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How I Made It: Clarke Miyasaki turned Stance into official sock-maker of NBA and MLB

How I Made It: Clarke Miyasaki turned Stance into official sock-maker of NBA and MLB
Clarke Miyasaki, head of business development at Stance Socks, has helped turn the San Clemente company into a well-known brand. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The gig: Clarke Miyasaki is executive vice president of business development for Stance Socks. He has helped the venture capital-backed San Clemente firm reach a national audience by securing deals with the NBA and the MLB to become the leagues' official sock-maker.

Upbringing: Miyasaki grew up in Sugar City, Idaho, a town of less than 1,500. "Don't blink or you'll miss it — just classic small town," said Miyasaki. His father worked at the local college and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. The oldest of six, Miyasaki enjoyed his rural upbringing. "All my friends were farmers, so I grew up four-wheeling and all that."

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Potatoes and Happy Meals: Miyasaki's first job came when he was 13 and the October potato harvest came around. In his town, it was a two-week school holiday; he started picking weeds. His first indoor job was at McDonald's at age 16. He rose up the ranks and became a manager before going on his Mormon mission in San Bernardino. Miyasaki didn't have much choice in terms of employment. The restaurant was one of few in the area — it received 50 job applicants a month because of it. "When I was dating my wife, I told her I was a manager at McDonald's. And she's from Salt Lake, where no one works at McDonald's. And she goes 'Don't tell anyone that.' Then she came to my house, and she was like, "'Oh, I get it.'"

College Days: Miyasaki attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he majored in finance. He balanced a full-time job managing a call center with school because he had to pay for his education. After the call center relocated to Minnesota, Miyasaki found himself scrambling for a summer internship. He landed one at software startup Freeport.com — but not before negotiating the salary from $10 an hour to $13. Today, if someone tried that on him "I'd think, 'Who do you think you are? So think about the little things in life that could've all gone haywire. That is one of them where I look back … 'What was I doing?'"

Startup Central: Freeport.com CEO Jeff Kearl hired Miyasaki full-time before he graduated. At the startup, he fell in love with the way small companies grow and take off. He quit to pursue a master's degree in Michigan but was lured west again by Kearl, who was by then in venture capital. They both took jobs at LogoWorks, a small software company focused on graphic design. Miyasaki ran business development, making deals with companies including Staples, Office Depot, eBay and HP, which purchased the firm in 2008. "That's where I cut my teeth in making deals. For whatever reason, that's my skill set. People trust me really quickly. I'm easy to work with."

Skullcandy: After the sale, Miyasaki joined headphone company SkullCandy as the vice president of business development. Despite having no contacts in the sports or entertainment world, company founder Rick Alden hired him at Kearl's urging. His past experience at startups didn't entirely prepare him for this type of deal-making. "I'd just go out there and throw myself into this crazy world. I was in clubs until 2 to 3 a.m. and I'm married, man. This is not my world."

Deals: At Skullcandy, Miyasaki secured deals with music moguls such as Snoop Dogg and NBA stars like Kevin Durant and James Harden. After it went public in 2011, Miyasaki hoped to take some time away from the startup world. When Kearls offered him a job at Stance, Miyasaki turned him down for the first time in his career. Now a father, returning to startup life didn't seem realistic. He dabbled in venture capital investing before Kearls and Stance president John Wilson convinced him and his wife Kamie. "They flew up, took us to dinner and I said, 'Oh man, that sounds so fun. It was right in my wheelhouse.'"

Celebrities: Part of Miyasaki's job is dealing with celebrities involved in Stance including Will Smith, Rihanna, Dwyane Wade and Klay Thompson. He said he doesn't do any ego stroking. "Sometimes they're right and I'm wrong. D-Wade, his first collection was way more eccentric than I thought [it should be]." The point of contention: a sock with leopard print on the foot, a checkerboard pattern around the ankle, topped off with a surfing motif at the calf. "I'm like, 'Dude, no. That thing is awful.' And of course it's like the number one selling of his collection."

Personal: Miyasaki has four kids. He's an avid golfer and frequently plays with NBA stars Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala.

Art of Luck: When giving a presentation a few years ago, Miyasaki was asked about his success and replied that he got where he is on luck. The audience didn't find that answer acceptable, so he thought it over. He still credits part of it to luck, but also hard work — and his ability to realize business isn't the only thing that matters. "Life is way too short to stress too much about business. When things get crazy here, I'll say, 'Hey people, no babies are dying here. We're just making socks. It's not going to be the end of the world.'"

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