John Fluevog’s big shoes to fill

Many B.C. companies have dropped the ball when it comes to succession planning. But Fluevog is one that's making moves to get it right

Many B.C. companies have dropped the ball when it comes to succession planning. But Fluevog is one that’s making moves to get it right

John Fluevog is puffing a little as he climbs Soames Hill, near the Sunshine Coast property where the 67-year-old finds himself spending more and more time. The founder and sole owner of Fluevog Shoes is far from retired, but he’s close to thinking about it. Very close. In fact, over the past few years, figuring out a way to ensure continuity of his shoemaking and retail business has been a major preoccupation—one that has led him to retain specialist advisors and make operational changes, with more to come. “If you want the company to continue, you need a clearly defined strategy that everyone understands,” says Fluevog.

The Vancouver-born entrepreneur sees himself as having two primary challenges in finding a way to ensure the continuity of his business, one of them having to do with the founder’s particular talents and expertise. “I’m a designer foremost,” explains Fluevog. Famously, back in the early 1970s, he started designing and making shoes that looked like no one else’s. His Vancouver shops became a destination for rock stars, Hollywooders and shoe lovers in general, ultimately encouraging Fluevog to make their lives easier by taking the shoes to them. Today he distributes around the world and operates 20 Fluevog stores scattered across North America, employing about 70 people in addition to retail sales staff.

With the design of the shoes such a key aspect, Fluevog has recently beefed up two components of the company. He’s added managers and executives to run the business so that he can concentrate almost exclusively on his designer role, and he’s padded his design staff, with more additions to come. The idea is that Fluevog shoes will look and perform like Fluevog shoes even in the absence of Fluevog—a concept that bothers him a little. “I’m fairly egotistical and fussy,” he laughs.

Still, he doesn’t regard the design challenge as paramount. “The biggest issue is having my kids understand what their roles will be,” he says. Two of Fluevog’s children are not involved in the business while his middle son, Adrian, is currently COO and is expected to take over the reins as John Fluevog gradually decreases his involvement. To ensure that the second generation is ready, and that family dynamics remain calm, Fluevog has retained two specialists—one with a legal background, the other rooted in psychology—to counsel him. He’s also put together a corporate advisory board and expects that it will be transformed into a more formal board of directors in years to come. “If this is to succeed, we need a lot of forward planning,” he says.

So that’s one of the things he’s working on. Another is aided by the place on the Sunshine Coast, which helps keep him away from his offices in Gastown. “I need to let go,” he says. He doesn’t sound completely convinced about that, but he’s committed nonetheless to trying.


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