In the July issue of TransWorld Business, we profile seven women changing the face of the action sports industry Be sure to pick up a copy to read all of their profiles.
While the executive ranks of the action sports industry in general are testosterone soaked, the skate world’s boardrooms are truly Spartan. Then there’s Girl Distribution Company, whose Torrance, California, command center is home to the skate industry’s most influential woman, Megan Baltimore, who is not only the company’s co-founder, but its “Matriarch.”
Baltimore has helped build one of the most creative and influential skate companies in the industry, largely from behind the scenes, serving as the glue that holds this artistic enterprise together, and making it one of the skate world’s cornerstones for the past two decades.
Tell us a little about your childhood – where you grew up, what you were in to, et cetera.
I didn’t really grow up in skateboarding. I have brothers and brothers-in-law that always surfed. [I was] born and bred in Torrance. I left once for nine months when we started Girl, moved to the hood to be closer to the space we were renting from X-Large. I’m one of six kids so I was into trying to not get picked on.
How did you get your start in the industry before working at World Industries?
I worked at a BMX magazine with Spike [Jonze] and Andy Jenkins. [Steve] Rocco would come have lunch with us sometimes. One day he told me that he would pay me double what I was making to come work for him. So I did, and that was my first experience around skateboarders. First day at work, Neil Blender and O came by. Rocco locked up and we went to Toys ‘R Us and Sizzler. I figured I was going to be looking for a new job really soon but Rocco always knew what he was doing. [He's a] great business man.
You’ve been the producer or executive producer on pretty much all of Girl’s films. What’s your background in film?
I don’t have one other then Spike casting me in Adaptation. I’m pretty sure I stole the movie. (Laughs)
How did you get connected with Spike Jonze?
When I was working at the bike magazine with him, I was moving into a house in Torrance that my family owned. I needed a roommate and we ended up living together for five years.
What have you learned from working with him on your films? I’d imagine you’ve had opportunities to branch outside the industry with that connection – why have you stuck with it?
I’ve learned from Spike that you can steal film from TransWorld and use it for other things without them knowing pretty easily.
I’ve stuck with the industry because of the way we built Girl. When I say it’s a family, I’m sure some people cringe, but a family isn’t always just a tight knit group. It’s all the chaos, heartbreak, love, loyalty, fear, failure, victories, weddings, babies, et cetera. I’ve stayed because of the relationships we’ve all formed.
Tell us a little bit more about why you decided to leave World and start Girl. What happened with Mike, Rick, and Plan B?
Why I left and why Rick [Howard] and Mike [Carroll] and Spike [Jonze] left are different. I couldn’t really stay [at World] and pretend that I wasn’t aware that these guys were leaving, so I came on board by default. I think we said it would be for a year. But I let [Jeff] Tremaine and [Sean] Cliver have a going away party for me at World, they thought I was leaving to write children’s books, and they were pretty mad at me for a while. I have photos of Jeff decorating with balloons. Sorry, Jeff.
What has your role been in expanding the company out to include all of the brands it currently does?
I guess facilitator. The brands came about naturally. Rick and Mike felt like they had left some guys behind so they started Chocolate. Eric [Koston] and Guy [Mariano] wanted to do clothing so we started Fourstar. There was no big grand plan, it just sort of unfolded as time went on.
As one of the few women executives in the industry, what are your thoughts on what it takes to be successful as a girl in this game?
I wish I had a good answer for this. I can only speak of my experience at Girl and the success is attributed to the dynamics there. Rick, Mike, and Spike are fearless and have big ideas. That combination has to be tamed and I don’t think a man would have done that really well. I also think a woman being at Girl created a warmer atmosphere. No one is afraid to cry at this place and I think that’s my fault.
Do you think women have the same opportunities as guys?
I guess they don’t. I don’t know of that many women that are owners and my three partners are men. But I couldn’t really tell you why.
Does it take a different type of woman to be successful in this industry compared with others?
I think it takes an incredible amount of patience and acceptance. I have little of both so 16 years in truly a miracle.
How would you describe yourself from a business standpoint? I’ve heard that you have an insane work ethic and really let your actions speak for themselves.
I am pretty manic. I think you can channel that type of thing in certain directions but I guess working hard was a good place to channel it. I’m the youngest of six kids, my mom raised all six of us alone as my dad passed away when I was just a year old. I think seeing her never stop going and just handle things had a huge influence on me.
What’s your educational background?
More than Rick, Mike and Spike, let’s just say that.
Has your drive and passion for skating changed over the last 15 years?
You know, I have been to one contest, 16 years ago. I’ve never been to a demo, awards show or anything. I think my passion lies in what we do at Girl.
What three things are you most proud of in your career?
More then half the employees at Girl have been there for more then a decade, I learned to say “sorry,” [and having] goats at the open house.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned the hard way?
All the lessons are learned the hard way or they really don’t stick.
If you had one do over what would it be?
Don’t have product made by a competitor, you just might sink.
What advice do you have for other women coming up in skateboarding and action sports in general?
My mom once told me “be kind to people, fall in love and do something great.” I like that advice across the board. I think it creates good energy which goes a long way.
Why do they call you the Matriarch?
[Andy] Jenkins coined that. I think when I first heard it I didn’t like it, it seemed like a fat old lady. But regardless of what anyone wants to think, there has to be some sort of a leader and I guess that came from that.
What are some of your other hobbies? I’ve read some of your writing and I dig the insight.
I love to write, love to paint, but my passion is baking. I spend a lot of time baking.
Who inspires you in the industry and why?
Kelly Bird – work ethic, calls them like he sees them, good man.
Jason Callaway – work ethic, has the right thing to say at all times, good man.
Andy Jenkins – work ethic, insanely talented.