Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk has defined his career by taking risks so, unsurprisingly, he championed a similar business strategy during his keynote address at the American Institute of CPAs’ Engage event in Las Vegas Wednesday.
The fearlessness that led Hawk to become a pioneer in skateboarding -- a self-professed "uncool" activity when he started back in the 1970s but which he eventually brought to the mainstream -- has also been a guiding factor in his numerous business endeavors. Some of his entrepreneurial gambles have paid off big, in the form of his long-running skateboard and clothing company Birdhouse and popular video games, while others have been less successful, he shared with the audience.
One example was when he partnered with a fashion designer on expensive jeans.
“I didn’t know the cost incurred in building that brand,” Hawk said. “All the profits were eaten up by the high-end denim brand, and we realized the hard way that we couldn’t just get into any field. We finally sold it for what we owed the bank. It was a hard lesson, and we were lucky we got out of it. It wasn’t something I could necessarily learn that quickly — stay with your expertise, follow your passion, and you have to really believe in it, and follow through with it.”
Hawk’s passion has fueled his legendary career, and he continues to surround himself with a team of similarly passionate people who complement his talents with their own business expertise. In every new endeavor, Hawk also relies on his accountant, Sandy, to advise him.
“She’s heard all my crazy ideas. I call her the fun police in jest … . Thankfully she’s there as a voice of reason,” Hawk laughed, before addressing the crowd of CPAs: “Thank you for keeping us in check.”
At the AICPA conference, Hawk shared some of his productivity tips for small businesses, and by extension their accountants, in “Tony Hawk’s Tricks: Small Business Guide to Productivity,” which he created as part of his collaboration with Chase Ink.
In a later interview, when asked how he would advise accountants who serve creative and risk-embracing clients like himself, he explained that “the best thing is to show me the projections. It gives me a better indication of how risky things can be.”
One of Hawk’s accountants did just that when he launched a new extreme sports tour.
“I drew out a sketch for a ramp system with all of those sports,” Hawk recalled. “I had a sketch and a dream, and was talking to people familiar with doing tours, a band manager who knew arena tours, and he brought in his crew. We brought in the accountant, and he was mostly concerned with the timeline … [I thought], he’s not listening to me, fulfilling my dreams — who brought him?” The audience laughed as Hawk explained that he ended up being “thankful because we decided to push the whole tour back, and did a test show in Vegas.”
While accountants have successfully managed some of Hawk's more impulsive ideas, he still recommends taking new risks. He likened this business approach to the one he takes in perfecting new skateboarding tricks. For every 900 (the two-and-a-half-revolution aerial spin that Hawk was the very first to successfully complete), there are numerous other tricks he didn't land.
“I’m continually looking for challenges, and embracing adversity,” Hawk said. “If there’s a stumbling block, I see how to get around it … I’ve learned that through years of skating, and trying tricks. If I do try a trick, and it fails, but turns into something else by accident, those are usually the best moments, the most innovative. I do that in business as well.”