This California Brand Is Focusing Its Attention On Young Talent

Don Weiss, co-owner and president of Blowfish Malibu, opens up about effective management partnerships and why he’s learned to stop talking and listen. See what he had to say.

Tips for success:
“Listen to other people’s opinions and bring on younger people. When we first launched Blowfish [in 2005], we were all old shoe dogs. So in the last five years, I’ve learned to bring in a young spirit.”

Keeping my staff motivated:
“We’ve stayed this cool California street brand that has its own nuance, and the way we keep that going is in these meetings that we do regularly where we ask our young staff, ‘What do you think we should be doing that we aren’t doing? Should we do backpacks, leather products?’ Most recently, we launched a sneaker division that is off the charts — it’s a third of our business in under a year. That came about from sitting at one of these luncheons or dinners or [retreats]. We listen to this younger spirit. We aren’t afraid to try things.”

How I ended up in the industry:
“After I graduated high school, I got a job delivering shoes in a van on Long Island, [N.Y.], and it was for a company called Bridgetown Flood. I’m literally loading shoes down this conveyor belt, and down at the bottom receiving the shoes is Steve Madden. That was my first intro into the shoe business, and then my job evolved, and I started selling on the phone. That kicked off me working in the industry — it was my very first job.”

Biggest mentors:
“The people who really influenced me and taught me how to be what I am, which is the owner of this company, would probably be Dolly Marcus [of Carber Shoes] — she was very influential in my formative years — Kenneth Cole and [former Aerosoles CEO] Jules Schneider. Those three people influenced me the most and gave me the tools.”

Don Weiss, Stephen Hoyt
Owners Don Weiss (L) and Stephen Hoyt from Blowfish Malibu.
CREDIT: Jim Decker

My management style:
“Everybody in my company has a voice. I’m not smart enough to know everything. Certainly 40-plus years has given me a lot of experience, but one of my management skills is [something I learned from Kenneth Cole], and that’s to gather the best people you can and let them do their thing. Get everyone together and let them have a voice, and that’s what we do at Blowfish.”

The key to making a partnership work:
“[Co-owner] Stephen Hoyt is head of product and design and [branding], and I’m in charge of making the financial decisions, cutting deals, formulating business models. I follow his lead [on design]. We each have our specific piece of the puzzle, and we don’t try to do the other guy’s job.”

How I’ve changed:
“I’m trying to listen more. I thought I knew it all when we first launched. After 30-some-odd years, you think you have a good handle on things. That was one of my problems. I’ve learned over the past few years to be quiet.”

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