April 23, 2013
Filed under: Travel
Before I leave for Asia on Thursday to cover the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show for an upcoming issue of ASI’s supplier magazine I edit, I wanted to give you a sneak peek of the cover story, “Game Changers: The Industry’s Five Most Maverick CEOs,” in the new edition.
Who’s number one on my list? The person I’ve been asked about most often in the 16 years I’ve been in the industry: American Apparel’s Dov Charney. Dov and I have been friends for 10 years now, as we first met when I profiled him for Counselor magazine. He wasn’t the famous personality he is now, but even then, I knew he was about as unique and unconventional as they come. He is, and always has been, a human A bomb.
Now let me acknowledge what everyone is thinking: Yes, he is a lunatic, and yes, he makes questionable business decisions to say the least. But he is also – and I’ll stand by this statement every time – the most talented marketer I’ve ever met. While the rest of us are limited to five senses, Dov has a sixth – the ability to spot trends well ahead of the masses and craft them into a lifestyle brand that the hippest of demographics covet. And say what you will about his business acumen, but after a roller coaster of profits and losses, American Apparel’s sales have been on a steady incline of late; its promo division’s sales increased from $90.2 million in 2011 to $96.8 million in 2012.
Without question, maverick CEOs share a few traits: a refusal to accept the status quo, a willingness to fail, and the guts to make tough decisions and stand by them (not to mention a touch of ADHD).
And that is quintessential Dov Charney. Whenever he shows up in the news – and let’s face it: he’s not unfamiliar with the inside of a lawyer’s office – friends ask me what he’s really like. Here’s what I say: It’s simply not in his DNA to ask permission to do whatever he wants with American Apparel, even now as it’s a publicly-traded company; it wouldn’t even dawn on him to care what people think. And I remind people that a lot of what’s been written about him is sensationalized and exaggerated for effect. In reality, Dov is quite charming, very sweet, more than a little geeky and utterly harmless – with a big intellect, a bigger mouth and a personality that could most politely be described as weapons-grade wacko.
There are a few people in the industry who unnerve me to the depths of my soul – including one head of a Top 40 company with whom I wouldn’t be alone without a taser and pepper spray. Dov Charney – with his jaw-dropping talent and despite his over-the-top eccentricities – I’d happily spend time with any day of the week because when he’s creating and innovating, there’s nothing more mesmerizing. You never know if you’ll get the genius, the mad man or both.
Cheers, and more from Hong Kong next week!