Athletic Footwear Pioneer Jerry Turner Dies at 84

Jerry Turner, who dramatically transformed the athletic business during his 60-year career, died in his sleep Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 84.

The founder of American Sporting Goods Corp., who had a tireless work ethic, made huge contributions in both business and product innovation. He led Brooks in the 1960s and 1970s, helping turn the brand into a recognizable name and a major player.

Peers credit Turner with inventing the stability running category and introduced the first Brooks shoe to use EVA material in 1975. Two years later, the executive launched the varus wedge, which helped runners who grappled with overpronation.

“We are saddened by the passing of Jerry, a footwear industry great,” said Brooks CEO Jim Weber. “He was an innovator during the 1970s running boom, and his fingerprints are all over the rich history of the brand. His dedication to solving runners’ needs resulted in many technical innovations that continue to influence our products today. We will be forever grateful for the time, talent and passion he gave to Brooks.”

After his stint at Brooks, Turner launched American Sporting Goods, which developed the Turntec running shoe brand and Nevados hiking line. Later, the company acquired the Avia, And1 and Ryka brands.

In 2011, Turner sold ASG to Caleres, which was then known as Brown Shoe Co. “The sale proposition [of a company] is always a long arduous task,” Turner told FN at the time. “Frankly, by the time the thing is done, everyone on both sides in any transaction is just damn happy it’s done. The biggest thing [I did to celebrate] was just get a good night’s sleep.”

Mark Lardie, who was divisional president of wholesale at Brown Shoe at the time, worked closely with Turner in the months after the ASG deal closed but knew him and his reputation long before.

“I met Jerry three decades ago in the late 1980s — and he was already a ‘legend,’ having built one of the dominant running shoe companies during the biggest boom in running the world had ever seen,” said Lardie, now president and CEO of Rack Room Shoes. “He was a striking figure, very charming and had eyes that could see everything. People who knew him later in life thought of him as a value engineer, but he was first and foremost an innovator — whether it was technology or manufacturing, Jerry was always determined to find a better way of doing things but always focused on his customers. He was certainly a salesman extraordinaire but to leave it at that would be belittling. He listened deeply and intently to what his customers wanted, then his innovative instincts went to work and he found different and often remarkable ways to satisfy their needs.”

While the executive stayed on the sidelines for a few years, he emerged from retirement in 2017 to launch Turner Footwear, a performance footwear company with the tagline “Legends Evolve.”

The executive was inducted into the FN Hall of Fame in 1993.

Turner is survived by his wife, Margaret Oung, his former wife Jo-Ellen Turner and three children as well as a stepdaughter and six grandchildren.

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