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  Under the Radar Businesses in Richmond
October 14, 2005
I routinely read about businesses in Richmond that I didn’t know existed or I am reminded of businesses I know but which seldom show up at Chamber of Commerce mixers or City events. There is a whole universe of Richmond businesses that hire lots of people, pay lots of taxes and bring recognition to our City but keep a low profile locally.


For example, in the current (October 14-20, 2005) San Francisco Business Times, there is a headline “Henry Jacobson: Clothing designer’s success is all in the name.” It turns out that this fast growing company founded in 2001 is headquartered in Richmond, has 250 employees and a 2005 revenue forecast of $15 million.

Born in San Francisco, Jacobson was an art major and all-American tennis player at San Jose State University, competing at Wimbledon before being sidelined by a back injury. For the next eight years, he worked in restaurant management and as a management consultant. During this time he realized the only way to satisfy both his creative talents and entrepreneurial instincts would be to start his own business. In 1988, he saw his opportunity while traveling in Thailand. It was there that he began to realize the potential appeal of extraordinarily beautiful men’s neckwear made from hand-loomed silk—a combination that had never before been marketed!

Shortly after his return, he met Katie Smith through a mutual friend, and in 1988 they formed a partnership to launch Mulberry Neckwear. Today, Mulberry is America’s fourth largest producer of men’s neckwear—an established trend setter known throughout the industry for innovative design and superb quality.

A little Internet sleuthing revealed that Jacobson’s business in Richmond is actually licensed as Mulberry Thai Silks, Inc., and is located at 880 Harbour Way South, not to far from City Hall. The company’s website cites it as the second largest neckwear business in the U.S.

I found the following article in the 2004 East Bay Business Times detailing the move from San Rafael to Richmond:

Neckwear firm ties knot with Richmond

Michael Peńa

Henry Jacobson heads two companies - Mulberry Neckwear and a namesake apparel collection that he launched in 2002.

His 15-year-old neckwear business has annual worldwide sales of about $50 million, in part because he has licenses to make ties bearing popular labels such as Kenneth Cole and Jerry Garcia.

Both companies were founded in San Rafael, but come Memorial Day, their new headquarters will be in Richmond, where Jacobson has leased office and warehouse space for about three years. Jacobson was drawn by Richmond's lowerrents, as well as its shorter commutes for some of his employees.

The San Francisco native has always been passionate about art. But before he began expressing that with colorful ties and shirts, he first was an athlete. He was a nationally ranked junior tennis player and competed at Wimbledon in 1977.

Then sidelined by a back injury, he turned to managing a San Jose restaurant. But after four years, he moved back to Marin and made clothing his career.

"I've always had very specific ideas about the way people should dress," Jacobson said.

Business philosophy

The basics: "My business philosophy is to control our own destiny. In other words, create a company and systems within that company that allow you to exert your influence over everything from product development and design, all the way to selling the product through at retail."

Best way to keep competitive edge: "In our case, it's by executing well in all phases of our business model."

Guiding principle: "The word innovation is an important one. It applies to everything that we do."


First job: "I was a tennis player, so I started out there trying to make a career. I started at a young age - 9 or 10 years old - and ended up being a fairly highly ranked national player."

Words that best describe you: "Passionate."

Like best about job: "It's a lot of things. It's the ability to work out both sides of my brain at the same time. It's kind of a marriage between the creative, or artistic, and commerce."

Like least about job: "I travel an enormous amount. A lot of traveling can be tiring. I'm probably on the road going somewhere two weeks out of the month. Most of it actually takes me to New York."

Pet peeve: "A lack of clear direction on the part of the department store retailer today. I think there's an identity crisis there. I think the department store retailer needs to move back in the direction of specialty retailing. When you walk into a department store, you want to be educated, entertained, stimulated."

Most important lesson learned: "You can't do it by yourself, and that, ultimately, it's the quality and the commitment of people around you that spell the difference between success and failure. All of us entrepreneurs think we can do it by ourselves, and that's one of our fatal flaws."

Most interested in meeting: "I'm very interested in historical figures who came along and looked at the world differently. Picasso was probably one of those people. "

Most respected competitor: "Superba. They're headquartered in Los Angeles. They're very good. There's only four of us who have meaningful market share. They've got some fairly powerful licenses."

Three greatest passions: "My wife and family would be first. Second would be my business. And today, I love to play golf. What can I tell you? It's the most relaxing thing I do."

Judgment calls

Best business decision: "That would have to be partnering with my current business partner, Katie Smith. She is the operations boss. She oversees a lot of departments in the company. She's extremely smart, and I think we complement each other well."

Toughest business decision: "Anytime you have to make a decision about downsizing. We've obviously participated in an economy that has been up and down over the years. Last year, through August, it was terrible. Currently, it's getting better."

Biggest missed opportunity: "None. We've always been extremely optimistic and focused."

Acquired tastes

Status symbol: "I don't think of the world in terms of status symbols."

Favorite movie: " 'Casablanca.' "

Favorite book: "The Patrick O'Brian series on life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars."

Favorite restaurant: "Locally, Marin Joe's."

Favorite vacation spot: "The Bitterroot Valley in Montana. It's just incredibly beautiful and unspoiled."

Set of wheels: "I'm currently driving a Range Rover, which I like."

Reach Peńa at mpena@bizjournals.com or 925-598-1431.


Also profiled in the (October 14-20, 2005) San Francisco Business Times is Paul Kaplan, who with his partner, Ken Keefe, own Keefe Kaplan Maritime, Inc, (KKMI) the west coast’s premiere boatyard. The company, located at 530 West Cutting Boulevard, employees 50 and grosses $31 million annually. I know KKMI well (Richmond Hosts America Cup Yachts, E-FORUM, September 12, 2003), but it’s nice to be reminded of what we have here.

In 1996, Paul Kaplan and Ken Keefe acquired the Sanford Wood boatyard in Richmond. The dirt and mud yard was littered with dilapidated buildings, obsolete equipment and tattered docks. The vision of a modern boatyard, bustling with activity and a destination for many of the world's finest yachts, was a stretch even for these two. By 2005, time, enormous effort, boatloads of money, undying vision and a dedicated, top notch staff have contributed to placing KKMI firmly on the map as one of the leading boatyards on the West Coast today.