As the old saw goes, when Paul Naude speaks, people listen. Since taking the helm of Billabong U.S.A. in 1999, this no-nonsense industry vet has raised the profile of Billabong—and the entire surf industry—with a palpable love for the sport and keen business acumen. “He has his head on straight, has a great merchandising background, and is absolutely on the pulse of what’s coming down the pike in terms of product, says Seventeenth Street Owner Tom Brown.
Another East Coast retailer has this to say: “In five years it’s gone from where I couldn’t even give them a mercy order to where I was begging for Billabong product.
Naude comes loaded with double-barreled talent. He was the South African surfing champion in 1976, the same year he placed third in the Pipe Masters. After several years on the pro tour, Naude turned his attention to business, where he became co-owner of Gotcha South Africa before moving to the U.S. in 1992 to become an Executive VP of Gotcha.
Since taking the Billabong helm, he’s surrounded himself with a cadre of some of the industry’s finest. Under Naude’s direction, that group has managed world champions, revamped the men’s line and launched an influential women’s collection, overseen the acquisition of Element and Von Zipper, raised the profile of women’s surfing through its involvement with Blue Crush, and put a renewed focus on specialty retailers with the hiring of Royce Cansler.
While Billabong is not the largest company in the surf industry, it doesn’t stand in anyone’s shadow. In fact, Billabong probably receives closer scrutiny than any other surf brand. Whether the topic is product, the pro tour, company stores, possible acquisitions, or the overall health and direction of the surf industry, retailers and fellow manufacturers seem to be riveted on Naude’s—and Billabong’s—views.
“The two biggest underpinnings to his success are passion and discipline, says Op and SIMA President Dick Baker, who’s worked with Naude on myriad issues through their leadership of SIMA, where Naude is vice president. “He plays himself—both personally and professionally—very close to the chest, but the passion just oozes out of him: his passion for protecting the core aspect of the sport, for product, and for the environment. On the other hand he has a completely disciplined approach to business. His leadership in the U.S. has unequivocally affected the brand in a positive way on a global basis.