SIMA President Dick Baker Wants Some Accountability

With Peter Townend’s two one-year terms as president of the Surf Industries Manufacturers Association (SIMA) over, Op CEO Dick Baker has stepped up to take on this difficult position.

He’s taking over at a critical time. He’ll be faced with a slew of concerns, including worries about amateur and professional surfing, the marketing of the sport, the role of the Internet, and the timing of trade shows. Even more critical, Baker has to change the image of the organization. Widely viewed as being ineffectual and highly political, SIMA has to become a place where things get done.

So what’s his plan, and can he really pull it off?

TransWorld SURF Business: What has been your involvement with SIMA up to this point?

Dick Baker: I’ve tried to be a quiet student of the industry for the past several years. I’ve sat on the SIMA board and tried to help from a business perspective only. They call me “the suit” — although I haven’t worn one for a long time. And in watching it unfold over the past couple of years, I’ve been fascinated. Here’s probably the most soulful, coolest sport in the world, that as an industry is dysfunctional.

SIMA has attempted to address some of the big issues — like how to market the sport of surfing — for the past five to ten years, but they haven’t done very well. There have been too many personal or brand agendas. Whether it’s Australian versus American, ASP versus the companies — there have been agendas constantly floating around.

Now the complaint in the industry is the athletes are running the sport, and the brands who pay the bills haven’t collectively gotten their act together to market the sport.

TransWorld SURF Business: What will it take for them to collectively get their act together?

Dick Baker: If I can accomplish one thing in the next couple of years it’s that I can come in and be Switzerland. I’m not Australian. I’m not South African. I’m not one of the boys. I don’t run a surf magazine. I really have no hidden agenda.

Sure, we’ve worked hard to get the Op brand back to life, but I’m not a ‘core threat. So if I can apply a set of business skills and a strategic plan and get everyone involved, we have a very good chance of accomplishing something.

SIMA has been kind of floating over the last few years. PT — who is one of the true leaders of the surf industry — worked hard to address some of the main issues, but his profile is a lot different than mine.

When I was first approached to be president a few months ago, I said no. I’d been on the board for a couple of years and helped in a couple of ways — like the Surf Summit — but I was getting frustrated. I didn’t see change happening. The intent was there, but the execution wasn’t. But it never entered my mind to be the president. Then Peter Townend and Primedia Executive Bob Mignogna called me, and I said no.

My standard joke was that if you’ve seen the movie The Insider with Russell Crowe, this was The Outsider with Dick Baker. If I couldn’t organize and get everyone rallied together, I didn’t even want to go there. It would probably be more detrimental if all of the sudden SIMA evolved to a point where a non-‘core — branded guy was running the show.

So before I agreed, I called Billabong President Paul Naudé, Reef Owner Fernando Aguerre, and Rip Curl President Leigh Tonai, and said: “Hey listen, I’m not going to do this unless you commit yourself to the board. I’m not going to do this unless we have a specific set of goals and objectives and I can get the key guys in the industry on the board and participating. Otherwise, I don’t want to jerk anybody around and have everyone come to a breakfast meeting once a month and get nothing done.”

TransWorld SURF Business: So I guess they thought your ideas were good ones.

Dick Baker: I’m going to run SIMA over the next year by committee. The committees will be chaired by an absolute expert on that subject who has passion for that subject. The goals won’t be gray, they’ll be black and white.

We’re not trying to cover 25 things. Each of the seven issues we’ll cover will have its own committee, chaired by someone who has passion for the subject and brings something to the table. There will also be four or five board members — both advisory and elected — on each committee.

TransWorld SURF Business: What will be the seven committees?

Dick Baker: The seven committees are Surfing America, fundraising, membership, environment, trade show, seminars and conferences, and an Internet committee.

We won’t use the board meetings to accomplish stuff. All the work will be done in between meetings, and the leaders of each committee will present their results at the meeting. It’s not rocket science, but in the past there’s been way too much talk at the board meetings instead of action.

For example, Paul Naudé is one of the most passionate individuals in the surf industry about environmental issues. Well, guess who’s the chairman of SIMA environmental committee? If he can just organize the industry behind the Surfrider Foundation’s hang-tag program, the significance would be staggering. He will become the engine for that subject, and he’ll know not to show up at the board meetings unless he’s done his homework and is ready to present some results.

TransWorld SURF Business: So it’s all about accountability.

Dick Baker: Exactly.

TransWorld SURF Business: What are some of your other goals?

Dick Baker: First, we need to develop a long-term strategic blueprint for SIMA. Next, we have to create and fund a SIMA administration staff. We also need to execute plans — literally put a time-and-action calendar to the whole year, get the programs up and running, and get things done.

Another place where there’s a disconnect is with membership. We need to reconstruct the whole category and get all the key players involved like Volcom President Richard Woolcott and Bob Hurley. If Hurley thinks this place is full of assholes, then he should come a make a difference. If he cares about the sport, then get involved.

We need to reintroduce the new SIMA to the old members — like the Freestyles, Gotchas, and the other guys who don’t participate anymore. Hey, if Body Glove and Op can be involved, anyone can be. I mean give me a break! We also need to get the Vans, the Hurleys, and the Volcoms involved.

We need to be sensitive to the fact that without the Losts and Volcoms of the world SIMA is f–ked. The day the industry continues to go down the path of being run by guys who are 40 and 50 years old without any input from all the new fresh parts of the business, you have an industry in trouble — and that’s what’s been happening for the last few years.