Industry Abuzz With Buzz’s Speech
McKnight Wows ’em at SIMA Surf {{{Summit}}} 2004

“Buzz” is a nickname given to Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight by surfing legend, friend and business partner Jeff Hakman. The year was 1974 and Bob McKnight was surfing in Bali. The only board McKnight had was a big wave gun (he had broken his others). In the lineup, Hakman heckled McKnight. “Who do you think you are, Buzzy Trent?” Thus, the birth of “Buzz.”

A fitting anecdote as the “buzz” poolside on opening day of the convention was the aforementioned McKnight and his keynote speech.

“That’s why I’m here. When I heard that Bob was giving the keynote, I immediately booked a flight, without a room reservation or anything,” said Australia’s Bill McCausland. “I’ve read some of his (McKnight’s) ideas regarding the surf industry. I can’t wait to hear him tell the entire industry.”

All the heavy hitters in the surf industry descended upon Los Cabos for the 7th Annual SIMA Surf Summit. From the Donald Trump of marketing, REEF’s Fernando Aguierre, to the JP {{{Morgan}}} of hardgoods, Rusty Preisendorfer, and all the others in-between, a highly representative crew of surf industry personnel were on hand to hear McKnight pontificate.

The main points of McKnight’s speech can be boiled down into three main parts: taking risks; growing the pond; and threats to the industry. The Quiksilver honcho expressed delight at the risk takers in the industry. Volcom, …Lost, Brad Gerlach, Split, RVCA, and others drew praise for innovation, and for not relying on cookie cutter techniques or what others had all ready done. Rather, McKnight acknowledged those who are forging new ground. He stressed the importance of taking risk and rewarding risk takers. “Look at Bob Hurley leaving Billabong. Do you think Bob Hurley has got some balls or what?” McKnight said to a cheering crowd. “This is how and why we, the surf industry, must grow the pond.”

McKnight’s “growing the pond” theory is based upon an example set by McDonald’s. The folks at the golden arches realized that if they built a food court and set up their competitors (Jack-In-The-Box, Burger King, etc., etc.) alongside their own stores, sales will increase. And increase they did-for everybody. McKnight also referred to the microchip leader Intel, a “big fish in a little pond”. He pointed out that Intel invested heavily in scholarships, training and R&D in the microchip arena, knowing it would benefit Intel competitors as well. An explosion in the microchip industry took place. The fruits of Intel’s investment paid off. Everyone was a winner. Intel grew the pond and now swims around in a lake, not a pond-and they are still the big fish. “This is how we (surf industry) must behave. We must the grow the pond,” said McKnight.

“I learned a long time ago that I’m not going to drive Billabong out of business,” stated McKnight. “And Billabong isn’t going to drive us out of business. We are not the enemy, the people in this room are not the enemy,” McKnight stated, as he pointed to members of the surf industry. “The enemy is out there,” referring to surf industry/lifestyle wannabes such as Abercrombie, Tommy Hillfigler, Hollister and others.

The enemy, according to McKnight, is the mainstream clothiers who don’t surf, don’t know surf, and don’t check the surf–yet they sell surf. “Tommy don’t surf,” said McKnight emphatically as the imbibed crowd cheered on. To deal with these threats McKnight was adamant about protecting the core retail shops. “We must understand the importance of the core shops,” said McKnight. “The places that kids go to hang out, talk surf, buy boards, talk trash, check chicks, and discuss design, swells, and travel.”

McKnight ended his speech with some insight into Quiksilver and the challenges his company has faced over the years. He stressed innovation, risk taking and supporting the core. McKnight also took this time to reestablishing how lucky we all are to be surfers and to live the lives we lead.

Amen Buzz! SIMA Image Awards: