Icon Award for Social Impact: Bob Campbell

Icon Award for Social Impact: Bob
Bob Campbell, photographed for FN in New York this month

Bob Campbell has spent the last 37 years building his footwear firm into a multimillion-dollar global powerhouse, but he’s never lost sight of his humble beginnings.

Raised by a single mother in the working class cities of Pittsburgh and Detroit, the BBC International chairman and CEO has made giving back a cornerstone of his career. Despite a demanding schedule, Campbell, 75, manages to carve out considerable time to work with a long list of charitable organizations.

“I grew up very poor, and my big dream as a kid was to make $100 a week. I’ve been fortunate to make a bit more than that, so I want to give back as much as I can,” Campbell told Footwear News. “It’s something that’s very important to me.”

Campbell’s many causes range from humanitarian to civic. He is a longtime benefactor of Little Flower, a New York-based nonprofit agency serving disadvantaged children and developmentally disabled adults. This past May, the organization honored Campbell with its inaugural Monsignor John T. Fagan Humanitarian Award.

Actress Susan Lucci, a friend and fellow supporter of Little Flower, said Campbell has left a big mark on the charity. “Bob has been one of Little Flower’s greatest and cherished supporters,” Lucci said. “My husband and I have known Bob for a number of years, and he has always been not just a warm and generous human being but [someone who] has always been there to lend a helping hand.”

Last year, Campbell was recognized for his work with ACE, an organization that provides assistance to homeless New Yorkers.

He also volunteers his time to the American Heart Association, a cause he said is especially meaningful because he successfully underwent heart bypass surgery in 2003. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today. My heart was that bad,” he said.

Much of Campbell’s philanthropic work is rooted in the local community in his hometown, Boca Raton, Fla. He is a supporter of The Louis & Anne Green Memory & Wellness Center at Florida Atlantic University, which provides care to patients suffering from disorders including Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, he serves on the board of trustees of the Boca Raton Regional Hospital, as well as on the board of directors of the Boca Raton Historical Society and The Arc of Palm Beach County.

Michael Papa, executive director of The Arc, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of those with developmental disabilities, said Campbell’s steadfast support has been vital to the success of the organization and its Potentials Charter School, which operated out of trailers when Campbell first became acquainted with the charity. Papa said Campbell has volunteered his time, made significant monetary donations and even hosted an annual Halloween fundraising gala at his home. “Bobby doesn’t have to be asked. He sees a need and he just gives,” said Papa. “It’s not about the accolades for him.”

And Campbell is constantly seeking out new causes to support. This past spring, he made a gift of $1.2 million to fund construction of a new soccer stadium at Boca Raton’s Lynn University. Bobby Campbell Stadium will be home to both the men’s and women’s teams. “Thanks to Bobby, we’ll have an outstanding and intimate venue for our campus and community to experience our Fighting Knights under the lights,” said university president Kevin Ross. “It will be a game changer for our athletics program.”

Campbell also has championed a number of shoe industry organizations throughout his career. He is part of the executive team behind the Footwear Association Charity Event, an annual golf tournament that has raised more than $8 million for underprivileged kids in China. “Bob has been a tireless promoter and fundraiser [for the event],” said H.H. Brown President and CEO Jim Issler, who helms FACE. “As a result of his good work, thousands of Chinese children in need have benefited.”

For more than 40 years, Campbell has been an active member of Two Ten Footwear Foundation. For Campbell, Two Ten is a cause that struck a personal chord with him early in his career, when he was working his way up the ranks at Kinney Shoes.

“Two Ten was one of my first experiences with a charity, and I remember thinking, ‘One day, I hope I’m lucky enough to be in a position to give.’ I saw the great work they were doing, helping families in need and giving scholarships to kids who couldn’t afford college,” he said. “It’s an opportunity I never had when I was young, so it feels very satisfying to be able to share [the fruits of] my success with others. To me, that’s what life is all about.”