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Romancing the Stone

Thom McElroy, '85, has made his mark in the action sports industry.
Thom McElroy surfing in Indonesia
Thom McElroy surfing in Indonesia
Many people immediately recognize the distinctive Volcom stone, but few know that San Diego State alum Thom McElroy, ’85, created it.

A graphic communications major with extensive coursework in marketing, McElroy has worked at various times for the Quiksilver, Volcom and O’Neill sportswear lines. But it was at Volcom that he literally made his mark.

“As a graphic artist, you try to get to the mantra of the company,” McElroy said. “Volcom started as Stone Board Wear, so I searched through vintage geology books. I found an image of a black and white line drawing that represented the ‘soul’ of a diamond. With some tweaking, it became the Volcom stone.”

Previous commitments prevented McElroy from joining Volcom as a full partner at the outset. In 1994, he evolved McElroy Designs into a full-service creative agency with fellow SDSU alumnus Tim Garrett when both men were not yet 30. McElroy said his competitive advantage was an education that combined creative skills with marketing know-how. “I understood right away how a business grows and how to bring in people to help it grow.”

Since McElroy had grown up surfing and snowboarding, he easily tapped into that market. “They were crazy times,” he recalled. “We went to hundreds of trade shows, concerts and board events all around the world.”

After a few years, international agency Foote, Cone and Belding bought him out and hired him to head up the youth marketing arm.

“It was a big dream of mine to work in that [advertising] arena, but I found that it pulled me from my roots so I left,” he said.

Soon he was helping O’Neill develop a new brand that was edgier and more relevant to young people. It was trademark McElroy—radiating energy, motion and independence.

McElroy still surfs every day and takes his board to the mountains, but now he spends more time mentoring than marketing. A frequent speaker at events sponsored by SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center, he talks to students about interviewing, networking and becoming an entrepreneur.

His advice to young Aztecs: “Don’t compromise. Be a renegade. Write a business plan, but be prepared to throw it away. Move fast every day and be nimble. You don’t have to be the smartest to be the best. If you’re passionate about what you do, success will come.”
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