Born: Lancaster, Ohio
First job: Cutting grass, but my first job here was in the leather room on the third floor of the factory when I was 14 years old. I would roll the leather over to the cutters, and I would clean up the scrap.
Childhood career aspirations: I always wanted to work with my father. I thought he was a special man.
Education: Graduate of Ars Sutoria Institute, a footwear design school in Milan, Italy
Biggest business challenge: The biggest business challenge has been finance. Always. Even though the business was in the family’s hands for many, many years, when I came back and joined my father in 1975, the business was ready for bankruptcy. It had, maybe, one chance in a million of surviving. So I spent my first six months trying to figure out how to borrow $640,000 on a business that hadn’t made money in five years and a family that didn’t have any assets to speak of. We finally found five banks to loan us the $640,000 with personal guarantees and houses and cars and everything [as collateral]. That’s really the reason we did the public offering was to get some capital to run this business and compete with the majors. Money has always been the biggest hurdle. It was never about designing product or about selling product or about building relationships or building brands. I always felt the greatest confidence there, that there wasn’t any hurdle we couldn’t get over. But getting working capital, that’s always been the challenge. Without the capital, we couldn’t have grown the business. If we’d have had adequate capital, we probably could have grown it quicker, faster and even larger.
Most important business lesson: To be a little more patient. I was always pretty much an impatient person always in a hurry to get to the end, to look around the corner and take on the next challenge.