't know about anything outside of Design. People fall into those gigs all the time and not a lot of people know about them.
What do you think makes you special to be able to do this? I mean, you have the education and personality, but I think, to me, it's your personality. You're educated, but you seize every opportunity, you're a hard worker and the whole deal.
Yeah. I think those things are important. I also think you need to just be passionate about what you do. I just can't understand it any other way. You guys live and breathe it and I know you guys love what you do, and I don't know people who are really successful that don't love what they do. Being in the music business for those four years, I met a whole different spectrum of people and it's the same with all those guys. Any of those guys who are really successful that we all know their names, they're all just passionate about what they do. They come in every day to win and they come in every day because they love to see what's next. I think it's really hard to be tremendously successful at something over a long period of time if you don't thoroughly enjoy it ... the people you work with, what you are achieving, and what you're trying to accomplish.
For me, I think there are other things, but above all it's just passion - passion to want to do it is I think what it's all about. I think that's the number one prerequisite in this business. Because this business is me, it's not about textbook stuff. I know a lot of smart people who didn't make it in this business because I think a lot of it is about gut. A lot of it is about, "OK, I've got a passion and I want to do it." A lot of decisions you make whether to go with red or blue on the tip of a shoe, you know what I'm saying, or whether to go with suede or patent leather or whether it should have this technology or that ... you don't read up on that. There's no textbook that tells you which way to go. You need to have a gut feel of what that kid wants and it's not an exact science. I think that if you really have a passion for being involved in making shoes, over time you'll learn how to make the better decisions and your gut will take you to where you want to be.
I think the other thing is just being around good people. I get a lot of credit for things that happen. I get credit for RBK business and for some of the things with A.I. and Jay Z, but I can rattle off ten people that were involved in that with me that were really, really key parts of that business. So, for me, there's been designers that I've learned from that don't get enough credit sometimes. Luckily places like you guys highlight designers, which is cool and there's marketers I've worked with. It's just also just being around good people you can learn from and that they trust you and you trust them. At the end of the day, when you've got to make those calls to get the product right, everyone's going to have an opinion. The Foot Locker people are going to tell you it should be this. You're going to go to Chicago and those kids are going to tell you one thing and the kids in Texas are going to tell you another, and the kids in New York are going to tell you another. That's just the way it is. But you only are going to make one shoe and it's either going to be patent leather or suede and so it comes down to three people in a room and everyone looking you in the eye and saying, "What are we going to go with?" I think you have to have people you trust and a good team. I've always tried to work with great designers, great developers and marketers that make a collective decision. You don't always win, you don't always make the right call, but you learn from what you did wrong and adjust it the next year. It's about passion I think more than anything else.
Putting in that 1000%.
Above: Former CEO Paul Fireman & Allen Iverson celebrating AI's 10 Year Anniversary with the brand.
Could you tell us a story about making the S. Carter or any other high profile shoes? There's been product that you've worked on that was successful but maybe had trying times with.
Yeah, there's so many stories when you make high profile product and the shoes become statement shoes. The first A.I. shoe, the Question, it was '95 and there was a small group of us that wanted to sign A.I. There was a lot of question marks about him when he first came out. I mean 6-1, east coast guard, can he play in the league? If you go back and look at the archives of what was written about him, most people didn't think he was going to be a stud in the league. We felt like he had the on-the-court ability to play and he had this certain swagger off the court. One thing about Reebok is that there was always this entrepreneur type of spirit. With Paul Fireman starting the company out of his trunk, any idea was a good idea. A couple of us younger people, I wasn't even in marketing at the time, but a couple of us ... You could be an Associate Product Development Manager in Tennis like I was and say, "Yo, we've got to sign A.I.!" I'm not saying everyone's going to listen, but you can call a meeting and you can start to campaign.
That's what we did, we started to campaign for A.I. We started to do our own shoe for him. So we went to this designer's house off-site and we started to create this kind of shrine of A.I. We had everything we knew about him and we created the first Question which was ... this is the original, original, original. It's never been seen, it's never been out because the bottom's different, the logo is different on the side and those reflectives didn't exist. On the back, this question mark was because we didn't have a logo for him yet and the whole thing about him was ... his nickname was the Answer but the thing was everyone was questioning his ability. So that was a play off 'Can he play?' on the back. So this was the original, original, original.
That looks sick.
Yeah, it's crazy. So, then we started talking about, you know, what the qualities the shoe should have and wanted it to be ... we wanted it to be very distinctive in its look and we wanted it to have a pop to it and that's where the color toe came from. To be honest, the factory made the wrong ... I don't know if you guys remember ... the original, original Question had a pearlized toe and that was actually a mistake by the factory. But we ended up rolling with it because it looked cool and it was different. The whole first year, A.I. was just a journey. So we showed him this first shoe, he was like, 'Yo, I really like this,' and he had a couple things he wanted to change. The first 3,000 pairs we made had a suede red toe and we or I had never experienced it before. We put the shoe out. Kids were driving from Virginia, they were driving from D.C. to get to Philly to buy this shoe. It was the original suede one. We had never really had that much demand for a shoe at Reebok. So the whole experience with A.I., the mistake with the material, doing the shoe six months before we signed him and showing him a shoe, and then three people just politicking for him and then signing him. The whole experience from that, and I look at pictures now of us showing him the Answer 3, it's like, you know ... that was back in '98. But it's like to look at that now and be like, 'Wow,' it's been a crazy, crazy journey with him but the first year, the first shoe was really interesting.
That was one, and I think Jay Z was interesting just because I'm used to working with athletes and athletes don't really know what they want until they see it. They also can't really read designs that well and so when I first met with Jay in New York, when I first, first met him we showed him a lot of designs. He was like, 'I think I want to do something '80s inspired.' He really had a vision of what he wanted. They say Jay doesn't write any lyrics down, he just goes in the studio and does it and that's the way he approached design too. He didn't write anything down but he came with an exact vision of what he wanted. That was actually the first prototype of the first Jay Shoe which was a Gucci-inspired type lifestyle shoe and since he was kind of an '80s baby, we were ... all the group of us was from the '80s, we all kind of knew ... remember the whole Gucci era? It was easy for us to get into that space. I remember ... I was so impressed with Jay the first couple times just because he was a dude that really, really knew what was going to work and he knew kind of what he wanted which was refreshing and different. So Jay was a pretty interesting, interesting partnership. Pharrell was interesting because he's so crazy. He's got so many ideas. He would hit me like all different random times of the day and night and he would say, 'Yo, I want to change it to blue, I want to change it to red, I want to change it to yellow. I'm in the studio and I'm thinking yellow.' So Pharrell was always crazy, crazy, crazy.
What's one of the craziest things you've been through in working with an athlete or celebrity?
I think the craziest story, there's a lot of Iverson stories, [laughs] but probably the funniest one was in '99 or whatever year the All-Star Game was in Golden State. We had this idea that for the All-Star Game every year he was going to wear the Question. The Rookie of the Year shoe for every year he made the All-Star Game. That was the statement, "I made it." The shoe itself was going to honor the city that was hosting the game. So it was Golden State, so it was yellow and blue. So A.I. definitely has a lot of conviction of what he'll wear but he also gets influenced by people sometimes. So the shoe was all yellow and it had a navy tip, like the Golden State original colors. So, I brought it to him in Philly as, "Yo, you cool with these?" He's like, "Yeah, yeah, hell yeah, I'll wear that." So I'm like cool, so we made the shoe. We made like 15,000 pairs. Everyone in the world booked it and then I get down outside the locker room and somebody says, "Yo, he's not wearing the shoe." I'm sitting with retailers that bought the shoe. You got media, we just did a media thing on the shoe and he's not wearing the shoe.
I come down, I go in the locker room and I can't find him anywhere. He's nowhere to be found; I can't find him. I turn around and he's on the court already shooting around. He's wearing his other, regular shoes. He's not wearing the yellow shoes. So, now I'm fucked. I got retailers that bought it. I've got sales guys that are going to kill me. I run over and I'm like, "Yo, what's going on?" He's like, "Man, I can't wear that shoe, man, I can't wear that shoe." I'm like, "What's the problem?" I guess there were people in the locker room saying, "You're going to wear that yellow shoe?" Nowadays everybody does it, the wilder the shoe the better. One cats wearing gold, some dudes wear one shoe yellow and the left is red. Now it's common, but back then people weren't as crazy. I was sitting next to his mom and I'm like, "Ann, can you talk to him?" I was so desperate. [laughter] I never do stuff like that, but I was so desperate. So she's like, "I'll try to talk to him at halftime." So she tries to talk to him at halftime and he's like, "I'm not wearing that shoe, I ain't wearing the shoe." So I literally ... I don't remember one play from that game ... I don't remember even being in Oakland. The whole thing was a blur except the 95 voice mails the next morning about, "What are we going to do with this inventory? Your boy didn't wear the shoe." I remember just running up and down the stairs. It was crazy but he definitely is his own man and has made a lot of his own decisions that have affected him sometimes. He'll apologize later, but I'll never forget Oakland and that year, it was crazy. He's got a lot of stories. He's very much unique compared to all the other people I've worked with.
(image courtesy Fruition LV)
I mean, if you would have started with him today. Like, 'Hi, my name's Todd Krinsky,' he'd be a totally different relationship.
Yeah, totally. He respected the couple of us ... the designer and me, just who we were, where we came from as well. We started together. We've been together like 12 years so I think he respected the fact that I was young, I was learning, I loved shoes, I wasn't coming into it as an executive to tell him what to wear and how to wear it. We definitely had legendary fights, legendary that people know, but we also ... at the end of the day, we get along really well. He's definitely a challenge, but it's worth it in the end. There's only so many guys who sell shoes, so many guys who are relevant. He's true to being his own individual.
How much does it affect you or your job when somebody like that gets traded and goes into a new market?
Yeah, it's huge, and that just happened. It affects us in a couple ways. If they go to a not so great market it affects us business wise. So when he went from Philly to Denver, it wasn't great for us. Not that Denver isn't a good organization, but Denver's not a great market. And from east coast to west coast is never a great move, so that was the first problem. The second thing is that a lot of people don't realize you have a lot of inventory in the marketplace. Since the NBA license is with adidas, we've got a lot of jerseys out there that are not going to be fresh and new to kids. You've got a lot of product, colorways ... we have all these Carolina colorways out there coming out and a lot of No. 3's on the shoes. So it causes a huge amount of problems, especially if the guy is a signature guy and has his own product, like he does. Then there are some positives. You see him in Detroit, it's a new life for him, he's playing with a better team, and the chance to make the Playoffs and go to the All-Star Game is easier now. There are also positives to it. It's definitely a huge business problem usually, unless it happens in the off-season when you have time to react.
If you look back, what would be the perfect degree for you to get during your education?
Majoring in business is always solid because you can do a lot of different things with that here. I don't think having an MBA is a prerequisite. I think my MBA was living in Asia. You can get your MBA in different ways, although I'm not against it, I just don't think it's needed to be successful in this business.
Experience is more helpful.
Yeah, I think experience is more helpful. My first three years of just sitting ... I worked for this old school dude who's still around and he's known in the industry. I don't think I was able to talk for the first six months. [laughter] He mentioned the wrong Pantone color in a meeting and I corrected him and he pulled me outside and said, 'Look, shut the fuck up.' This is back when shoe dogs were shoe dogs. But I learned so much from him and I still do to this day, he's one of those people that everybody should have a list of people that they learned from that someday if they ever see them again they can thank them. I'm big on that. I have a list of about five people that I really learned from who really helped me along the way. He's one of them. It's because he managed with an iron fist and he had his old school way of doing things, but I really learned a lot from him. So, I think on-the-job training in this industry is really important. I think that the experience I had in development and living in Asia to me was invaluable. I think it is more important than me getting an MBA personally, but I'm not against that.
Do you think that background in film ended up being helpful to you?
Yeah, I think it just helped me because I think I have a lot of weaknesses, but I think one of my strengths is to just be kind of a creative thinker. For me, in school, I did a lot of short films and documentaries and stuff. Even when we started making shoes, we always had concepts. One of the most, I think, important things in our industry is to tell the consumer a story, not just bring a shoe out. So whether it's the Iverson or the Above The Rim, there's a story, but what about Above the Rim, how it came, what it's about. There's a story about the Answer 2, the Answer 3, what inspired that shoe. I think storytelling is really important, so for me back then, I think it helped me. Today, it definitely helps me because we're doing more entertainment stuff so I can get to do what I actually did go to school for.
What skills do you think you have that allow you to talk to somebody like Jay or like Iverson, because Jay is no small guy.
I think because I was involved in all the hype with A.I. when he came out for the first two years, there was a lot of hype and a lot of craziness and because I was immersed in all that, after getting through that I kind of got immune to meeting people. I think the one thing people would say about me, I think, is that people respect me because I always keep it moving. I become friendly with a lot of those guys over the years, like Jay or Pharrell, we have good relationships, or A.I. but it's always about business first. Here's why I'm here, here's what we need to get done today. Then I'll be out of your way. I think they've respected the way that myself and our team has carried ourselves. We don't really get caught up in being where we shouldn't be or cramping people's style or anything like that. Then over time you develop a respect and possibly a relationship. I think when I met with Jay, although I grew up on Jay, I wasn't really like overly crazy excited or enamored because if Jay Z and Reebok didn't work out, it was going to be on me. If I wasn't going into that meeting focused to get done what I had to get done, it would be a problem. There's accountability. So I think the combination of being around A.I. at the beginning and getting exposed to the hype and then the accountability to deliver on Jay Z or Pharrell or Nelly always made that the focal point for me. Then over time, I became friendly with some of the guys, some not, depending on the relationship, but it was always about business first and keeping it moving. I think they always respected that about us, about me. I think that is what the secret to that is.
The other thing that I think is very hard that we all deal with in this industry is the artists or players desire or vision of what they think it should be versus what will sell. I think over time you learn how to balance those things. A.I. may want the whole shoe to be blue, "Why don't you make it funkier?" There's funky which is cool, but when we're making 100,000 pairs to sell in the United States, we need kids to buy them. Not every kid is going to roll around wearing a royal blue shoe. If they can only get one shoe in the fall, they're going to rock it to school four days a week it needs to be a colorway that they can wear with multiple outfits. You have to balance those things.
With Pharrell and with Fifty, you have to figure out a way. How do you say no to Fifty? How do you say no to Jay, 'We ain't doing that. You don't understand.' You can't really say that because he does but you have to balance the commercial side of the business with what the athlete wants and that's a skill you just kind of learn over time. There are a lot of good people who do it in the industry, because I think a lot of athletes feel today like they are involved in the process. There's a good balance between what the brands put out and what the athlete wants. It's another one of those things that's kind of an exact science 'cause now you have designers, you've got developers, product marketers, and you throw an athlete in the mix and what he wants or she wants and it ends up being a lot of opinions. That's one of those exact sciences you get to over time.
I can remember times in my head and where I was when I first said to Jay, "No," and I first explained why and he said, "Why?" and I said to him why and he said, "OK." And the light goes off and there's some respect there. On things that he really has conviction on we come from different places. I don't come from where he is from, so I don't understand everything, so if he really has a conviction on something, ok, let's ride with it. But I do remember the first couple times where I was with A.I. and with Jay where they shook, nodded their head and all right, let's ride with that. Some of those moments are moments that you really cherish because you gained the respect of somebody that's been doing it for a long time and is at a high level. You get to a point where you feel you can have an honest conversation. You feel you can push back when you need to. That is important because although these guys are incredible people, they're not shoe makers, they're not designers by trade.
Are there certain guys that are more into their product and what they'll be wearing?
A.I it is very important to. He's one of those guys that definitely is very, very into what he wears, what colorways for what games and what the design looks like. So, yeah, he is. We've had other guys along the way, but he's our staple guy. There are guys like a Vince Young, who obviously isn't playing well now, but Vince when he first came out was very clear on what he wanted, what he wanted to wear on the field. But a lot of guys, they are more involved with the first shoe, the second shoe, and by the fifth shoe they're so into all their other shit in their life like the music label they're trying to start or the parties or whatever that they don't keep it going. A.I. has kept it going, and he stays immersed in it. With his line we've had some great shoes and some not so good shoes and it's hard.
How hard is it to make everyone in the process happy?
Athletes gotta be happy, retailer has to be happy, and sometimes they want to make changes to the shoe, but ultimately it's tough because the designer needs to be happy. There are some shoes that are commodity shoes, where you close your eyes and you make walking shoes, but then the rest of the shoes are art. It's artwork. When you get into a designer's space too much to say, "Change that, we don't want the strap," the designer's like, "What do you mean, where does that come from, you don't want a strap? I designed the shoe with a strap. Why should it not have a strap?" And so you have to realize when to let designers go and say, "OK, you know what, Mr. Retailer or Mr. Iverson, I know you don't believe in the strap, but we're going to go with it and you support our designer." At the end of the day, it's their shoes so you try to let them rise as best they can but it's also a business and you've got to sell through. That's that science where if you can get to that you stick with that team.
Can you talk about the workload and the work hours that you have to put in in this industry?
I think that one of the things I tell kids when they come in here today is it's definitely, definitely a marathon. If you like this industry and you want to be in this industry, it doesn't matter what you're doing when you're 23, it doesn't matter what you're doing when you're 25, it really, really doesn't ... as long as you're in the game and as long as you're learning and as long as you're in something that is a touch point to what you want to do. I always knew I wanted to get into Marketing but I was over there cutting up shoes when I was 25. It's not really about where you are when you're young. It's not about how much money you're making. Kids are so set on how much they're making when they're younger. I think they are so fixated on what their job title is it's crazy. When you're 35, 36, 37, it really doesn't matter what you were doing back then. In this industry, it is a methodical grind to get to where you want to be and when you're young it doesn't really matter.
This industry is not 9 to 5. If I get out of here at 6:30 or 7 o'clock I'm lucky. I'm on the phone at least two hours at night whether it be with an athlete or agent or something going wrong. Or even an athlete's mom in a lot of cases at 2 in the morning which ... I won't say who it is. [laughs] Even on weekends...I understand, I'm not a doctor, I don't have that important of a job where I'm saving people's lives but the phone's always on and it's not a 9 to 5 and the travel's crazy and we're a global brand so we're all over the world and there's perks to that, especially when I was younger and got to see the world. Now it's not as fun when you have kids and all that, but the reality is in order to be successful it's a grind. It's definitely not a 9-to-5 job. You don't leave here at 5 and if you leave here at 5, you don't leave the job here. You're always on the phone, you're always making sure things are right.
The other thing is when you're in Product, the factories are waking up when you're going to bed, so you have to sometimes stay up until 11 to get on a conference call to meet with a factory on a shoe or whatever the case may be. It's a grind, but again it goes back to if you're passionate about what you do the hard work is cool 'cause you're seeing results and you're enjoying what you're doing. It becomes a real grind when you don't like what you're doing and you're working crazy hours. Everything in life's a balance. I wish, do I wish I couldn't go home earlier sometimes, hang out with my kids, yeah, I do. Do I wish I wasn't going on every trip, yeah. You just try to balance everything. I think to be successful there's only one way to go in this business. You have to go hard and you have to get passionate about it. Everyone has their own balance in life and you have to find that balance. If you want to be successful, you've got to put in the work.
This company's always been good about that. Paul sold the company and he's gone, but I think the spirit of being an entrepreneur is still here. The adidas management that came in is still all about unique ideas and being creative and having entrepreneurial spirit. We're always allowed to throw things out that may not be our core area of business. It's definitely been a crazy journey. But it all comes down to being around good people, learning from them, hard work, passion, and just being open to anything. People come in here, sit here and they say, "I want to work in your area," and I say, "What does that mean," because everyone wants to work in Sports Marketing. When I was 24, shooting hoops at lunch, I said the same thing. But then they told me product is king and I learned it. Everyone wants to do sports marketing, so my point is, not to disrespect younger people, but just go into it open, just go into it open. Ask what you really would be doing every day in a certain job. I think a lot of people come in here with this preconceived notion of what they really, really want to do and you can always get there but you don't need to start there.
You might find something better along the way.
You might enjoy something much better. I know people that started in product and are still there. I never thought they would be. Some of my friends that were there when I started are still there, and still love it.