As the CEO of Columbia Sportswear, Tim Boyle oversees 6,600 employees and a couple billion dollars in annual sales, but even at 67 years old, he still has to answer to his mother, the legendary Gert Boyle, a pint-sized dynamo who fled Nazi Germany in her teens and saved the company from ruin after her husband died of a heart attack in 1970.
Now 93 and chairman of the board, Gert still comes into the office every day and has become a celebrity in the ad world with her 'One tough mother' ads that show how her resilience is reflected in her products. Now she is teaming up with Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron on a new online commercial to keep her brand attractive to millennials.
"The background of the company is really in many ways based on her toughness in the very early days when my dad died and there weren't a lot of good reasons to stay in business," says Tim, noting that her demanding personality is not an act. "It's not always easy sometimes. Her office is right by the door I use to leave [the building], so if I head out of the office on a rare golf date in the afternoon, I get a nasty look or perhaps even a little lecture."
Truth be told, there's not much to scold Tim about these days. The CEO for almost 50 years now (he dropped out of the University of Oregon his senior year to help his mom run the company after his dad died), he's guided the business with a steady hand by listening to his customers and coming up with innovative products. In 1975, Columbia was one of the first companies to introduce Gore-Tex parkas. Ten years later its Bugaboo jacket featured a zip-out lining that became very trendy and helped spark more growth, from about $18.8 million in sales in 1987 to more than $350 million a decade later. Last year was another record year for the company, with sales reaching $2.38 billion.
Now neck and neck with The North Face for market share in the outerwear category, Columbia, which is listed on NASDAQ, is one of the outdoor industry's leaders. The company's success formula is rooted in Gert's old-school philosophy: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."