The outdoor industry experienced a great disturbance in the force on Oct. 13. Jacques Lavertue, president and general manager of the Outdoor Group at Wolverine, passed away at home on Saturday, surrounded by his family after a courageous eight-month battle with cancer. He was only 53.
"Jacques was a great man…a very brilliant man. Extremely inquisitive. Totally into gear and the way things worked and how they worked," said Scott Sible, president of Merrell. "He was very driven, and would often say that it was his French Canadian paranoia that drove him. He came across as a tough guy, but the insiders at Merrell loved Jacques. He would give you the shirt off his back."
His zest for life and speed was transparent in his many hobbies: skiing, cycling, golf, hockey, cars and motorcycles. Friends and family remember Lavertue for his focus and fortitude and the intensity in which he approached every pursuit, professional and personal.
"I first met Jacques in 1994," Casey Sheahan, president of Patagonia, told SNEWS®. "It was my first week on the job at Merrell. We were looking out the window of the Karhu office in Lachine, Quebec, as thousands of broken Merrell sandals were being skip-loaded into a railroad boxcar headed to the landfill. Jacques muttered something angrily in Quebecois involving sacrifices, the tabernacle and stations of the cross, and that we 'had a lot of fricking work to do.' I didn't know all that this would later entail, but Jacques was clearly humiliated and quickly pulled together a tight management team that could bring Merrell back to quality and prominence as a footwear innovator and trendsetter. In 1996, Jacques orchestrated the sale of Merrell to Wolverine and then presided over the single greatest turnaround success story in the history of the outdoor footwear industry. The Jungle Moc and Chameleon programs built a new empire."
Added Chris Goddard, president of CGPR, "Jacques was our first client and what I will always remember about him is his fierce protection of the brand. It didn't matter what the issue was, he was always the first to put his arms around the heart and soul of Merrell. I had the opportunity, way back when, to go on a media tour in New York City with Jacques, which is unusual -- presidents of brands don't normally do this. Jacques and I carried a bag of shoes and went floor by floor, building to building to see editors. He was a passionate ambassador, the best."
It is perhaps the ultimate tribute to the man himself that Merrell just finished celebrating its 10th anniversary following the acquisition by Wolverine -- Sept. 17, 1997 -- and in all that time, much of the original management team is still together: Clark Matis, Charles Willis, and Christian Triquet. Nick Burridge retired just over three years ago. Only Sheahan departed, and only, as Lavertue later told SNEWS®'s Michael Hodgson, because "he found a job in the one place he wanted to call home -- Boulder, Colorado."
Lavertue long ago established himself as an enduring icon in the footwear and outdoor industries, and will forever be remembered for the love he exhibited for the Merrell brand and team…and his family.
"He had two passions in life -- well, three if you include his fancy modes of transportation -- and they were the continuing success of Merrell and his wife, Caroline, and son, Alex," added Sheahan. "A private man in his middle years, Jacques had a quick laugh to put the folly of life and business in proper perspective and to ease the tremendous pressure he brought on himself to win. His drive to succeed fueled all our successes, and I was honored to work with and learn from this big-hearted, intelligent man. I look forward to seeing him again someday at that outdoor industry cocktail party in the sky."
Memorial services will be held at Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Services. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in memory of Jacques Lavertue to the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Foundation (Pediatric Oncology), 100 Michigan St. N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
SNEWS® View: Lavertue was much more than a recognized industry executive and key interview and contact for our own Michael Hodgson. He was a friend who was never too busy to take a call, or spend time in a busy trade show booth for a few moments of personal reflection. "The last time I saw Jacques was at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2007," Hodgson remembered. "He was dressed casually in a white sweater, cords and sporting a crew cut. We spent a few minutes tucked away out of the main vibe of the booth, talking about the show energy, the biz environment, and other such things when I mentioned he looked tired. He smiled, looked me right in the eye, and said, 'I'm not well, but keep that between you and me, OK?…' and he abruptly changed the subject, asking me about my daughter and any adventures I had coming up. Nothing more needed to be said. That was how he was…private, selfless, interested more in others than himself. It's what made him great, and it is what I will always remember about Jacques." Yes, Jacques will be missed, but much more than that, he will be remembered as an individual so full of life, passion and energy that he inspired the best from all those with whom he came into contact. Now that is a legacy indeed.