Mark Kelly - Global Surf industries

When did you get your first surfboard?
When I was 30 actually, that’s when I started learning.

How did that come about?
A friend and I started renting a house up at Palm Beach. I’d been a scuba diver and played a lot of sport but never really had the opportunity to surf growing up in country Victoria. I started with a Longboard, had a couple of lessons and just went from there. We did the beach house thing 2 years in a row then I got the job with Surf Hardware International (FCS) as their International Marketing manager. So getting a surfboard was a life-changing event for me.

What do you love most about surfing?
The separation and the fact you cant really control the waves. It’s not like getting to the top of a ski lift then going down a hill, It’s unpredictable. I appreciate that natural energy.

What is your favourite surfing moment?
Just surfing with friends and road trips I guess. We have a mantra at GSI “Life is better when you surf’ so we try to live by that every day.

Do you get out in the water much between travelling?
I’ve got about 70 boards, prototypes, a Ocean Ski, stand up paddle boards etc. so no matter what the conditions are like I can get out there and have some fun. It’s been my first real passion.

What’s your go to board?
At the moment it’s a 7 ft prototype with some new technology we’ve got that will probably be released next year. It’s pretty interesting, very lively.

Who or what inspires you?
Just trying to do a better job. Trying to develop new processes, plus the staff at GSI, talking to consumers and just going surfing I guess. It all really just enhances the passion.

What education do you have?
I finished High school and didn’t go to uni for a while. I worked at a bank, moved to the Gold Coast  and Mackay, then became a diving instructor on the Great Barrier Reef where I got a bit of experience in sales and marketing which lead to me wanting to learn a bit more about marketing, so I did an Advanced Diploma in Marketing Management at UTS. That’s where my academic life and career kind of molded together and I figured out finally what education was really about. It had a practical sense for me because once I started GSI I learnt that everything kind of mattered. All that Math, Geography, English and Technology etc. It all helped.

How did you start GSI?
I’d been working at Surf Hardware International for 4 and a bit years when I decided I wanted to do something in the surf industry by myself. I started thinking about what the industry would be like in 10 years and what the real differences between now and then would be. With my resources and contacts, I tried to figure out which of these changes that I could see happening would I be able to make happen in 5 years and that would be my niche. The whole surfboard distribution thing was really the poor cousin of the industry, so I wanted to lift the professionalism of it and focus on the retail opportunities of surfboards and really develop a brand and business around that.

What impact has it had on the shaping industry?
I think it has had more of an impact on the retail surf industry. Local shaping has stayed the same around the world. We haven’t really affected many local shapers. Our model wasn’t to compete with local shapers, it was more to get our products directly to retail and develop our model around that. Retailers are selling more boards than ever these days because they are getting supplies, service and margins they need to operate a business.

What does your job involve on a daily basis?
I do everything from working with our product development team, with our sales guys, developing marketing, working with all the developers, programmers and designers involved with our website and webstore, managing HR, working with our CFO, and our International Operations Manager, matching financial budgets to inventory levels, planning out product release etc. It’s pretty broad, but to me it’s all really rewarding.

What do you like most about job?
Most of all, implementing change. We were told a long time ago when we first started that it would never work because the industry has never been like this. We’re always trying to reach for that next level of ‘what can’t be done’. I love working that out then making it happen.

Where do you see yourself and the business in 10 years?
I think I’ll still be here. After 12 years at GSI it feels like an early teenager now. Its established, but at the same time the retail industry and consumers have really changed in that time so for me it’s going to be interesting watching that develop further in regards to how consumers interact with a brand and how retail interacts with wholesalers. Retail is going through a massive change at the moment and I think brands need to step up and take control of what they’re doing. So my role over the next 10 years is to make sure GSI is not only established but also profitable for our stakeholders benefit, in particularly our community and charity work. If we don’t make a decent profit we can’t do the stuff that we really enjoy doing.

Any tips on how people can find a job they love doing?
When you find something you really like, give it your all. And if you cant find something you like then keep looking. Look at it like finding a life partner. When you’re dating different people and none of them are working it can seem like pretty hard work, but when you find the one where it’s a joy to be around them and to be with them, it all seems worth it. I’ve had a lot of different jobs but the one I’ve had for the last 12 years is the best I’ve ever had, and I can’t see it ending.




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Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on August 26, 2013
Categories: Interviews