BY JOHN CRENSHAW
NEWBURY PARK, CA (BRAIN)—Skip Hess has resigned as president of Giant USA, a position he’s held since 1999
He’s now checking items off his TTDBYD list.
“That’s ‘Things to do Before You Die,’” he said.
Among those things are extensive travel and spending time with his family, the industry veteran said.
“There are a few things I really want to do. I want to see the Great Pyramids and ride a camel across the sand. I want to float down the Amazon on a creaky wooden boat, see the glaciers in Alaska before it’s too late, spend a month in Africa during the migration. I can’t do those things while I’m buried in a job,” he said.
He was off to a good start—packing in mid July for a trip to the Caribbean with his wife, children and parents.
With three children, one a 21-year-old university senior, the others in middle and high school, he’s looking forward to time at home, too.
“I’d like to go to a few Friday night football games and a few trumpet recitals, and help with some trigonometry,” Hess said.
Hess has been in the industry 27 years—his father created Mongoose, and he grew up in bike manufacturing. Now, as age 49 looms in September, he doesn’t want to step into the trap he’s seen catch other people.
“I know too many guys who said ‘I’m gonna, I’m gonna,’ then looked back and said ‘Doggonit, why didn’t I?’” he said.
He’s proud of the way Giant USA’s grown in profitability and in size—from 27 to 105 employees, for in stance—the quantum improvements in products and the strength of its retailers.
“But I have to do this for me as a man, a husband, and a father, as part of my life experience. I can’t just have my nose down working all the time. Finding the balance between life and career is hard for me, so I’m going to take a break,” Hess said.
He emphasized that the move is for himself and his family.
“It’s nothing against Giant. I love the place. I love them. They didn’t want me to leave, and in many ways I didn’t want to leave. But this is more important to me right now,” Hess said.
He said he’s always been a pragmatist and that this isn’t a very pragmatic thing to do. “But I’m really committed to it, and my family is just overjoyed that I actually pulled the ripcord,” he said.
Tony Lo, president of Giant’s global operations, has known Hess for 18 years, dating to Hess’s first stint with Giant USA as a product manager from 1987 until 1992, when Hess left for Schwinn and helped guide that company’s post-bankruptcy turnaround. When Hess wrapped up that job in 1999, Lo hired him as president of Giant USA.
“I’ve been very impressed with his passion and insistence on nothing but the very best. I was very disappointed when he decided to leave, as in my mind he is the best product guy I have ever known,” Lo said.
When Hess took over, Lo said, most stores positioned Giant as a replacement for Schwinn and saw it as a family brand. He credits Hess with changing the game, convincing retailers of Giant’s brand potential and leading it to a top-three position in the United States.
“Today, dealers are selling Giant brand bicycles up to as high as $8,000 retail. During Skip’s eight-year tenure, Giant USA’s annual revenue has increased from $30 million to more than $100 million,” Lo said.
Although retaining his title as president and providing corporate strategic direction, Hess stepped away from day-to-day operations at Giant in November.
Since then, “Skip has been helping me with Giant Global TM (product and brand development), where his talent really shined. He’s helped develop a great global team, full of talent and passion, who know no limit and are the future driving force of the Giant brand,” Lo said.
“I hate to see Skip go but must respect his own life decision. I thank him for the outstanding achievement he has delivered and the solid foundation he helped build,” Lo added.
The industry as a whole will miss Hess, said industry consultant Jay Townley of the Gluskin Townley group, himself a veteran of Giant and Schwinn who’s known Hess pretty much since Hess’s BMX racing days.
“It’ll be sad if he doesn’t return to the industry in some way, shape or form. It’ll be a great loss to the industry if we don’t see him come back at some point,” Townley said.
One of Hess’s contributions lie in fostering retailer relationships, Townley said. “Skip’s always been very aware of the need for manufacturers and brands to work closely with—actually partner with—retailers. He’s a long-standing friend of the bike shops,” Townley said.
As scion of a bicycle manufacturing entrepreneur, Hess helped professionalize product management, bringing order to a complex process, Townley said.
“And he’s always been very honest and forthright, not only in business dealings, but in expressing his interests, beliefs and concerns with the industry. When Skip was on an industry program, people listened. He’s entertaining and knowledgeable, and his opinions are very widely respected in the industry,” he added.
Hess wouldn’t rule out returning to the industry some day, but wouldn’t commit to it, either.
“I’ll take this sabbatical, explore life, learn how to reconnect, to reprioritize, then take it from there. I don’t have any plans to go to work in any business—but I know this one, and love it. So who knows?” he said.