From Flying Tomato to head of Shaun White Enterprises companies business 17

MONDAY, JANUARY 13, 2014 |
companies business
From Flying Tomato to head of Shaun White Enterprises
About half an hour into the Air & Style
meeting, Mr. White said: ‘‘I’m in.
Sounds cool.’’
Mr. Yokomoto said, ‘‘Welcome to
Shaun White’s world.’’
Later that afternoon, Mr. White’s
physical therapist assessed his ankle
and rubbed him down. Then Mr. White
spent 30 minutes doing sets of exercises
like single-leg squats and catching a
medicine ball thrown at him as he balanced on a wobble board. None of this
provided the adrenaline rush of even a
simple ollie. But Mr. White is not so
young anymore. He is trying to take a
deliberate approach, to rehab both his
body and his life.
Among his goals: to have stronger
friendships. As he iced his ankle, he
sounded poignant. ‘‘When you travel a
lot, you don’t really get called for birthday parties, you don’t really get called
when a friend moves apartments. It’s
those subtle things where you’re like,
‘Oh, man, you didn’t think to call me for
that?’ And it’s like: ‘Man, you’re never
here. I never thought to call you.’’’
Mr. White is aware that his life is unusual. He also knows this is a problem.
Part of Mr. Yokomoto’s job is to keep Mr.
White on track while at the same time
reminding him that everybody has hard
times. ‘‘He’ll allude to some high-profile
person and say, ‘I just got off the phone
and they have bigger problems than you
do, trust me,’’’ Mr. White said. He finds
this therapeutic. ‘‘It’s like when you see
a couple and you’re like: Why are they
so happy? Why am I not? It’s funny. It’s
nice to learn those things now.’’
nicer person — or at least seem like a
better, nicer person — Mr. White asked
his personal assistant, Lianne Cashin:
‘‘What’s his name? Jim?’’
Ms. Cashin nodded. Mr. White yelled
to the groomer, ‘‘Jim, can you throw
some snow up there?’’ Jim grabbed a
Mr. White shouted, ‘‘Thanks, Jim!’’
Mr. White, who is 27, has been a professional snowboarder for 13 years and
a professional skateboarder for 10. Like
many former child stars, he seems older
than his years, and he has passed
through quite a few stages along the
First there was White the prepubescent prodigy known as Future Boy.
Then there was White the Flying Tomato, a redheaded late teenager and
early 20-something, in full command of
his extreme-sport powers. Less pleasantly, in recent years, there has also
been White the unsympathetic moneybags who crashed his Lamborghini;
White the selfish jerk who wouldn’t invite other snowboarders to train at the
half-pipe Red Bull built for him in the
lead-up to the 2010 Olympics; and White
the overly enthusiastic partyer who was
arrested for public intoxication following the 2012 wedding of the drummer for
the Black Keys.
The newest is White the polite, industrious chief executive of Shaun White
Enterprises, the company that oversees
his boys’ clothing line at Target; his
sponsorship deals with Burton, Oakley
and Stride gum; his partnership with
GoPro cameras; his band, Bad Things,
signed by Warner Bros. last spring; his
training; and his life. Mr. White approaches his entrepreneurialism the
way he does his snowboarding.
‘‘The whole strategizing thing is what
does it for me,’’ he says. ‘‘I’m always
thinking: Well, if this could happen,
then that could happen. It’ll leave me in
this position, it’ll create these opportunities.’’
At Northstar, Mr. White buckled one
boot into his snowboard and rode sidesaddle on a snowmobile up to the top of
the slopestyle course. Thirty people accompanied him to the hill that day, including Bud Keene, his coach; a photographer from Burton who travels with
Mr. White; a producer and two cameramen shooting a documentary about Mr.
White that Mr. White himself was financing; six Northstar employees; a
dozen members of the media; two P.R.
people; and Mr. White’s four bandmates.
At the top of the course, Mr. White
pointed his board downhill, pumped his
knees a few times to generate momentum, then flew off the lip for the first
of two jumps and did a double cork (two
flips and three and a half spins). As Mr.
White’s body pinwheeled through the
sky, Ms. Cashin fired up a grill to make
his considerable entourage hamburgers
and hot dogs for lunch.
The addition of slopestyle to the 2014
Olympics has doubled the training pressure on Mr. White. Until this year’s
Games, he competed in only one snowboarding event, the half-pipe, which he
dominates — he won gold in 2006 and
But Mr. White doesn’t dominate
slopestyle. That honor belongs to Mark
McMorris, the 20-year-old Canadian
who has won the event in the past two X
Games. Still, Mr. White is determined
not to lose. After each run, he reviewed
slow-motion video with Mr. Keene.
Around 1 p.m., Ms. Cashin answered
Mr. White’s phone and walked to the bottom of the course. A small scrum of boom
mikes and cameras followed. Mr. White
pulled off his goggles and helmet, wiped
his sweaty brow and grabbed the phone.
‘‘Wow, thank you for the news!’’ he
said. ‘‘That’s unreal. That’s huge.
Shaun White training at Northstar California, the ski resort near Lake Tahoe where he went in April to learn how to execute the difficult triple cork 1440 snowboarding maneuver.
Mr. White hung up and faced the cameras. ‘‘We got NBC doing the one-hour
prime-time show. That whole project I
was just funding: We sold it! Prime
time, baby!’’ Much congratulating ensued; several of the cameras recording
the moment were doing so for the documentary whose sale Mr. White was celebrating.
Mr. White has been phenomenally successful at branding and selling himself.
After the 2010 Vancouver Olympics,
Bloomberg listed him as the second-most
powerful athlete in the world, behind
Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos
quarterback. By the next year, he’d
dropped, but only to eighth. Bloomberg’s
ranking uses a formula that combines an
athlete’s ranking in his sport, that sport’s
popularity and the athlete’s endorsement
deals and potential. On the most recent
list, Mr. White was 27th — still impressive given that snowboarding and skateboarding are seldom televised. Mr. White
is the only extreme-sports athlete ever to
make the top 100. To maintain his dominance in Sochi and beyond, he will need
to land that godforsaken triple cork.
Mr. White grew up in Southern California, near San Diego. His mother, Cathy,
waited on tables; his father, Roger,
worked for the San Clemente water department; Jesse, seven years older than
Shaun, liked to ride a skateboard down a
ramp that the family built in the backyard, flip through the air and land on the
trampoline. (Mr. White also has a sister,
Kari, who is two years older than he is.)
Mr. White was born with a congenital
heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot and had two cardiac operations before he was 5. But once in good health,
Mr. White followed Jesse everywhere —
down the skate ramp onto the trampoline, onto skis, then onto a snowboard.
By the time Mr. White turned 6, his parents had bought the van that Mr. White
makes sure is part of the story that he
relays to the world. The White family
slept in the van at the base of the San
Bernardino Mountains on winter weekends so the children could snowboard.
They brushed their teeth in resort bathrooms.
By the time he was 7, Mr. White was
sponsored by Burton. He was already
winning small contests. For years he
was the youngest rider on the snowboard circuit, and according to another
of Mr. White’s stock stories, his competitors invited him to play the drinking
game quarters with milk instead of
But the good vibes ended early. When
Mr. White was 15, he flew to Sapporo for
the Toyota Big Air contest. Some of the
other riders gathered before the event
to discuss dividing the purse — including the winner’s $50,000 and a Japanese
car — regardless of how they placed.
Mr. White refused to go along and won.
The promoters gave him an extra
$15,000 cash instead of the car. Mr.
White kept the $65,000 for himself.
Nobody disputes that Mr. White has
an unrivaled gift. Tony Hawk, the 45year-old skateboarder and the shining
example of how to mature in the extreme-sports world, noticed Mr. White’s
talent early and started mentoring him
when he was just a scraggly carrottopped kid skateboarding at the Encinitas YMCA. But he also grasped Mr.
White’s problem.
‘‘He wasn’t completely living in the
skateboard world, but he was really
good at it,’’ Mr. Hawk said. ‘‘And he
rubbed people the wrong way.’’ Mr.
White didn’t make the simple social gestures that signal respect. ‘‘He would
learn these tricks — he didn’t know
their names, but he could do them better
than anyone.’’
For a while the board-sports community accepted Mr. White anyway, because he was so young and so good and
he made goofy videos just like everybody else. That ceased in 2004, the year
Mr. White turned 18. By that point, says
Dave Finger, who oversaw digital media for the X Games for several years
and watched Mr. White grow up,
‘‘White wasn’t just Future Boy — he
was Right Now Boy.’’ Many riders resented Mr. White for snubbing them, not
even pretending they were all friends,
an attitude that is central to snowboarding’s self-concept. ‘‘He didn’t show any
of that camaraderie,’’ Mr. Finger says.
‘‘He’d just show up and then win and
then leave.’’
But within a few years, the nonsnowboarding world fell in love with Mr.
White. At the 2006 Olympics in Turin, his
energy was infectious. Wearing a white
moon suit and an American flag
bandanna, Mr. White performed dizzying 1080s (then state-of-the-art) and let
out a primal scream when he won gold.
‘‘Physically and mentally, he’s one of
the most incredible athletes,’’ says
Jayson Hale, a snowboarder who was
on the 2006 Olympic team. ‘‘But the
truth is he has few friends on the snow.
He’s able to put that aside. He has the
gnarliest black cloud I’ve seen at the top
of the half-pipe of all these dudes who
hate him and who are talking behind his
back. Yet he still comes out first.’’
In 2011, Mr. White consolidated all his
business dealings under the umbrella of
‘‘He wasn’t completely living in
the skateboard world, but he
was really good at it. And he
rubbed people the wrong way.’’
Shaun White Enterprises. Last year he
hired Keith Yokomoto, an entertainment deal maker who built ARTISTdirect with the music impresarios Rick
Rubin and Marc Geiger, to be his chief
operating officer. This was a significant
change from 2010, when Mr. White’s
mother still managed his business.
Mr. White is away from his office in
Culver City, Calif., most of the time, so
when he was there one day in late August, his staff wanted feedback on a
half-dozen projects, including the prototype of a new pro skateboard deck for
Shaun White Supply Company, Mr.
White’s skateboard line; a mock-up of
the next season’s jacket for Burton’s
White Collection; and proofs of photographs of Mr. White on a recent visit to
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in
Memphis, one of his primary charities.
Before leaving for physical therapy to
treat a sprained ankle, Mr. White met
with some representatives from Air &
Style, a European extreme-sports franchise similar to the X Games, which he
was interested in acquiring. In his teens
Mr. White competed in and won Air &
Style events. Then for a few years, he
co-hosted an Air & Style show in Beijing
with Oakley. Mr. White liked the idea of
making another shift from athlete to
host and now to owner. ‘‘It’s a long-term
play,’’ he told me. ‘‘I have more money
now, so I can have fuller relationships,
not just that sponsor setup where you’re
like, ‘How many stickers do I need to
slap on my board?’’’
Back at Northstar, the day after the
lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs, the
mountain felt quiet. Mr. White’s entourage had shrunk from 30 people to 19.
After a few hours practicing slopestyle,
Mr. White decided it was time to move
to the half-pipe, his home turf.
A Brazilian television crew followed
and spent 10 minutes walking up and
down one side of the pipe, trying to find
the best location to set up a shot. Mr.
White stood at the half-pipe’s mouth,
already buckled into his board. ‘‘If you
put the camera right there, I can drop in
right before you,’’ he said, pointing to
the spot where he intended to fly off the
But the Brazilian crew kept fumbling,
unable to settle on an angle, and Mr.
White’s patience grew short. He pivoted
and dropped into the chute, riding up
and out the left side of the pipe and performing a cab double cork 1080 (two
flips and three spins, launching backside and landing frontside) and then riding up the same side for a double
McTwist 1260 (described by one journalist as ‘‘unfathomable’’ and ‘‘incomprehensible’’).
Five minutes later Mr. White stepped
off the snowmobile and once more
looked down the pipe at the struggling
Brazilians. He motioned for a second
time for the cameraman to scoot downhill a yard or two. ‘‘It’s hard when they
haven’t shot on snow before,’’ Mr. White
said, trying to keep his cool. ‘‘I set up,
and he’s like, ‘Whoops, there he goes.’’’
Again Mr. White rode, soaring. The
third time he arrived at the top of the
pipe, he was tense and exasperated.
Even while flipping and spinning in
midair, he could tell that the Brazilians
didn’t get a great picture. ‘‘I’m in the air
for you, buddy,’’ Mr. White muttered.
But thanks to the film that Mr. White
was producing about himself, a cameraman heard Mr. White’s aggravation
through the feed from his lavalier mike.
‘‘We can give them footage,’’ the cameraman called from down the slope.
‘‘We have great stuff.’’
This seemed to be all Mr. White
needed to remember to be a nice guy.
His job now was to please his visitors
and put on a good show. He pulled down
his helmet, locked his boots to his board
and dropped into the pipe.
Making the iPhone more affordable in India, without lowering the price
of soda for 16 cents, pizzas for 75 cents
and burger meals for $1.40, basic cellphones have dominated the landscape.
Smartphone penetration is less than 20
percent of the phone-using public. But a
combination of falling prices, fast 3G
speeds and a thriving app ecosystem is
fueling the adoption at ripping speeds.
Last year shipments more than doubled, to 41.4 million, according to IDC, a
market research firm. The smartphone
market grew 229 percent year-on-year
in the third quarter of 2013, and IDC
projects shipments will exceed 129 million by 2015.
With that kind of energy, this is a market where Apple can no longer afford to
be a fringe player, selling to an elite few
and losing out to rivals. It is also a market where 80 percent of smartphones
sell in the range of $70 to $200, said Mr.
Gupta, the Gartner analyst. High prices
have kept Apple at the tail of the top 10
brands by sales, way behind No. 1 Samsung, which sells more than three-quarters of its phones for less than $400, and
No. 2 Micromax of India, whose most
expensive phone is $350. The cheapest
iPhone costs about $525 in India.
To draw young buyers and increase
its volume and market share, Apple,
based in Cupertino, Calif., offered a
number of enticements besides the payment plan. Full front-page newspaper
ads and TV commercials in recent
months offered bonuses for trading in
certain old phones and multiple deals,
but with a single carrier so far. Wary of
the inevitable branding-versus-pricing
dilemma, Apple carefully couched these
offers to not look like discounts.
‘‘Apple has shown great agility in
their India strategy all through 2013,’’
said Manasi Yadav, a Bangalore-based
senior mobile-industry analyst with
IDC India.
Making the phones cheaper, without
appearing to be cheap, is enticing a new
category of young, brand-conscious Indians, like Chaithra Nayak, to switch to
the more expensive iPhones. Ms.
Nayak, 24, who studies in the bustling
coastal city of Mangalore, took six
months to persuade her parents to get
her an iPhone. Her father, a businessman, eventually buckled when she told
him she could trade in her old Sony
smartphone for a discount of 13,000 rupees, or $210, on the iPhone 5C, which
costs 41,900 rupees, or $680.
‘‘When I use my blue-colored iPhone,
I draw attention,’’ Ms. Nayak said.
Alongside the promotional offers,
Apple has widened distribution channels, especially in second-tier Indian cities. Anith Prakash, 26, a sales executive
at a premium Apple reseller, iPlanet, in
a popular Mysore mall, can vouch for
the results. In the city, which neighbors
the technology hub of Bangalore, the
store jostles with outlets of Puma and
Levi’s in the mall.
‘‘A lot of younger, first-time custom-
A store in Ahmedabad, India. As India’s smartphone market booms, Apple is enticing a
new category of young and brand-conscious buyers with trade-in deals and payment plans.
ers are attracted to the offers,’’ said Mr.
Prakash, who added that the store had
had a 40 percent increase in sales in the
past few months.
‘‘The trade-in and E.M.I. offers are
getting an excellent response,’’ he said.
‘‘Many are combining both; then the
price does not pinch very hard.’’
Buyers, long accustomed to paying a
phone’s full price, got the first taste of
carrier bundling, a sweetener that has
been wildly popular in Western markets, when Reliance Communications of
Mumbai began the promotion in Mumbai and Delhi. ‘‘It is a zero-bill, peace-ofmind plan that makes every Indian’s affordable iPhone dream come true,’’ the
company’s chief executive, Gurdeep
Singh, said.
Mapping a pricing-versus-branding
strategy for India has been tricky for
Apple’s executives. (Apple declined to
comment for this article.) The initial reaction to the iPhone 5 was tepid. Contrary to the prerelease buzz that some
phones would be priced for ‘‘emerging
markets,’’ Apple breached yet another
Indian smartphone pricing barrier of
70,000 rupees: The top-end iPhone 5S
costs 71,000 rupees, or $1,150.
Mobile Unlocked’s iPhone 5S price index, which compares affordability of the
phone relative to a country’s per capita
income, finds that it is least affordable in
India. The $759 price of the iPhone 5S is
22 percent of India’s per capita gross domestic product, compared with 1.37 percent of per capita G.D.P. in the United
States and 10 percent in China.
Not surprisingly, buyers in India were
put off. Mr. Prakash, who sold Nokia
devices for two years before joining the
iPlanet store 18 months ago, said,
‘‘Nokia’s entry-level phones cost 2,000
rupees. For that amount, you can only
buy iPhone screen protectors and protective cases in our store.’’
In Mysore, Mr. Sathyendra coveted
the iPhone 5S but had to pay more than
a month’s earnings even for the cheaper
4S he eventually settled for. But others
balk at the high price. Shashidhar
Sathyanarayan, a 46-year-old software
entrepreneur based in Bangalore, said
he was happy with his Samsung smartphone. ‘‘It is criminal to spend 45,000 rupees for a brand name; only those who
want to project a ‘happening’ image will
pay,’’ he said.
Apple’s high-priced phones are no
competition for the country’s top
brands, Samsung and Micromax. Samsung controls 33 percent of the smartphone market, and Micromax has 17
percent, according to IDC. Both blanket
the market each year with several offerings for every price band.
‘‘Micromax is giving India what it
wants: more bang for the buck,’’ Rahul
Sharma, its co-founder, said in a phone
interview. ‘‘Most Indians don’t walk into a store asking for a smartphone; they
go, ‘Bhaiyya, isme chat chalega?’’’
(‘‘Brother, will the chat apps work on
this phone?’’)
The five-year-old Micromax, which is
backed by the private-equity firm Sequoia Capital, among others, sold 2.2
million smartphones in the quarter that
ended in September, compared with
300,000 smartphones in the same
quarter the previous year. It is set to
surpass $1 billion in sales in the financial
year that ends in March 2014. Apple’s
numbers are ‘‘unimpressive’’ and its
phones are overpriced, Mr. Sharma
What ought to make Apple executives
uneasy is that competition is building in
the premium segment. Even Micromax,
known primarily for its low-priced
phones, is looking to invade iPhone’s
territory. ‘‘We are going up notch by
notch,’’ Mr. Sharma said. ‘‘We are changing the tonality and cool factor of the