Corporate Overview Company History
Billabong was founded on Australia's Gold Coast in 1973 by surfer and surfboard shaper Gordon Merchant and his then partner, Rena. From humble beginnings – designing boardshorts at home, cutting them out on the kitchen table and selling them in local surf shops – the brand quickly gained traction with surfers preferring the superior functionality of the Billabong boardshorts. They were found to be far more durable courtesy of the unique triple-stitching technique developed by Gordon.
Local surfers drawn to the brand became involved in marketing Billabong, and -brand sponsored contests and special events soon followed. By the 1980s, Billabong had firmly established its place in Australian surf culture and was ready for international expansion. The initial focus was on the large North American market and, again, the brand enjoyed success.
Sales began to grow in other offshore markets, licenses were granted in a number of territories including Europe, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa.
Through the 1990s the surf industry grew exponentially and professional surfing gained a mainstream following. The Company also followed its core customers into other boardsports markets, including skate, snow and wake, where it replicated its proven business model. By the close of the decade, Billabong had been restructured to capitalise on the growing global opportunities in the boardsports sector.
The restructure set the foundation for an initial public offering in Australia in 2000. The move saw the company's shares publicly listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in August of that year. This gave the company greater impetus and the financial capacity to grow the business through the addition of new brands and retail outlets.
A period of significant expansion throughout the 2000s, saw numerous brands join the Billabong family, including (amongst many) eyewear brand VonZipper, emerging skateboard apparel brand Element, specialist wetsuit brand Xcel and womens swimwear brand Tigerlily.
In late 2009 the Company formally entered the online sales channel through the acquisition of US-based boardsport retailer Swell.com and the purchase of an interest in Australia's Surfstitch.com. Both later divested to focus on building its own e-commerce and omni-channel business.
Late 2012 saw shareholders in the highly-leveraged business accepted a refinancing deal with Centerbridge and Oaktree, in exchange for a 40.8 per cent stake in the Company.
In September 2013 Neil Fiske was appointed chief executive of Billabong International, heralding a significant turnaround in the Company's fortunes. Under Neil's leadership, Billabong has narrowed its strategic focus to concentrate on its core brands and customers, invest in building an omni-channel platform, and restructure its capital. The improvements achieved in this time are made all the more remarkable by the challenging global retail environment and reaffirm the tremendous passion that still exists for the Billabong brand after more than 40 years of history.