SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue

Business teaches Hawk about risk

As improbable as it was for Tony Hawk to land a 900 at the X Games in 2000, his greatest feat may be converting such unprecedented athletic achievement into sustainable business success. He walked away from his professional skateboarding career at 31 and created Tony Hawk Inc., a multimillion-dollar international company that earned him $12 million in 2008. The linchpin of that success has been his successful video game series, which continues with the recently released “Tony Hawk: Shred.” He chronicles his entrepreneurial success in a new book, “How Did I Get Here? The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO.”

Staff writer Tripp Mickle spoke to him last week about his evolution as a CEO.

Tony Hawk Inc. employs about 25 people now. How involved are you day-to-day in the operation, and what do you typically do?

HAWK: I’m mostly thinking up projects and ideas and skating.

How does skating factor into the job?

Being out there and walking the walk and still understanding what’s happening and being in the mix is important. If I remove myself from that element, I feel like I would be out of touch with so much of the other aspects. For me, it’s my creative outlet, so I have to get out there and do it.


Hawk earned $12 million from
his company in 2008.

Other skateboarders have launched their own businesses on the side, but not everyone has enjoyed the longevity you have. What differentiated you in the business realm from others?

I was able to branch out into different areas that others didn’t consider or didn’t want to branch out to. I always thought that there was more to skateboarding than the general public saw and I wanted to promote that as best I could. A lot of people didn’t want that attention drawn to skating.

What’s an example of that?

When I first got on the radar with something mainstream, I did a tour with ESPN where we went to various skateparks and did exhibitions and we filmed it for a TV show. A lot of people thought that was way too mainstream for skateboarding, but I was really happy to bring the crowds out, do a live show and present it to a television audience. I thought it showcased skateboarding well.

How would you describe the state of action sports today?

It’s bigger than ever. It’s much more understood by the general public. It has a lot of potential for global growth. It’s definitely something that parents are encouraging their kids to get into, and that’s not something that was happening when I was a kid.

Has it reached a plateau in the U.S.?

Possibly, but I hate to say that because I feel like that there are a lot of places that don’t have facilities. That’s a big reason I do my foundation (which builds public skateparks nationwide). There are a lot of places that don’t have the proper place for the kids in their area to go (skate) and kids are discouraged from doing it.

Where do brands go wrong when they try to market to an action sports audience?

They try to use clichéd buzz words and graphics and layouts without consulting people who really skate. That mistake is made less now because people are more savvy, but eight to 10 years ago, big-name advertising agencies would throw whatever they thought skating was about on big billboards.

What brands do an effective job of marketing to youth today?

Apple is always really good. I like what the Axe campaign has done in using action sports guys on a big skill. It’s funny. I think the whole Old Spice thing is hilarious.

In writing this book, I imagine you spent time reflecting on your business. When you look back at it, what was the best business decision you made?

Not accepting a buyout and advance royalty in my video game. Right when the game was being released, it had a lot of buzz and Activision offered me a buyout against future royalties. It was more money than I’d ever seen, but I’d just come to a place where I was finally out of the red and I had a mortgage. I was finally comfortable and decided I wanted to see it out. I took that risk. (Activision went on to sell more than $1 billion of Tony Hawk-branded games.)

When people ask you for business advice, what do you tell them?

I tell them to follow their passion and learn everything they can about every single aspect of what they want to do, and to approach challenges as learning opportunities as opposed to stumbling blocks.

What do you feel like you’ve had to learn that wasn’t part of your skill set when you started your businesses?

I learned that to grow a business takes more money. It’s not like if you have a successful product, you just rake in the money. If you want to have a successful business, you have to put up more risk and invest more capital. That was something I never paid attention to before.

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