#4 – Richard Woolcott, Influencing the influencers.

Volcom President Richard Woolcott made it onto this shortlist not just because his brand exudes creative mayhem, but—more amazingly—because it’s been able to maintain that anti-establishment identity in the midst of phenomenal growth.

Volcom grossed 2,600 dollars in 1991, its first year in business. But from that humble beginning emerged explosive growth, propelling Volcom to where it stands today as a fixture among the “Big Five pantheon of action-sports brands.

Aside from producing consistently edgy and well-executed product, Volcom has effectively encompassed the surf, skate, and snow genres—as well as music and art. “We’ve always been committed to all three sports, says Wooly, and its roster of athletes—from Bruce Irons to Shaun White and Geoff Rowley—illustrates that triple-threat commitment.

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“One thing that’s so phenomenal about Volcom, says Sanük Founder Jeff Kelley, “is their crossover into all of the other action-sports markets—that they were able to obtain a core presence in all of them.

From early on, Woolcott and Cofounder Tucker Hall positioned Volcom as an alternative-to-the-mainstream company. Even today, the brand’s influential marketing at times suggests the company is flying by the seat of its pants, doing whatever fun or random thing happens to catch its fancy that month. While they probably are having fun, Volcom is a well-run and surprisingly sophisticated business. Like a Jackson Pollock painting, on the outside it may look like a random splattering of paint, but there’s a well-thought-out and calculated method to the madness that’s anything but random.

As the mainstream has edged closer to Volcom, Woolcott has walked the tightrope between keeping the brand on the edge and true to its mission, while not alienating customers or retailers. This as much as anything puts Volcom in the spotlight of trendwatchers everywhere.

Seventeenth Street Surf Shop Owner Tom Brown says that since the beginning Volcom managers have focused on what they wanted the brand to be and what they thought was cool, and less about simply making what was going to sell fast. “You sit there amazed that they’ve been able to keep that commitment so long in a world where it’s so easy to sell out, he says.

Managing growth while keeping the brand intact is a delicate balance, and Woolcott is the first to tell you he couldn’t do it alone. But ultimately he’s the one who unites a building full of employees to walk this fine line. “I think the biggest key is that we’re all still very passionate about what we’re doing, he says. “We believe in what we’re doing—that’s our motivation. So, is it hard out there? Yeah, it’s really hard out there. The action-sports industry is extremely competitive, and the energy levels needed to compete can be exhausting. But that’s what we thrive on.