Bob Hurley is giving Dick Clark a run for the “world’s oldest teenager” title. At 40-something years old, Hurley retains the enthusiasm of a teenager, but a hard-working teenager who has turned a $70,000-a-year hobby into a $70,000,000 a year business.
That is what Bob Hurley did with the Billabong USA license over 15 years, and so the surfing world was shocked when, in June of 1998, he announced to the world that he wouldn’t be renewing his five-year licensing agreement with Billabong International and would be starting his own company, called Hurley.
It isn’t every day that a surf industry mogul turns his back on a property worth $70,000,000 and Hurley’s decision got the surfing world buzzing. Now, less than a year later, we talked to Hurley about the transition.
TransWorld SURF Business: Wow, this is really strange.
Bob Hurley: What’s that?
TransWorld SURF Business: I’m taping this conversation with a cheapo, 50-dollar cassette recorder from Radio Shack and for some reason, there’s a Gospel radio station coming through the speaker.
Bob Hurley: Get out of here.
TransWorld SURF Business: Serious. This thing isn’t a radio, it’s a tape recorder that thinks it’s a radio and it only gets a Gospel station. Is this some weird Hurley 999 Christian trick?
Bob Hurley: I have nothing to do with it. Your tape recorder is possessed.
TransWorld SURF Business: It’s possessed by a Christian radio station.
Bob Hurley: Speaking of posessed Christians, did you see that story on Rodney King in the L.A. Times yesterday?
TransWorld SURF Business: Yeah, he was standing in the rocks at San Onofre with a longboard.
Bob Hurley: Is he really a surfer?
TransWorld SURF Business: I think so. I’ve been reading about him for awhile, saying that surfing is his new religion and that he feels like a new person when he’s in the water. I tried to get him for the Surfer Magazine Surf Video Awards two years ago. We wanted him to hand out the Worst Beating award, but he wasn’t into it.
Bob Hurley: I wonder why he wouldn’t want to do that. He was wearing Billabong shorts in the photo. Yeah!
TransWorld SURF Business: Why wasn’t he wearing Hurley?
Bob Hurley: I don’t know. We don’t sponsor him. He’s an older demographic. But we do love jailbirds, just FYI. Some of my best friends are in jail
TransWorld SURF Business: I have a friend who’s in jail.
Bob Hurley: Everybody messes up every once in a while, don’t they?
TransWorld SURF Business: Not me.
Bob Hurley: Not me either, just every day. So we missed out on the free publicity with Rodney King, but we got it somewhere else. I’m reading this new Details Magazine and there’s a Letter to the Editor about Elizabeth Hurley and it’s titled Hurley Girlie. That’s what we call our girls stuff. Thank goodness for free, cheap publicity, huh?
TransWorld SURF Business: You should flow some stuff to Elizabeth Hurley, get her to model for you. She’s the bomb.
Bob Hurley: I wonder if she’d like this necklace I’m wearing?
TransWorld SURF Business: You’re wearing a necklace?
Bob Hurley: It’s just a rhinestone necklace.
TransWorld SURF Business: Is that part of the Hurley Girlie line?
Bob Hurley: Yeah. It gives me power.
TransWorld SURF Business: Are you power hungry?
Bob Hurley: I’m hungry, actually. It’s almost dinner time. But I’m not power hungry. But I do have this little girl’s necklace on because we’re organizing a photo shoot tomorrow and it’s kind of weird. I just like wearing it.
TransWorld SURF Business: I went through the town of Hurley when I was in England.
Bob Hurley: Cool!
TransWorld SURF Business: It’s on the Thames, near Henley. I was going to stop and buy you a keychain or a coffee cup or something, but it was 11:00 PM and we were looking for a Bed and Breakfast.
Bob Hurley: Was Elizabeth there?
TransWorld SURF Business: No, the town of Hurley is all one-eyed hunchbacks, people who are emotionally, mentally and physically disabled, which Elizabeth Hurley definitely is not.
Bob Hurley: You’re having me on, aren’t you?
TransWorld SURF Business: I am, but now it’s down to the serious stuff. Business.
Bob Hurley: shouts Surf business!
TransWorld SURF Business: Boring?
Bob Hurley: No, it’s never boring.
TransWorld SURF Business: Are all those pesky B’s gone from your building?
Bob Hurley: The Billabong B’s? Yes, the beekeeper let them all out of the hive, but there’s a few stragglers.
TransWorld SURF Business: What are the stragglers?
Bob Hurley: Well, we’re just finishing up. We still have another month of stuff to ship but it’s just the right amount. Just the tinsiest, tinsiest little bit, the end of the spring line. We took orders for all of this stuff in October and so we’re just fulfilling our obligations to our customers and to Billabong and we’re very happy about it.
TransWorld SURF Business: How long have you been shipping Hurley goods?
Bob Hurley: Since November.
TransWorld SURF Business: Shipping to retailers across the United States?
Bob Hurley: To the United States and one hundred and eighty three countries and some parts of the universe.
TransWorld SURF Business: Go on. There aren’t 183 countries anymore. Kosovo just got blown up.
Bob Hurley: Oh that’s right. One hundred and eighty two, like Blink 182. They have that name because somebody else already had Blink and 182 is the number of times the f-word was used in Scarface.
TransWorld SURF Business: You’re full of interesting information. It’s time for a past life regression. We’re going back to June of 1998, when you were still the Billabong dude and made a fateful decision.
Bob Hurley: I did.
TransWorld SURF Business: In June you flew to Australia and told Billabong International president Gordon Merchant that you wouldn’t be renewing your five-year license for Billy USA — is that what it was called?
Bob Hurley: Well my license was actually for Billabong and our company was called Billy International.
TransWorld SURF Business: Okay, gotcha.
Bob Hurley: No, not Gotcha. That’s the other company.
TransWorld SURF Business: Oops. I didn’t even meant to say that but it will be a very funny part of this interview. But that announcement started a number of things. You made poor Gordon Merchant fly to Huntington Beach and spend two long months in the Huntington Beach Hilton interviewing people. Don’t you feel rotten?
Bob Hurley: No, because nothing really bad happened to Billabong. We just decided that in the future we would cease to operate on his behalf so we gave him a year’s notice to come up with someone else that would. He didn’t really have a financial investment in our company or anything so nothing sour financially happened to him. All that happened was we weren’t going to continue sending him money. His choice at that time was should he start up another Billabong in the United States or should he get someone else to send him money or what. He decided to start up another Billabong so he had to spend some time in Huntington Beach.
TransWorld SURF Business: Well he wanted to find a licensee but he couldn’t.
Bob Hurley: Yeah so, no I don’t feel bad.
TransWorld SURF Business: Do you think they’ve landed on their feet over there at the new Bill
Bob Hurley: I have no idea.
TransWorld SURF Business: You’re not aware of what they’re doing?
Bob Hurley: Well I know they hired a lot of people and I think they have a lot of stuff going on. But our business is so performance oriented that it doesn’t matter who works in my company or in their company or who does anything. The only thing that matters in the end is whether the consumer buys the product and is happy with it. There’s a lot of things that have to happen in between. They’ve probably come half that way so far but the major thing is they’re about to deliver product. But that’s a very complicated thing to have happen. Hopefully they’ll do really well with that and everything will be successful.
TransWorld SURF Business: You’re being diplomatic.
Bob Hurley: I just got my Blue Shield medical cards just now.
TransWorld SURF Business: The new Hurley business medical plan.
Bob Hurley: Yeah I’m pretty happy about it.
TransWorld SURF Business: This is one of a million details you had to worry about in the transition?
Bob Hurley: Well not really. I don’t really worry about that stuff. There’s a guy here who worries about all that stuff.
TransWorld SURF Business: The transition wasn’t as tricky for you as it was for Gordon Merchant, or was it?
Bob Hurley: No, not that tricky. No magic potions. No nothing. What we did everyday, we’re still doing it but under a different banner.
TransWorld SURF Business: What was the hardest, most brain-racking part of the transition for you?
Bob Hurley: What was the most brain-racking thing? I know exactly what it is, but how do I put it? Financially it wasn’t a problem, operationally not a problem, business-wise not a problem. All the emotional upset that people had to experience because I made what I thought was the best choice for our company. That was the hardest thing.
TransWorld SURF Business: It was a dramatic change.
Bob Hurley: I’d say on the whole people are adverse to change. I personally am not adverse to change and some of the people I work closest with are not adverse to change. They embrace it and welcome it, but there are a lot of people who are nervous about change. The hardest part for me was to calm people and explain that change is a good thing and not a bad thing.
TransWorld SURF Business: Which people. People who work for you or?
Bob Hurley: All kinds of people. People who work with me. Friends and family. Customers. General public. Surf publications. Newspapers. I was happy with with how my relationship had been with Billabong for fifteen years but most people translated my decision into the whole Billabong thing was rotten and I had to get out of it. I didn’t feel that way so explaining the reasons for the change was the difficult thing for me.
TransWorld SURF Business: You had to do that a lot.
Bob Hurley: A lot. People deserved an explanation — some people took it very seriously, like “How could you, Bob Hurley, do this to us.”
TransWorld SURF Business: Did anyone get really angry?
Bob Hurley: Some people. Like some of the sales reps that left. They still don’t and can’t know the full extent of my reasons. The reasons don’t matter that much. I was pretty happy with where I was and now I’m happier with where I’m at and it’s just sad that I had to do so much explaining and it wasn’t always understood. But that was the hardest part for me.
TransWorld SURF Business: The majority of the people who were with you before are still with you, right?
Bob Hurley: Most of them. There were eight sales reps who left and there were four in-house employees: Mark Machado, Dave Uecker, Kevin Harrell and Richard Saunders.
TransWorld SURF Business: You can’t blame the sales reps. They were probably making six figures with Billabong.
Bob Hurley: Some of them were, yeah.
TransWorld SURF Business: They had a nice solid groove going and then they were faced with going off on your risky venture or staying with the established name. People have mortgages and things like that.
Bob Hurley: I guess some of them saw it that way which I don’t understand and I may never understand until the day I die. Because where I sit at my desk all business is a risk. I don’t think there’s any indication that they’ll necessarily make any more by staying with the new Billabong. I think the announcement in and of itself was bound to effect their income. I think anyone that chose to go there to maintain their income I think that’s an illusion because it may be less or it may be more. You don’t really know. It’s a big unknown. Same with staying here but unfortunately for them the announcment in and of itself the transition meant probably less of a paycheck but their method of solving the problem of going there I think only time will tell if that was a good idea or not.
TransWorld SURF Business: Which sales reps departed?
Bob Hurley: Wes Laine, Tim Finlay, Jon Kleintop, Gary Clisby, Jimbo Gaskin, Rob Willis. How many is that?
TransWorld SURF Business: Six.
Bob Hurley: And Keoni Watson, yeah.
TransWorld SURF Business: These are all long-time friends.
Bob Hurley: Yes.
TransWorld SURF Business: Do you miss them?
Bob Hurley: Uh. Miss them? Uh.
TransWorld SURF Business: Are you still friends with some of them?
Bob Hurley: I’m still friends with Rob Willis.
TransWorld SURF Business: Wow. So it got a little ugly?
Bob Hurley: Well, not really. I just think different people handle different situations in different ways. Unfortunately for those guys most of them are younger than me and they probably haven’t been through as much as I have. They didn’t handle their situation in a professional or even a friendly way. And it really hurt my feelings to a large degree. I wouldn’t say that I’m not friends with them, it’s just that I haven’t talked to them. None of them have bothered to call.
TransWorld SURF Business: Was there some sort of official avenue for saying which way they were going to go?
Bob Hurley: Yeah, they all sent Federal Express letters.
TransWorld SURF Business: All of them?
Bob Hurley: Yep. On the same day.
TransWorld SURF Business: So it was kind of a conspiracy.
Bob Hurley: I wouldn’t say that.
TransWorld SURF Business: Were you surprised?
Bob Hurley: I was devastated on a personal level. On a business level I was glad. But on a personal level I was devastated.
TransWorld SURF Business: Who have you found to replace Wes Laine?
Bob Hurley: Brad Harrell now does Wes Laine’s territory and is really doing a good job. Denny Reardon replaces Jon Kleintop in Florida and Seth McKinney replaces Keoni Watson in Hawaii and Mark Weber replaces Gary Clisby in San Diego and Dean Quinn replaces Jimbo Gaskin in Orange County and Mark Simpson replaces Tim Finlay in Northern California. Oh and there was another one who left, Mike Green in Seattle. Tim and Jennifer Schwab replaced him.
TransWorld SURF Business: But other than that your team is the same team?
Bob Hurley: I think so.
TransWorld SURF Business: Key players are Paul Gomez, Marketing Director.
Bob Hurley: Yes sir.
TransWorld SURF Business: Joe McElroy.
Bob Hurley: Creative Director.
TransWorld SURF Business: Mike Lesher.
Bob Hurley: Director of Sales. Mike Ochsner is Director of Finance. Leeanne Mur
ray is Director of Merchandising and Design. Joe K is Director of Production. Everyone who works here on every level is really super important to me. There are so many important people like guys who work in the warehouse or guys who work in production. Guys who handle our stuff are so on a mission it’s just really exciting. And they make the days more fun.
TransWorld SURF Business: Number of employees?
Bob Hurley: One hundred and thirty.
TransWorld SURF Business: I hate to use the word vibe but how is the vibe at Hurley since the transition? Are people challenged? Invigorated?
Bob Hurley: I think they’re enthused to be a part of something new, to feel they’re in on the ground floor of something. We always had a great company and great people but after a while you get into a certain hum drum rut, like, “Oh yeah business is up this year another X per cent.” This change has shaken things up and it’s definitely not hum drum. It’s really fun to be doing something all over at this point of my life, something brand new. And I think everybody is amped to be working on this whole new concept.
TransWorld SURF Business: Explain this new concept. How are the H’s different from the B’s?
Bob Hurley: Well the new story we are writing and the new life we are designing for ourselves tends to focus more on a younger audience. We’re a little more aggressive and a little less influenced by the past. It comes at a good time because the whole century is changing and 1999 and blah blah blah.
TransWorld SURF Business: What would you say was the target market of Billabong?
Bob Hurley: Like an 18 to 24 year old surfer.
TransWorld SURF Business: And the target market of Hurley?
Bob Hurley: A 16-year-old person, boy or girl, who likes surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, punk rock music, hip hop music. Lawrence Welk. Spaghetti-O’s.
TransWorld SURF Business: What is the sixteen-year-old looking for these days?
Bob Hurley: I don’t know.
TransWorld SURF Business: You don’t know? You haven’t done any research?
Bob Hurley: Oh we don’t do research. Our whole deal is? it sounds so cliché and I don’t know a better way to say it but our whole deal is about keeping it real. We make clothes for the people we love and the people we want to be involved with. It’s a very personal thing. We don’t have market research or anything like that. It’s kind of about love and keeping it real and word of mouth and hanging out with our friends.
TransWorld SURF Business: Who do you rely on? Who are your real people?
Bob Hurley: Everyone. Kim Rios at the front desk. The people who ship the merchandise, the people who design it, the team riders, the musicians who come through. We do fun stuff like today my friend Mark who’s in a punk band was just sitting in my office as I was signing a bunch of papers to register Hurley as an international name. Mark was around and he acted as my witness, just a singer in a punk band and it was kind of fun.
TransWorld SURF Business: Could he sign his own name?
Bob Hurley: He could barely sign his own name. Most punkers really don’t know how to spell too well but he used an X and he’s missing a few teeth so he spit a lot while he was signing that.
TransWorld SURF Business: We’ve established that you’re making rhinestone necklaces, but what else?
Bob Hurley: Jeans, board shorts, walk shorts, all that kind of stuff. Sweaters, snowboard gear. I don’t know. T-shirts, stickers. Rhinestone necklaces, because we’re playing grown up here. Playing dress up. We make clothes we like.
TransWorld SURF Business: Can you say what your projected sales are for your first year?
Bob Hurley: Yes, one billion dollars.
TransWorld SURF Business: Laughter.
Bob Hurley: Why, does that sound high?
TransWorld SURF Business: Naw, not these days. A billion isn’t what it used to be.
Bob Hurley: I don’t think that’s high.
TransWorld SURF Business: Will Hurley have the funds to sponsor some big surf contests?
Bob Hurley: Well, you figure it out. With a billion in sales we have more money than just about anyone. We’re already sponsoring the HB surf series which is, 10 pro ams with a $2,000 first prize. California pro surfing is kind of stagnant right now, so that’s kind of a fun thing. And we’re involved in a lot of other projects. We sponsor some skate contests, we’re a co-sponsor of the Warp Tour. We get involved with things that teenagers like.
TransWorld SURF Business: So you’re as much a skate and snowboard company as you are a surf company?
Bob Hurley: Oh I don’t know, that’s such a hard thing to define. I’m primarily a surfer and a surfboard shaper and we like it all. I want to be a good skateboader but I’m not. We sponsor a lot of great skateboarders and we’re definitely into it. Seems like all the lines are crossing for that stuff.
TransWorld SURF Business: Any other special projects?
Bob Hurley: Yeah but if I told you I’d have to kill you, wouldn’t I? Peter King is making a really bitchin’ video for us, called The Underground. He did the Internet site for us too, at www.hurley999.com, that was a fun new project. And then Chris Malloy is working on a documentary of his travels for a year and he’s making a book. We’re helping him out with that.
TransWorld SURF Business: I just looked at your Website as we were talking. I checked out the team roster and saw some good talent — all of the Malloys, Noah Johnson, Kahea Hart — but I didn’t see Ross Williams and Shane Dorian. They stayed with Billabong?
Bob Hurley: Well they went to Billabong. I’m going to keep correcting you because I’m a dick.
TransWorld SURF Business: They went to Billabong?
Bob Hurley: Yes, they left our company.
TransWorld SURF Business: Right, but you could say they stayed with Billabong.
Bob Hurley: Uh uh. That’s an inaccurate journalistic statement. Don’t you think?
TransWorld SURF Business: Well they were with Billabong before.
Bob Hurley: But they only ever got a paycheck from me.
TransWorld SURF Business: True. But the name of the company was Billabong.
Bob Hurley: Yeah.
TransWorld SURF Business: So.
Bob Hurley: So you’re probably right. So what? I’ll be right some time.
TransWorld SURF Business: Who else? Which surfers went to Billabong as you say.
Bob Hurley: Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, Benji Weatherley, and some of the amateur team.
TransWorld SURF Business: Was there a bidding war for those chaps?
Bob Hurley: There was a bit of one. It seemed like Billabong was willing to spend a lot more money than I was so they threw out a lot of money.
TransWorld SURF Business: Shane Dorian is worth a lot of money.
Bob Hurley: I’ve heard.
TransWorld SURF Business: He was impressive at the Hui Backdoor Shootout.
Bob Hurley: He gives a 100 percent effort. Not many guys do that. I’m so proud of him and how he’s doing. But I did steal one of his surfboards as an unsigning bonus. It was so fun.
TransWorld SURF Business: An unsigning bonus?
Bob Hurley: Uh huh. I was at Chris Malloy’s house in Hawaii and I was like, “Man I like this round pin.” And he said, “It’s Shane’s, you should take it.” And I said, “No I can’t take it.” And he’s like, “Just take it.” So I said okay and I put it in the car and I’m like, “No I can’t do it,” and Chris said, “Just consider it an unsigning bonus.” A
nd I’m like, “Hey, I like that. I’ll take it.”
TransWorld SURF Business: Is Shane aware of this?
Bob Hurley: Nope.
TransWorld SURF Business: Oh dear. Are you on speaking terms with those guys?
Bob Hurley: Oh, yeah, totally. I love those guys.
TransWorld SURF Business: What is the status of the zipperless wetsuit patent?
Bob Hurley: I gave it to the NSSA.
TransWorld SURF Business: That was nice of you. Why did you do that?
Bob Hurley: Well, from the beginning I was turning over any licensing fees on the zipperless thing to the NSSA, but a lot of companies who were making wetsuits covered by our patent didn’t want to pay us, a competing company, for that right. So I turned the patent over to the NSSA hoping that companies will pay the money directly to them.
TransWorld SURF Business: Is it much money?
Bob Hurley: It’s not a whole lot of money, but every little but helps with the NSSA. I think that’s where the future of surfing lies.
TransWorld SURF Business: Money. In the transition from Billabong to Hurley, there was a lot of talk about whether you were going to make it. There was some buzz about Hurley being picked up by Pacific Sunwear. Was that a big deal?
Bob Hurley: Oh, I don’t know. They haven’t been carrying too much of our stuff and business has been fantastic, so I don’t know if Pacific Sunwear was that big of a deal. I don’t know if anything is that big of a deal. I’m one of those guys who’s always like, “so?” Does anything matter? Does anyone buy our clothes? Does anyone read a magazine? Just so long as I can come in here and see Paul Gomes every day and Mike Lesher and my brother and my daughter and our designers and art people and make fun stuff. As long as I have the money to do that, I’m stoked. To be able to make an ad or a poster of one of our friends doing something crazy, that’s so fun.
TransWorld SURF Business: And you are still enjoying what you do?
Bob Hurley: I have so much fun every day, I can’t even tell you. Every single day is the best.
TransWorld SURF Business: How much longer are you going to do this?
Bob Hurley: Until I’m not having any fun. But I can’t imagine not working.
TransWorld SURF Business: Any last statements you want to make?
Bob Hurley: Just one thing. People are always trying to turn this into an us-against-them thing, a Hurley against Billabong thing or a Bob Hurley against Gordon Merchant thing and it’s just not like that.
TransWorld SURF Business: Well, people like to create conflict, I guess.
Bob Hurley: We don’t think like that here. It’s just me and Joe Mac and Paul Gomez and the rest of my homeys sitting around and thinking about fun stuff to do.
TransWorld SURF Business: It’s all about having fun?
Bob Hurley: That’s what it’s all about.