Nevada grads powering Sportif USA
By Melanie Supersano
Five top executives at Sportif USA, a top lifestyle and outdoor clothing manufacturer based in Sparks, have roots at the university.
John E. Kirsch, ('85 -'88, Marketing) president, is the son of the late John G. Kirsch, who founded Sportif USA 37 years ago in Los Angeles, selling tennis shorts from the back of the family station wagon.
The elder Kirsch expanded the business beyond the tennis niche into marine, climbing, hiking, skiing, fishing and other outdoor sports markets. The Sportif USA brand is now found in top sports stores such as REI, Gaylan's, Gart Sports and West Marine, as well as small outdoor specialty stores across the country, and internationally in Canada, Australia, and Japan. The company operates a factory in Sri Lanka.
In the early 1970s, John G. moved his wife, six children and business to the Sierra. Tragically, his twin-engine Beechcraft crashed in March 1991, leaving his four sons and two daughters, in their teens and early 20s, to contemplate running the business without its founder. They decided to pursue the dream their father held dear — positioning Sportif USA as a leader in the outdoor apparel industry. John E., who had been named president just two weeks before the crash, was alone at the helm at age 24.
"In hindsight, we didn't have a clue about the incredibly complex business we were acquiring," he says.
Since then, with the help of his siblings and mother, Suzie, the company has become a successful second-generation family business.
Sportif boasts a dedicated, youthful crew, many of whom were John's friends while at Nevada.
Tom Williamson ('91 Public Relations), vice president of sales and marketing, met the eldest Kirsch sister, Kathleen ('85-'88 Marketing), while at Nevada. The couple married the summer before Tom's December graduation. Tom played tight end for the Wolf Pack and met Mike Youngblood (BA '91 English Literature) vice president of information technology, when Mike ran the chain crew for the team. "My dad, Del Youngblood, was the head baseball coach at Nevada before Gary Powers," Mike notes. Mike, Tom and Kathleen once took "Bible as Literature" together.
Doug Moir, ('88 Economics, MS '93 Economics) controller, was best friends with John in college. " I came up from Las Vegas. The Kirsch family kind of adopted me," he says.
Jim Hulse, ('91 Logistics) production/sourcing manager, didn't know the Kirsch family while in college. "No, definitely not," he jokes. "I actually answered an ad," he says of his introduction to Sportif USA. Hulse, like all the top executives at Sportif, enjoys outdoor activities, as well as being part of the friendly, youthful management team at Sportif.