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Angel Martinez Hits His Stride with Deckers Outdoor Corp.

Shoe company's president/CEO turned his passion for running into a career — and hasn't looked back

When I arrive at Angel Martinez’s office, he’s preparing to head to Orange County for a 20-year reunion of world-class runners. An All-American in both track and cross-country, Martinez has translated his love of running into several footwear empires — the most recent being Goleta-based Deckers Outdoor Corp.

“I just get footwear,” he said after giving me training advice. “It has universal appeal, as everyone has both experience and an opinion about their shoes.”

He adds that shoes say a lot about the owner. I’m in braided leather flip-flops, and he’s wearing Simple canvas sneakers. He’s also sporting a breezy Hawaiian shirt and a tan. I realize quickly that while he’s got a casual look, he’s paying attention to everything around him. He holds eye contact and chooses his words with precision.

Originally from Cuba, his grandmother’s sister adopted Martinez in 1958 so he could live in the United States. He was raised in the Bronx until he was 13, then they moved to the Bay Area. He attended UC Davis as a rhetoric major to help feed his self-proclaimed fascination with marketing.

Looking to make his passion for running into a career after college, Martinez opened running-shoe stores in Mountain View, then Alameda. He said that experience, along with a stint working retail at Carter Hawley Hale, taught him both about the psyche of the customer and the challenges of selling footwear.

During his travels, Martinez met the owner of a small, English specialty racing-shoe company called Reebok. The owner was looking to break into the U.S. market, and Martinez convinced him he was the man to do it. The rest is history. Martinez was responsible for Reebok’s massive expansion in the 1980s and ‘90s, along with the aerobic shoe trend.

“My wife took aerobics, and I noticed she didn’t have a decent shoe for class, so I had Reebok make her one,” Martinez said.

He built the global brand and eventually acquired the company.

Martinez attempted retirement in 2001, during which time he coached his son’s track and cross-country teams. He also rebuilt his classic Porsche and tried to relax, but the break was short-lived, as he found he was craving new challenges.

He began consulting for Keen, a company making sandals that could also protect the toes. It found a ready market in sailing and other outdoor and water activities. Martinez began as a consultant for Keen out of his Massachusetts basement and later moved to Santa Barbara to run the company as president and then CEO.

In 2005, Martinez joined Deckers Outdoor Corp. as president and CEO. The company has grown into an international company with three main footwear brands — Teva, Simple and UGG Australia. Martinez has grown the company to $800 million in earnings last year from $200 million in 2004, and his sights are set on the billion-dollar mark next year.

Martinez cites Deckers’ consistent innovation as the reason its brands have stayed strong year after year. In addition to the classic models, which have a loyal customer base, the company consistently introduces new styles, colors and materials.

“We understand our brand and our customers,” Martinez said. “It’s a fine balance to update, but not alienate.”

He said the recession hasn’t affected Deckers significantly; in fact, he said he’s seen it as an opportunity to build better relationships with the company’s resellers during a tight credit market.

“Shoes tend to perform well during recessions as people can still justify buying moderately priced items with function,” he said.

As for the top sellers in each brand, Martinez names Ugg Classics, outdoor slipper boots for surfers; Teva Mush, designer flip-flops with 7 mm of ethylene vinyl acetate for maximum comfort; Simple old-school sneakers in a variety of colors and fabrics; Tsubo Acrea, a curvaceous leather maryjane; and Ahnu Olivia, a maryjane wedge with shock absorption and braided straps.

Founded by a UCSB student, Deckers began producing sandals in 1973. Today, it has more than 700 employees worldwide, with offices in London, China (manufacturing), Flagstaff, Benelux, Ventura (distribution), Camarillo and Goleta (headquarters). It recently added staff to its marketing department and intends to expand in Europe and Asia.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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