Jason Brooks just completed his first year as the president and CEO at his family’s company, Rocky Brands Inc. He’s not ready to give other people advice on a job he’s still adjusting to, but he feels good about the direction of the company.
“Our company went through some really dramatic changes at the end of 2016 and pretty much throughout 2017. I feel like our culture has become a lot more stable, it’s become clearer, and so we were able to go into 2018 with a pretty good plan, pretty good direction,” he says.
People talk about getting all of your employees on the same page, but Brooks has learned, in his short time as CEO, that’s not actually possible.
“It’s a wonderful thought, but I don’t know that you can get everybody on the same page,” he says. “So, I’ve refined that, and if I can get everybody on the same chapter, I think I’d be really happy.”
That’s his goal — to work toward getting everyone in the same chapter in the company’s book. He spends his time slowing some people down and trying to speed others up.
Shaking it up
Brooks is the fourth generation to run Rocky Brands. The $250 million company designs, develops, manufactures and markets outdoor, work, western, duty and military footwear, under the brands of Rocky, Georgia Boot, Durango and Lehigh.
He originally wasn’t going to work in the family business. But after college, Brooks found himself in San Francisco, interviewing with a small shoe company that wanted to start up its own brand. He didn’t like the potential logo and was honest about that.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Well, not everybody’s as fortunate as your family to have a great brand already.’ And it didn’t hit me right then, but it hit me that night — I have this wonderful opportunity in front of me that most people don’t get. Most people have to go out and fight and scratch and kick.”
So, Brooks called his father, Mike Brooks, and asked for an opportunity. It was 2001, and he’s had a number of roles within the company since.
By the time Rocky Brands’ management was shaken up in the fall of 2016, Brooks was president of the wholesale division. His father, chairman of the board, wasn’t happy with the direction of the company. He removed the CEO — who’d been running things since before Brooks started at Rocky Brands — and came back as interim CEO.
Mike Brooks cut nearly $5 million from the SG&A (selling, general and administrative expenses), which included significant payroll cuts. The people who were let go were paid well, but in October, November and December of 2016, the employees were concerned with how far the cuts would go. Brooks says they weren’t deep as far as headcount.
In 2017, Mike Brooks removed the chief financial officer and installed Brooks as the president and CEO. When Brooks took over, his father had stopped firing people and things started to stabilize. The first and second quarters also had good earnings.
“With all of those changes, it made for a very uneasy workplace,” Brooks says. “People were concerned about their jobs, but then in the same breath, some of the changes that were made made people excited about their jobs. It was a pretty dramatic experience, but it needed to happen, and I think we’re in a much better place today then we were in 2016.”