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VIP: Kirk Richardson, CEO Keen Footwear

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

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Kirk Richardson, CEO Keen Footwear

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Photo by Michael G. Halle.

In khaki shorts, a short-sleeved red shirt and, natch, Keen sandals, there’s nothing monastic about Kirk Richardson’s getup. But there’s something about his close-cropped hair (more monk than military) steady gaze and measured tone that gives off an air of piety.

For example, when talking about the reason that Keen Footwear chose to relocate its headquarters from California to Portland last spring, he launches into a mild-mannered rant about the impact of two men — Nike founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman — and the gravitational pull they had on talented designers that in turn pulled in the likes of Adidas, Merrell and now Keen.

“I’m flabbergasted that people haven’t figured it out yet,” says the intense 54-year-old. “It is completely, undeniably traceable to those two geniuses.”

Of course, Richardson — who stretches as he talks, working out the kinks from a recent 20-hour climb up the steep face of Mount Garfield in Washington — is not without bias on this topic. He spent 27 years at Nike, most recently as general manager of its outdoor division. He confesses that when he answered the call from Keen co-founder Rory Fuerst about taking over the CEO spot when the company moved north, his closet didn’t contain any Keen footwear. Born in 2003, Keen is still a young company, though its signature round-toed shoes and sandals are in hot pursuit of ubiquity.

In Keen, Richardson has found a place that better suits his passion for the outdoors. Richardson talks at length about Keen’s growth prospects in Europe and Asia and the expansion of its brand on bags and socks, but he is most proud of Keen’s generosity when it comes to being a steward of the Earth. Nudged by the acute need exposed in Asia after the tsunami disaster, company officials formed the Keen Foundation in 2004, which has given away $1 million to organizations that, among other good works, preserve land for open space and provide care for refugees.

“They were generous before they were rich and famous,” Richardson says. “That inspires me.”

— Christina Williams


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