Not Just a Team Manager: John Povah
In his role as team manager for the Etnies BMX team, UK to CA transplant John Povah strives for middle ground between the business of selling shoes and managing an international crew of BMXers. But there's a lot more to it than that.
Technically, John Povah is the Etnies BMX team manager. But that description falls far short of everything that Povah does both on the side and through his job at Etnies. Some of his additional roles include: product designer, photographer, ramp builder, bike rider, sport organizer and magazine contributor. I know I'm probably missing a few roles, but my point is this: John Povah came up in a time when BMX had no limits, boundaries or paychecks. And he used that to his advantage. He emigrated from the U.K. to California, got to work and made things happen both on and off the bike. In the process, John Povah became one of the most respected names in the industry, and at least in my mind, one of the best team managers in the history of BMX. I've wanted to do a small series on team managers in BMX, and so naturally, I figured that Povah was the best place to start. Enjoy.
Can you describe what your various responsibilities are with Etnies?
Working for a skate company is a pain in the a** sometimes, cause I'm a one-man show there as far as being the BMX team manager. In that respect, I'm the brand manager also. Obviously, a team manager manages the team, but you also make sure that any aspect of what goes on with the team is not getting screwed up: working with product designers on product (such as Aaron Ross's shoe), the art department (if they're doing posters or ads, making sure that the image is decent and that no one's names are getting spelled wrong), and making sure any and every aspect is covered (budgets, finance, travel, hotels, making sure the team riders are representing the brand correctly.) Also, in some respects, being someone that the riders can come to and trust and get advice from. There's been situations where I've actually helped guys get other sponsors aside from Etnies.
How did you get into your line of work?
My trade, after leaving school, was painting cars. And then I got the opportunity to do something a little more closely related to what I was doing through shows. I did that on weekends, then got a job building ramps for a while. From riding, you obviously meet a lot of people going to contests, Jay Miron thought I would be a decent person to take care of the Schwinn program. He was doing it at the time, but trying to be a pro rider and do everything behind the scenes was too much for him, and he wanted to focus more on riding. So I came into the position and did the Schwinn thing for five or six years. In 2001, Schwinn filed Chapter 11, and I went back to building ramps for a bit. And then the Etnies gig came along, and I've been there for seven years.
What are some of the various headaches you deal with on a daily basis?
Dealing with a big company. We have a lot of suits that run the show. And trying to make the two worlds mesh. We come from a rebellious background; jumping fences, damaging property, that's the nature of what we do. We got into these sports cause we didn't want to do football. Dealing with suits, and trying to make spreadsheets, meetings, this, that and the other mesh with dudes that wake up at two in the afternoon, drink beer, or whatever. Making those two worlds mesh is the hardest part. From a corporate standpoint, they just see numbers on paper, and the bottom line is sales. Dealing with budgets too. Times are tough right now, and the economy is killing everybody. Sales are down, and trying to keep a program going, when at the end of the day, the bottom line is sales, it's the toughest thing ever.
How many hours a week do you work?
As long as I get everything done, there's no set amount of hours. I don't have to be in the office, but I like to be there, cause like I said, if I'm not there, someone who doesn't know what I'm doing screws something up. I'm at the office at least six to seven hours a day, and if I'm not there, weekends are taken up with riders in town, or traveling. You know how it goes. Being out filming at night or shooting photos, your work carries over into your personal time.
Dealing with the corporate part of the company, that's the most difficult part.
Who's actually on the Etnies team now?
The pro team, or the guys who get a check, is Jamie Betwick, Morgan Wade, Aaron Ross, Brian Kachinsky, Sergio Layos, Ruben Alcantara, and then in 2010, Nathan Williams is being bumped up.
Have you had to fire anybody?
Not fire, but I've had to tell people that we can't pay them anymore. For doing a bad job, no. It's just that the time comes for some people, where their life changes and they're headed in different directions. Either they need to realize that and step away, or I'm forced in a position where I help them do that.
Is that the most difficult part of your job?
That really does suck, especially because 99.9% of the guys were my friends before I ever got this job. So that does suck. Nobody ever wants to hear that they can't get paid anymore, but dealing with the corporate part of the company, that's the most difficult part. There's a large part of what I do that they are never going to understand. Basically, I work for a skateboard company, and skateboarding is always going to come first. BMX always comes second.
Do you ever get tired of random people calling up asking for free shoes?
Yeah, I'm diplomatic about it though. That's not a tough part of the job. There are so many good guys out there and you wanna help everybody; you just gotta put a gauge on it. I have to pick and choose, and times are tough right now so I have to be a little harsher with that.
How do you see your position in regards to other BMX shoe companies out there?
I feel like, fortunately, we're still a privately owned company. The other brands, like DC and Vans, they're publicly owned, so they have other people to answer to. I would imagine that I have a lot more freedom. We're not as big as those companies, so the money's not there, but I do work more closely with higher-ups in the company on a personal level. The owner of the company I work for knows me, comes and says hi, and I can hang out and drink a beer with him. You probably couldn't say that for other people that answer to shareholders, you know?
What's coming up for Etnies in the new year?
Nathan Williams is getting to the pro team, or the A team, whatever you wanna call it. I'm excited about that. We're doing a lot more on the Web. Hopefully, at the end of 2010, we're going to have an event at the Etnies skatepark in Lake Forest, CA called The Gathering. Kind of a unique contest/get together for BMX.
To check out the Etnies BMX team blog or perhaps even buy some signature Aaron Ross Number kicks, head over to the Etnies BMX site.
Follow Brian Tunney on Twitter: @briantunney
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