In the 1990s, most kids wanted to be like Mike. Not Seth Campbell. He wanted to be like Bob.
Seth’s father, Bob Campbell, the founder and CEO of BBC International, had the appeal and mystique of the well-traveled entrepreneur who left home for long stretches of time.
“My dad was always on the road,” said the younger Campbell. “I guess some kids would be sad if their father missed their birthdays or sporting events, but I always felt mine was doing this crazy, exciting job. He’d call and say, ‘I’m in China,’ or ‘I’m in Vietnam.’ I always wanted to do the same thing.”
Now he is.
The 31-year-old is VP of international sales at BBC, a job that had him cramming in trips to Japan, China and Hong Kong in just eight days last month. It’s a grinding pace that puts him, much like his father, on the road more than 100 days a year. And after two years at the company, his travels are already paying off — he recently secured deals in mainland China, found a partner in India for BBC’s Polo Ralph Lauren business and a new company to work with in Canada.
It’s common for children to follow their parents into the footwear industry, but Campbell showed an interest in it — and a knack for it — early on. Growing up, he tested samples of kids’ sneakers his father made, becoming one of the first children in the neighborhood to wear shoes with lights. He also accompanied his dad on trips to visit factories in China.
Later, as a student at New York University, Campbell put all that shoemaking knowledge to the test: He and then-partner Nick Cohen launched a line of super-blinged-out sneakers called Upper Echelon Shoes. That collection, priced from $200 to $400 for men’s and women’s styles, featured snakeskin, metal studs and 18K gold-chain shoelaces. In 2010, Steve Madden bought a 50 percent stake in the label.
Two years later, Campbell went to Ars Sutoria in Milan to study pattern-making and design. Soon after, an oppor-tunity to work alongside his father presented itself. Bob Campbell, tapping into his son’s love of global travel and his impressive list of personal contacts, offered him a full-time job at BBC.
The goal was simple: for Seth Campbell to shadow Al Kishfy, who manages the firm’s international business, which spans more than 120 countries.
“He’s bringing a lot to the table in terms of young, innovative thinking,” said Bob Campbell. “We have big plans for him. Right now, he’s working with Al on building our international business. He’s traveling all over and building great relationships. We had almost no business in Japan, but Seth has helped us break into that market.”
The one-two punch of the Campbells, along with BBC’s other top managers, is proving to be a successful way to aggressively grow the company. The executives are pushing deeper into international territory, investing more heavily in building a portfolio of owned brands — from Charles Jourdan and Feiyue to FishFlops — as well as cementing their dominance in licensed children’s footwear.
Amid the growth, Seth Campbell said he is absorbing every part of the business so that one day, when he’s ready, he can help lead the company.
Until then, he is still admiring his dad’s drive.
“There is no harder-working person in the world,” said Seth Campbell. “He believes in good business ethics, and that’s why BBC has been able to be what it is for 40 years.”
[Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in print 10/05/2015]