Gut Check Tony Hawk may be more a businessman than skater now, but his success in both comes from following his instincts.

By Phillip Lee

Tony Hawk is rich and chief executive of his own company, but that doesn't mean he's changed all that much from the skateboarding kid with a junk food diet. In fact, it's something he says makes him a better C.E.O.

For Hawk, it's always been about being true to one's self, or at least his constituency-the skaters.

"You have to be approachable and identify with your audience," Hawk said. "I never forgot where I came from. I still continue to skate with the kids and see what they're up to. I still eat at McDonald's."

Hawk has never lost touch with that audience and doesn't want to. And that may be the key to the success of his Tony Hawk Inc., a privately held business with 30 employees working from an office park 40 miles north of San Diego.

"(I want to) actually experience it and not hire a marketing group to do it for you and then you're out of touch and you're relying on whatever their vision is," Hawks said.

Hawk started skating at the age of nine and three years later he gained his first sponsor.

Two years later at 14, he turned professional and in the following two years, he was considered the best skateboarder in the world. Over the next 17 years, he won enough contests-enough to think he was set for life.

He launched a skateboarding company, Birdhouse Projects, but it struggled as pubic interest slumped. Hawk slumped, too, financially. But when skateboarding and extreme sports began to grab the spotlight, he seized the opportunity.

His defining moment could be deemed when he went to the 1999 X-Games in San Francisco and completed the first "900" in skateboarding competition. (A 900 is a jump of two-and-one-half rotations, 360 degrees + 360 degrees + 180 degrees = 900).

"I didn't really anticipate making (the 900) that night," Hawk said. "I told myself that night that I was going to make that trick or get taken to the hospital."

That kind of determination served Hawk in business, too.

"I go with my gut feeling," Hawk said. "Is this is something that is truly connected with what I do."

He trusts his instinct because "I do live in this world. I didn't learn about it through videos or books. I actually did it and struggled with it."

As a businessman, Hawk now has racked up unusual success.

His video game series with Activision has sold more than 30 million copies and the newest releases are frequently among the top 10 sellers in the business. He's done a direct-to-DVD movie, a clothing brand that's sold at Kohl's and last year, the Tony Hawk Big Spin roller coasters made their debut at Six Flags' Amusement Parks.

That's all in addition to his skateboarding business and an extreme sports tour called Tony Hawk's Boom Boom HuckJam, which he started in 2002.

Hawk also founded the Tony Hawk Foundation, which is designed to promote and help finance public skate parks in low-income areas.

The foundation has distributed more than $2.3 million to non-profit groups building skate parks everywhere from Homer, Alaska to Needles, Calif., to Greencastle, Ind., to Livermore Falls, Maine.

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