SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Ken Block



Many of America’s top entrepreneurs didn’t go the Harvard Business School route — or even the graduate-from-school route. Passion and innate talent carry them quite far, and a sense of timing doesn’t hurt, either.

Ken Block
• Age: 37
• Title: President and co-founder
• Company: DC Shoes
• Education: Two years at junior college learning silk-screening and graphic design
• Family: Wife, Lucy
• Career: Worked at ski and snowboard shops and as a graphic designer and silk-screener before founding action apparel company Eightball, which became Droors and Dub, and then DC Shoes; DC Shoes was sold to Quiksilver last year for $87 million in cash and stock.
• Last vacation: St. Bart's this winter
• Last book read: "Angels & Demons" by Dan Brown
• Last movie seen: "Team America: World Police"
• Fantasy job: To become a World Rally Championship driver
• Executive most admired: Steven Jobs at Apple Computer, because they've been an underdog for so long but thrive on innovative products and marketing
• Business advice: I live by honesty, integrity, hard work and focus. If you run a straight-up business, you don't have to worry about a lot of the BS.
Ken Block and his partner, Damon Way, sold DC Shoes for $87 million last year to sports apparel giant Quiksilver. They sold at a time of consolidation in the action-sports world, which had seen more than a decade of startups and plenty of flame-outs. And they sold when it was clear the company could benefit the most from a larger parent and its materials-sourcing and media-buying power.

The sale’s timing was characteristic of the company. It was formed in 1993, just as the sport of skateboarding was beginning a rebirth.

But DC Shoes and its co-founder had more than good timing. Block, the marketing mastermind of the pair, has always had a knack for visual design and strong messaging, including the ads he created more than a decade ago, supporting skate shoes that were uncharacteristically high-tech, that helped the company catch fire. The two years of college training he had in graphics and silk-screening were just the right preparation for Block.

“PAL AB 2000 — it was just a technical term for this material we put into our shoes back then, the first time anyone had used anything better than suede,” he said. “The tag line we used was ‘Grip Tape has finally met its match,’” a reference to the common patch for skateboarders’ shoes.

The combination of sophisticated design and technical materials caught consumers’ eyes.

“The voice of the company has always been really distinctive,” said Sean O’Brien, editor in chief of TransWorld Business, the top trade magazine for the action sports industry. “They’ve always gone for the far right side of the bell curve. I know they have [lower] price-point shoes, but they’re always driven by performance at the high end.”

Block began skateboarding as a little kid and continues to have racy hobbies. Motocross and freestyle star Travis Pastrana, a DC endorser, has ventured into World Rally racing, and Block’s right there with him, training in the hope of being a pro driver himself someday.

He’s a car buff, with a Bentley Continental GT, two Mercedes G wagons (for his homes in Southern California and Utah), a Subaru WRX (a street version of his Rally car) and “a couple of random trucks.”

But his ambitions don’t involve trying to repeat his success with a new company. In the deal with Quiksilver, 40 percent of the payment was in stock, so he’s a large shareholder in the parent company. And he has a four-year earn-out, so he’s not going anywhere soon.

“Actually, I plan on staying a lot longer than that,” he said. “This is what I love to do. The DC brand has so much more potential that if I don’t keep pushing to make it better, I’m doing a disservice to what I have done in the past.”

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