Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Updated: April 13, 4:21 PM ET
The Hot Seat
By Alyssa Roenigk
Jake Burton, 50, founder of Burton Snowboards, Burlington, VT
Describe Burton's business philosophy. You can bring your dog to work or ride if it's a powder day, but there's a competitive spirit to be better than anybody else. Does everyone at Burton snowboard? Damn near. I can't imagine working here and not snowboarding. Are you surprised by Burton's growth? Yes. It continues to amaze me. This isn't an Internet company that grew explosively. It's been hard work. Where will the industry grow? Snowboarding is still white-bred and expensive. It would be nice to make it accessible to more people. How will that happen? With the mountains offering reasonable prices or us making equipment less expensively. Would you accept growth outside your core market? Early on, we adhered to the core thing, but it's changed. It's a compliment to the sport. If a kid in Ohio who's never snowboarded wants to wear a Burton T-shirt, that's cool. Should that kid in Ohio know Burton is a snowboard company? Yes. When you're wearing a snowboarding T-shirt, you're making a statement. We don't want to get in a situation where people are buying snowboards to put up over their fireplaces. Do you ever struggle to keep the company in Vermont? Vermont keeps us focused. If there were waves right out the back door, we might not be as productive. And Vermont gets a lot of different conditions. We're testing boards all over the world, but we're testing a lot in Vermont. Stowe will give you some of the best days of your life, and some of your worst. What is snowboarding's biggest threat? The ski industry gaining too much leverage. I think a lot of ski companies wish snowboarding never happened. How important is rider selection to your image? Super important. We look for great riders who care about the product and the sport. What is your image? We are committed to making the best sh*t out there. What are you most proud of? I've gone to bat for the sport against the FIS (he pronounces it "fis") and tried to maintain the purity of the sport. Are you happy with how snowboarding will be represented in 2006? Yeah, but it's discouraging that they added Boardercross, which is a cool event with insanely talented riders, but to overlook Slopestyle is a huge mistake. Slopestyle is what's going on in the sport right now. Your biggest regret? We've passed on some riders. But the toughest thing has been losing riders like Craig Kelly and Jeffie Anderson. Craig taught me how to listen. Your best toy? I love to buy surfboards. I bought 12 in the past year. They have this seductive influence over me. Ever talk business with Ben and Jerry? No. But I learned a lot from watching them. Who are you jealous of? The riders.