Footwear Industry Mourns the Loss of BBC Founder Bob Campbell

The footwear industry continues to mourn the death of Bob Campbell, the prolific founder and CEO of BBC International.

Campbell, who founded the company in 1975 and grew it into a licensing powerhouse, died Feb. 17, 2020, at the age of 82.

Remembered for his competitive spirit, willingness to mentor and give advice, and his charitable endeavors, Campbell spent more than 60 years in the footwear business impacting the lives of others.

Here, some of his closest peers reflect on Campbell’s remarkable life and why they’ll miss him on a deeply personal level.

Donald Wilborn
Vice chairman & CFO of BBC International
“Bob and I have been best friends for 63 years and business partners for 45 years. Every day was an exciting experience. Bob’s energy and vibrancy for life was amazing and a wonderful example for so many people. Bob’s motto was ‘Sell the Sizzle,’ which is what he did throughout his life. We will all miss him.”

Bob Campbell with Donald Wilborn
Bob Campbell and Donald Wilborn.
CREDIT: FN Archives


Rick Mina
President of WSS
“Bobby Campbell has been my friend for 40 years. He was one of the most amazing men I have ever known. He loved and lived life to the fullest. He was a great family man, businessman and, most of all, always there when you called or needed him. I was able to see him in Boca Raton a few weeks ago; I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me, too.”

Bob Campbell and Rick Mina.
CREDIT: FN Archives

Sonny Shar
Retired executive of Pentland Group
“I feel like I lost a brother. He was one of the finest, kindest human beings I have ever met in my life. He wasn’t just someone who liked to compete. He mentored so many of us in ways that are hard to describe. Our friendship goes back 40 years. He loved his family, and I know in the closing days one of his greatest joys was to see how Seth matured. I believe the BBC legacy will go on. I am truly heartbroken.”

Sonny Shar Bob Campbell
Sonny Shar interviewing Bob Campbell for an article in FN.
CREDIT: Joshua Scott

Diane Sullivan
CEO, president and chairman of Caleres Inc.
“While we knew he wasn’t well, it still hits you like a freight train. It’s a loss for his family first, and the industry, too. He was an amazing, creative, innovative force in the industry for an extended period of time. That’s the thing I don’t underestimate — it wasn’t for a year or five or 10, but for an extended period of time. He was always learning and growing and continually improving himself as a person and business executive. He brought the same energy into everything he did, even when he started to do more on the philanthropic side. I could see that firsthand with what he did on the Two Ten board. His giving to that organization was best in class. He brought his love of life — that energy, caring and intensity — into everything he did. When I was the chair of Two Ten, I would be chatting away, talking to everyone, and he would say, ‘OK, Sullivan, it’s 8. Let’s start the meeting.’ ”

Debbie Ferree
Vice chairman and president, Designer Brands
“Bobby was the ultimate visionary, pioneering ideas and creating excitement in the kids’ footwear space, making him one of the most transformational leaders in the industry. His heart for philanthropy and for providing opportunities to those less fortunate was perhaps his greatest accomplishment. He, very simply, cared deeply for the footwear industry. He loved so much and gave generously to the shoe people that truly needed help. His big smile, energy that filled the room and his caring heart will be missed, but will stay with us forever.”

Joel Oblonsky
President of Anne Klein and Blondo
“I’ve known Bob since I was about 20 years old. It’s been a better part of 30 years. If you think he’s had energy the past 10 years, you should have seen him in his 50s. He was full of energy, so inspired by the industry and he just wanted to do really well. I had the fortunate opportunity to spend time with him then and during the decade I was at Ralph Lauren. We spent a lot of time together as I ran footwear and accessories and he was our children’s licensee. We grew the business to the level that was unheard of and, frankly, that hasn’t been experienced since. It was a phenomenal time to rekindle a long-standing relationship and spend a decade together as business partners. I’m going to miss him. He was like a father figure to me. He was a great man. So benevolent, so philanthropic, so interested in developing the next generation of successful business people in the shoe industry. That passion for all those things is going to be missed. There will never be another Bobby Campbell.”

Bob Campbell with Seth Campbell and Joel Oblonsky
Bob Campbell with Seth Campbell and Joel Oblonsky.

Jim Issler
President and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Shoe Holdings
“Bobby and I knew each other since the early 1970s when he worked at Kinney Shoes. There were a few early pioneers who moved into Asia, [much] like Lewis and Clark, and it served him well in his career. He was extremely affable, energetic, passionate, and a sharing person. What I respected more than anything else was his compassion, which led to his charitable endeavors. I don’t know anybody that was more giving or charitable than Bobby. His charity [came] in all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds. He had no particular bent on any one thing. He was a giving person across the board. The charity I started in China — Fashion Association Charity Event — frankly, if it weren’t for Bobby and a couple of others, it never would have happened. It affected the lives of so many children in China over the last 15 years. He was a trusted friend of mine and a confidant, and it went both ways. We were on the phone a lot over the last couple of years. On the boards we served on, we were pretty much in lock step with our opinions about what was right for the industry. He was somebody I had a dear relationship with and I will deeply miss him. I was fortunate to call him a friend and have him call me a friend.”

Jim Issler and Bob Campbell.
CREDIT: FN Archives

Gilbert Harrison
Chairman of Harrison Group, founder of Financo
“Bob was a legend in the business, and he was both a friend and a client. His ability to understand the needs of his licensees to grow the business was tremendous. What he did is only something a titan and merchant can do. He will be sorely missed, but the training of his son, Seth, along with longtime partner Don Wilborn will allow the business to grow and prosper.”

Sam Edelman
Founder of Sam Edelman
“Bob was a visionary who lived without fear. A loyal leader and partner. A proud father and loving husband. A lesson to America’s youth that Horatio Alger lives on.”

Joe Ouaknine
Co-founder and chairman of Titan Industries
“This is a man that I know better than most. We were partners. I learned how he was in business and personally. The thing that struck me the most, he was very funny and he was just a good guy. He had authority and resources, and he was using them for everyone’s advantage. At board meetings, when there were maybe 20 or 30 of us and he didn’t like something, he would stop people from talking. He didn’t want bulls**t. There was no one as straight as he was. He went straight to the point to what he said and what he meant, and that’s what I liked the most. And whenever we needed money for the Two Ten Foundation, we could always count on him. You’re not going to find a heart like his.”

Joe Ouaknine and Bob Campbell.
CREDIT: FN Archive

Bob Goldman
Founder and CEO of Cels Enterprises
“What I remember him most for was being a great marketer, a great guy. He was charitable. I go back with him when he was a buyer at Woolworth. It’s been a long time. He was always respectful, always cheery and willing to communicate no matter what the situation was. He made a great impression on the industry regarding charity and keeping charity organizations and structures in place. He got involved and worked for organization to keep them in order. I learned many lessons from him in business. He was an icon in our industry, with manufacturing and development in new countries overseas, China specifically — he was one of the pioneers.”

Accessories Council Honors Michael Atmore
Bob Goldman and Bob Campbell.
CREDIT: Steve Eichner.

Matt Feiner
President and CEO of SG Companies
“Bob was a special guy who had a profound impact on my career. He had a passion for our industry that truly blew me away. When I met Bob, I was a young product guy at Reebok and we had a lot to learn about how to make kids’ shoes. We partnered with BBC and within five years our Reebok kids’ business tripled. Bob mentored me in the process and showed me what hard work and a relentless drive could do. Whenever I told Bob I thought a concept or idea his team presented wasn’t possible, he’d quickly show me how we could get it done. I will miss him. Whenever I saw Bob, he gave me a big hug and made me feel good. He was a one-of-a-kind guy who did so much for our industry.”

Want more?

How BBC International CEO Bob Campbell Built a Shoe Empire With Heart & Determination

How BBC Boss Bob Campbell Inspired a Night of Giving to Two Ten

Footwear Legends Bob Campbell & Sonny Shar Get Candid About Life & Business

Access exclusive content