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UGG founder shares entrepreneurial spirit on campus

UGG Boots founder Brian Smith details how he started his footwear business to a group of community members on Wednesday in the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center. Photo by Kylee Higgins

It’s not unusual to see students wearing UGG footwear on campus. But what do those students know about the company itself, or UGG Boots founder Brian Smith?

More now, after Smith spoke on campus Wednesday as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series for the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

According to Ken Klotz, managing director of the Turner School for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Smith has been active in speaking to different audiences about his experience as an entrepreneur.

“[Brian Smith] … has spent the last month traveling, doing different speeches for people,” Klotz said. “[For speakers like him], it’s not that they’re looking for personal glory; they’ve had plenty of that in their life. I just think they feel this responsibility to pass on lessons to others.”

And Smith does more than sell shoes.

The UGG founder shared his story of success and said he started off as a surfer and accounting major in Australia. He switched careers the day he graduated and visited the U.S. to find a new product to bring back to Australia. But the opposite happened: he started selling sheepskin footwear in American surf shops.

“I saw a video of his on YouTube. He’s fascinating,” Klotz said. “His startup story is what you hear about, but you don’t always meet these people – how they really had no intention of building this huge company. It was all kind of serendipitous the way it happened.”

Throughout Smith’s visit to campus, he spoke with university President Gary Roberts, held informal discussions with several classes and organizations on campus and finished with a campus-wide address in the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center Wednesday evening.

According to Smith, he lives his life through specific sayings.

“I like to live by four mantras,” Smith said to the audience. “Feast upon uncertainty, fatten on disappointment, enthuse over apparent defeat and invigorate in the presence of difficulties.”

Smith’s speech to students focused on different stories in his life as the UGG brand came to fruition to where Smith is now with the company.

“Because of the market area that he was in, I knew that we would have several different sets of students that his lessons could appeal to, from business students taking a retail management course, to family and consumer science students interested in fashion merchandising, to students in our Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization,” Klotz said.

The recurring theme of goosebumps was peppered throughout Smith’s speech relating to moments in his life where he said he was figuring out what he wanted to do in life and with the company, and he gave an explanation for what they mean to him.

“Here’s my take on goosebumps,” Smith said. “The idea is that, way the hell out there, in heaven somewhere, there’s a spark or a fragment of spirit inside every single one of us, and it’s different just like a fingerprint is different, every single spark is different for everybody. And it has some plan for us, and it’s my belief that everytime we make a decision that’s in alignment with that plan, it sends a message to us [through goosebumps].”

He then told students to listen to their feelings like he did with his.

“I challenge you all, in the future, whenever you get goosebumps, just stop and think for a second, ‘What did I just think,’ Smith said. “You’ll be surprised [at your ideas].”

McKinley Johnson, a junior actuarial science major, said she came to the speech for a class credit, but she admired Smith’s success.

“[Smith’s speech] shows people that it’s possible to do what [he] did, and it’s possible to go out and live your dreams,” Johnson said.

From the beginning to the end, Smith bookended his speech with words of wisdom for the audience when going into entrepreneurship.

“You just have to figure out what you can do better than anybody else, and then do it,” Smith said.