In Manhattan Beach, the SKECHERS sign that graces the company’s first offices near the Pier is as recognizable as neighborhood staples like The Kettle and Beckers Bakery. Nearly two decades after Michael Greenberg, his father and brothers launched a shoe business from their summer home on The Strand, he discusses the commitment, community and enduring family spirit that guided SKECHERS to become an internationally successful brand born in the South Bay.
- Written byAshley Denoux
I have often thought to myself, ‘I get paid to work here! I’m the luckiest guy in the world,’” began SKECHERS co-founder and president Michael Greenberg, 48, seated at his desk, the South Bay cove laid out behind him. “Every day is a new adventure, challenging and fun. I work with my father and brothers, and an amazing team of talented individuals—many of whom I have known for more than 20 years now and are like family to me. I work at what I think is the best company around—great product, young attitude, and always growing in new and exciting ways. My office is in the most beautiful city in America, and I work only minutes from my wife Wendy and the kids. What more could a guy ask for?”
For Michael, working alongside his father Robert comes naturally; he felt it was almost a given since he was a child and watched his father following his passions as he successfully launched several businesses. This drive rubbed off on Michael. “When I was about 10, I went to my father’s work, Europa Wigs & Things in South Boston. His secretary asked me if I wanted to help seal envelopes for a mailing and get paid $5 a box. She thought I would maybe do one box. I loved being a part of my father’s work—and I wanted the money, so I stayed eight hours and walked out with $120.”
He jumped into the fashion industry at the age of 13 when he went with his father to an apparel industry trade show in New York and saw the inner workings. With a yearning for business and a work ethic instilled by his father, he started working—including selling women’s handbags at a swap meet in Florida where he lived with his sister and mother. But then, at the age of 16, he spent Spring Break with his father at his new home in the San Fernando Valley.
“He took me to the beach, and I knew that this was where I wanted to live,” Michael laughs. “I finished my school year in Florida, and then moved to California to be with my father. I got a job at my father’s business, Roller Skates of America in Venice Beach, and then during school at a shoe and clothing store in Woodland Hills, and I was hooked on selling. I was getting practical experience that was immensely valuable: I understood customer service, sales, marketing, and how to talk to people. While I had a lot to learn, I walked through the doors for the first time as a full-time employee at my father’s first footwear company (LA Gear) with a solid foundation and was ready to hit the ground running.”
Michael was 22 when he started working for his father at LA Gear, a company Robert founded in 1981. This was the beginning of a real father-and-son working relationship, but it wasn’t until SKECHERS was launched in 1992 that Michael started working with his brothers Scott, Jeffrey, Jason and Josh. “I called my father up after we both left LA Gear and asked, ‘What should we do now?’ Robert was ready to retire, but I wanted to work.” It was Monday morning, Robert’s first day off. He told his son he would think about it, slept another hour, then called him back—agreeing they would start a “little” company together: “We’ll keep it small and just have fun.”
The company set up operations in the family’s summer home on The Strand at Michael’s suggestion. Michael had moved to Manhattan Beach in 1988 after he and high school sweetheart Wendy were married. The rest of the family soon joined them, making the town of Manhattan Beach their permanent home—and now all live within walking distance of one another.
Michael smiles at the memory. “Some may think it difficult to work with your family, and we have our disagreements, but we have a mutual respect for one another that I think is all too rare in families. This comes from working together toward one common goal: building a successful company. Well, two goals: having fun and building a successful company.”
Not ones to just watch the tide roll in, Robert and Michael quickly saw greater potential for the business. Within a year, the duo expanded its hugely popular men’s SKECHERS Sport Utility Footwear line to include women’s and kids’ sizes and styles–as America embraced the grunge trend. They moved into the company’s first offices on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. With a growing account base and the launch of its first advertising campaign featuring brother Jason, SKECHERS soon began distributing its footwear to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Michael felt the time was right to realize one of his greatest dreams–to open a retail store.
“I have to admit, I told a little white lie to Robert, but it was to have a dream come true for me and the company,” he says, smiling. “Robert went with my lead in opening a SKECHERS store in Manhattan Beach but then became reluctant. He asked me if the lease was signed. I emphatically said it had been.” He laughs at the memory. “It was a good little white lie. Thanks to that little lie regarding the lease already being signed, we entered the retail business!”
That first store opened in 1995 on Manhattan Avenue, solidifying its roots in Manhattan Beach. In 2000, it was relocated to the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Manhattan Beach Boulevard, creating the company’s first flagship store. Earlier this year the store expanded into a recently vacated neighboring business, creating a dual SKECHERS and SKECHERS Fitness destination and a landmark store that is now one of more than 600 SKECHERS retail locations around the world.
Approaching 20 years old, SKECHERS is now known as a top contender in numerous footwear markets: the award-winning, $2 billion brand has become the nation’s number two athletic footwear company and number one children’s shoe company, with numerous lifestyle and technical performance footwear lines available in department and specialty stores in more than 110 countries. The company’s team has grown as well, relocating its corporate headquarters to a beautiful modern building on Sepulveda Boulevard. (Today, SKECHERS occupies three buildings in Manhattan Beach.)
From these new sleek and efficient offices, Robert and Michael collaborate on all aspects of the business. “Robert has a vision like no other and almost a sixth sense into what people want,” Michael says. And it is here that Michael manages every avenue of distribution—domestic and international wholesale, retail and retail franchising; he also oversees the licensing for the company. He is joined by brothers Jeffrey, SVP of active electronic media, who spearheads television commercials; Jason, SVP of visual imaging, who orchestrates the graphics team in the creation of all printed advertising and imaging; and Josh, SVP of design, who guides a team of designers in the development of its sport and fitness footwear.
Much like his father, Michael is now bringing his kids into his business. In any given week, you might find one of Michael’s three kids at the SKECHERS offices or sitting in the audience while he gives a speech at their global conferences, learning more about the industry. Candid family photos in a variety of frames sit on shelves behind his desk, allowing an observer a glimpse into Michael’s personal life as he recalls a trip to China a few years ago with Wendy, sons Harrison (15) and Chase (13), and daughter MacKenna (10).
“I went to Shanghai for our sales conference, and I took my family because I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for my kids to see a part of the world that is so different from their lives and to learn a little about the family business. They have traveled before, so they are well aware that there is a big world out there very different from Manhattan Beach, but visiting China to see both the tourist sites and how another culture works was an eye-opening and humbling experience for them. I mean, how many kids get to say that they went on vacation to see how shoes were made!”
For Michael, it was particularly exciting to experience the country with his family, as he was instrumental in launching the company’s joint ventures in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. The trip made a strong impression on Harrison, who visited China again last year with Michael. “He asked to come to the conference again, and this time he sat in on all the meetings and an entire morning of presentations from our partners in the PanAsian region. On our one day off of the 10-day trip, we went to Indonesia to visit SKECHERS stores.”
While Michael spends as much time with his family as possible, including regular boating trips to Catalina, his daily focus is running SKECHERS. No easy task, with constantly evolving product lines, including the company’s 2010 expansion into technical performance footwear; growth into new markets, including Mexico last year and Turkey this year; and new SKECHERS stores opening each quarter.
“SKECHERS was founded on a great idea, and it has continued to grow because we have always been willing to take hold of a new idea and run with it. But it has been the hard work and dedication of my family, as well as the extended SKECHERS family, that has made this company what it is today,” he said.
Walking SKECHERS’ office halls, with black marble floors and wooden ceilings, you get the sense that the publicly-traded company–second only to Nike in footwear sales–is casual in its dress and attitude but brimming with energy. It seems the dynamics of this company are what set it apart from other corporations. It is still a family operation, whether your last name is Greenberg or not.
The South Bay employees, now more than 525 people strong, seem to love their jobs, if the many hours they put in are an indication. Most of the original team is still hard at work, and a large percentage has been with the company more than 15 years. A few of these long-term employees now live overseas, as the company has a team of more than 5,400 people around the world.
With Michael’s guidance, SKECHERS has also supported the community over the years, through its sponsorship of the Manhattan Beach fireworks and snow park and direct support of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation. In 2005, Michael personally provided necessary funds to establish the South Bay chapter of The Friendship Circle, an organization that assists children with special needs and their families. “I was a mentor for kids with special needs when I was in elementary school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a character-building experience. ”
Back in his office, Michael continues: “SKECHERS has given me the ability to travel the world as we have opened up new markets, the opportunity to meet people from so many different countries and to learn how to do business with these different cultures. But what makes it all worth it is hearing my daughter scream with excitement when she sees our new commercial on TV or have my fickle teenage son be genuinely excited about our new ProSpeed running shoe. It reminds me of the excitement that I had as a kid watching my father at work.”
Leaning back in his chair, he folds his arms across his chest and smiles. “I recently told a group of graduating seniors that the most important thing when it comes to work is to be passionate about it, to love it and enjoy it, and that there is nothing more important than family. For me, I have the best of both worlds: my passion and family.”
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