Columbia Sportswear “matriarch” Gert Boyle has died at age 95, the company announced Sunday.
Boyle led the Portland, Oregon-based outdoor apparel company for half a century, including as president and, more recently, as chairwoman of Columbia’s board. The charismatic executive had also become somewhat of an icon, known within the company as Columbia’s “One Tough Mother” (also the title of her autobiography) and appearing in ad campaigns alongside the likes of actor Zac Efron.
That toughness was key to the way Boyle — one of the few women leaders in the male-dominated sportswear industry — approached running the business.
“Let me tell you something,” Boyle said in a 1998 CNN interview. “In business, you have to have a vision of the way you want things done, and you can’t have people leave tire tracks on your back.”
Born in Augsburg, Germany in 1924, Boyle’s fled Nazi Germany with her family at the age of 13. They landed in Portland, where her father Paul Lamfrom founded the company that would become Columbia Sportswear.
Boyle’s husband, Neal Boyle, ran Columbia after her father died. But six years later, in 1970, Neal Boyle died from a sudden heart attack and Boyle found herself at the helm of a debt-ridden company making less than $800,000 in annual sales at the age of 47.
At the time, bankers pressured Boyle to sell the company. But when she was only offered $1,400 for it, Boyle declined.
“In my old age I had learned a few words,” Boyle said of the experience in 2003. “I used every one of them on him. I said, ‘See that door? For $1,400 I’m going to run the frickin’ thing into the ground myself!’ That was the nice word. That’s not really what I said. So he left.”
Instead, Boyle kept Columbia and led it to become a leader in the outdoor footwear and apparel industry globally alongside her son and current CEO Tim Boyle. Last year, the company posted annual sales of nearly $3 billion, and its stock price has grown more than 1,100% since its 1998 IPO.
She was the first woman ever inducted into the Sporting Goods Association Hall of Fame in 2003, and was also named to the Global Business Hall of Fame.
“Her pioneering role as a woman in what was then a male-dominated industry is a testament to her strength of character and ability to persevere through difficult situations,” the company said in a statement Sunday. “Gert’s humor and business savvy were sought by many people at Columbia Sportswear Company and she was truly beloved.”