Steve Crisafulli, who pulled Marmot out of peril in the ‘90s and was known for both pushing his employees to go the extra mile and also having their backs through anything, died last week at the age of 78.
Crisafulli served as Marmot’s board chairman for one year before the brand was acquired in 1991 by Hong Kong-based Odyssey International—which at the time owned The North Face, Sierra Designs, and other big names. After he was appointed the brand’s president and tasked with fixing a mountain of financial issues, Odyssey filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1993.
But nonetheless, Crisafulli persisted and after six months of chaos, he rallied his employees and management team to buy out the company for $3.5 million. Because of that, Marmot is going on 44 years and remains one of the most respected outdoor technical apparel and equipment maker.
“Steve was one of the salty ones,” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, who worked under Crisafulli as VP of sales. He said Crisafulli was a little rough around the edges, smart as hell, loyal to his team, and one of the characters that built the spirit of the outdoor industry. He also was notorious under-staffer and loved asking everyone to do three jobs.
Jeff Blakely, who worked at Marmot from 1995 to about 2010, and now owns Jigsaw Pass Consultants, agreed. He said he and his wife were lucky to be employee owners under Crisafulli—he made it a challenging workplace by pushing them to take on big responsibilities, but he'd bend over backwards for them. Plus, Blakely added, he was quite the storyteller and character.
When Marmot was switching from pen and paper to computers, Crisafulli insisted on doing things the old way. "Marmot was just getting into everybody in the company having their own personal computer. He had one in his office but he really refused to use it," Blakely said. "He still liked to write everything down. He would write notes down, give it to somebody else to type up. He would hand deliver you a memo instead of writing an email. He was that type of old school. All of a sudden one day, the power went out and we heard Steve yell at the top of his lungs, 'My pencil is still working!'"
To this day, Blakely said he and former Marmot employees fondly remember Crisafulli's exclamation whenever the lights go out.
“Of all the leaders I’ve worked with, Steve Crisafulli also showed the most gratitude and generosity with his crew," Hill said. "When you got home from a long roadtrip, he took the time to not only ask for the details, but he really appreciated how much effort it took to successfully travel for business, both professionally and personally. He not only knew what it took, he made sure you were well taken care off and let you know that he valued your effort.”
Kelly Blake, VP of client services at Catapult Creative Labs, said the 1990s was an exciting time to be on Crisafulli’s team. She said, "The brand was growing authentically, and Steve was always open minded to learning from others. The company was still very small back then, but he created a culture of great people that were hard working and passionate about the brand.”
It was Crisafulli’s idea to come out with the Marmot PreCip Jacket—a waterproof, breathable outerlayer for just $99—creating a new category of high-quality, yet affordable gear. Blakely was in the room when Crisafulli presented the idea to the design board. Blakely recalls: “We all sat around and were like, we can’t make a $99 jacket. He’s like, ‘Yeah, have it figured out by the end of the week and get back to me.’ We were like, what? We can’t do this. He’s crazy.”
But they pulled it off. "We used to kid around that he invented rain," Blakely said. "That’s why he made the PreCip jacket."
In 2004, Crisafulli went on to lead the development of K2 Inc.'s technical apparel platform—after Marmot was acquired by K2 earlier that year and became publicly traded. Crisafulli retired not long after.
A celebration of his life will take place 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Santa Rosa Country Club in Santa Rosa, California.