What do you get when you follow your passion, aren’t afraid to take risks and trust you are doing the right thing? A success cocktail created by the artist behind the iconic Volcom Stone logo, Thom McElroy! By following this recipe and holding on tight, Thom was able to retire at a young age and live a life we all dream of. We can all learn a lot from his story as it is an inspiring one…
I have had the pleasure of knowing Thom for five years now. My buddy Nathan first met him when he guided Thom on fly fishing trip. Nathan casually mentioned that he had a friend who started a t-shirt company and without hesitation, Thom said, “Give’em my number. Happy to talk with him.” I called him, we set up a meeting where we split a pitcher of margaritas and the rest is history. What I have learned about Thom these last five years is that his “good fortune” was not by luck, but by design based on his formula of passion, risk & trust.
After graduating from San Diego State University (SDSU) with an art degree he went to work for Vision Street Wear designing t-shirt and skateboard graphics. His talent was strong and his energy high because of surfing and creating everyday so he was able to work his way to Creative Director within a short time.
As all budding entrepreneurs do, he would freelance at night and ultimately started his own screen print shop with a friend where he gained Macy’s as a client. After that time had passed he had enough experience in the industry to start McElroy Designs, a full-service Advertising Agency. His clients at that point were heavyweights in the surf industry such as Quiksilver & Vans. During this entire time Thom said he still surfed EVERYDAY on his lunch break and that is what fueled him.
While running McElroy Designs, a couple of close surfing buddies approached him with an idea to start a new “anti-establishment” surf and snowboard clothing line and they needed a creative partner. Boom, McElroy was on the forefront of Volcom. Fast forward 15 years, after a lot of fun, hard work and living the dream, Volcom goes public in 2005 and McElroy is able to stop punching a time card.
So what does Thom do with all his free time now? A person can only surf so many hours in a day; plus the waves aren’t always up to snuff for a seasoned soul surfer…He gives back by sharing what he has learned along his amazing journey, that’s what! Thom is heavily involved in a business mentoring program at SDSU and below is what he has to say about his journey to this point.
WM: At what age did you start surfing?
“I was 10 years old when my family moved to the Huntington Beach area and I remember being at River Jetties and seeing a guy take off on a wave. I was done at that point and it was love at first sight. I bought my first 6’8” board a few days later, couldn’t swing a wetsuit but surfed every day from then on. Starting in 5th grade I would surf every morning and be at school by 8 AM!”
WM: Was pursuing a career in art always the plan?
“No…I was a business administration major at first but loved my art classes. One of my art professors called me out and asked why I was not pursing art and I told him my dad would kill me. He asked why I was living my dad’s life and that changed everything for me. My dad was an L.A. police officer and freaked when I told him about the switch, but I went for it.”
WM: Were you trying to retire early?
“Never! I just did what I loved and had fun the whole time I was building business.”
WM: How did you get into mentoring students?
“About a year and a half after Volcom went public, SDSU contacted me for donations and I started a dialog with them about where else I could help. A soon as I learned about the business mentoring program I was onboard instantly. Since then I have also taken on mentoring students from Newport Harbor High School.”
WM: How has mentoring impacted your life?
“It feels really good to see the growth of each kid, to know where they were struggling and get through the roller coaster. It is very rewarding!”
WM: What one simple thing do you recommend people do to succeed?
“Open yourself up to the world and don’t be afraid of things. Put your guard down at times and go for it when it comes to chance or risk!”
Let’s review Thom’s recipe for success with my observations added:
- Follow your passion and do what you love for a career
- Exercise you mind and body by doing something you love everyday like surfing
- Be on the lookout for opportunities you’ve attracted because of your high energy
- Trust your gut instinct and risk taking some of those opportunities
- Accept success gratefully and give back by helping others toward theirs
On a side note, Thom was recently invited to sit on the Board of Directors for SDSU. Would I send my kids to college there knowing that McElroy is at the top of the pyramid? Hum? It’s already known that students there like to party and Thom probably escalates that. So I am going to have to say… YES, I would absolutely send my kids to SDSU because the student success rate has also now escalated with him being there!
About Charles Perry
Charles is a bit of a renaissance man, a citizen of the planet, a building inspector by trade, devoted father & husband and one of the funniest people he knows. He is deeply passionate about peace, social justice and respect and equality for all living creatures. Charles thought up the World Minded ideology several years ago and has made it his goal to inspire people around the world to care for themselves, others and the planet we share by exposing what’s right in the world. He resides in the Eastern Sierras and loves life in the mountains, but longs for the beach because of some ridiculous “grass is always greener” notion.