Jason Brooks, the president of U.S. wholesale for Rocky Brands Inc., is the fourth generation to help lead the Nelsonville, Ohio-based firm.
He recently spoke with FN about taking responsibility for the historic boot company and finding his own approach to leadership.
First job in the industry:
I was in my junior year in high school and told my father, Mike Brooks, that I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to work in the factory. Instead of getting mad and saying no, he sent me to Rocky’s new manufacturing plant in the Dominican Republic to learn some of the [shoemaking] processes. After working there, I [decided] college was a good idea.
Best advice I ever got:
There was a guy named Ted Kasner working at Rocky. He’d been in the business a long time and worked with me during [my former job] as a sales rep with Ed Hughes & Associates. He shared with me the importance of saving 10 percent of each paycheck. When you make $20,000 at your first job, how can you save 10 percent? Although I didn’t do it, it’s a great idea.
My greatest mentor:
My father. He has such love and devotion for the company and our Nelsonville, Ohio, community. [At times], he probably thought it would have been better off being [located] in Columbus, Ohio, or Atlanta, but he loves Nelsonville. I work hard to follow in his footsteps.
What excites me about the business:
In September 2016, the board of directors made some changes [that included] CEO David Sharp resigning. My father came back [as acting CEO] and has made lots of changes, [especially] from a personnel standpoint. We joke about how young the employees are all of a sudden — in their mid-30s to 40s. I’m 46. So now the responsibility is ours. The answers don’t come from somewhere else. We have to come up with them.
My managerial style:
I find more value in data than my dad or his generation did. We have a lot of great information at our fingertips because of computers,
Facebook and cell phones. You can gather a lot of data [to determine] in which direction to go. We try to do that here and could be better at it. I like to use data and stress it in the company.
Our five-year business plan:
We have great brands with Rocky, Georgia and Durango. We also have a lot of opportunity with LeHigh, our retail division. The next three years is about focusing on brand strength and catapulting them into world brands. Right now, they’re known in the U.S., but even here, only regionally. [However], we don’t want to be like a large-mouth bass that goes after anything shiny and new. We need to stay focused and build on what we have.
If I weren’t in the shoe business:
I studied child psychology in college with the goal of becoming a child psychologist. It was a passion of mine, and still is. The psychology of business and [generally] dealing with people is also very interesting to me.