Karl Francis Lopker: 1951-2018In Memoriam | Thu Sep 27, 2018 | 12:00am
It is rare in life you meet a person as extraordinary as Karl. He was a force to be reckoned with — intelligent, gregarious, resourceful, driven — yet also modest, passionate, and affable. You knew Karl was in the room when you heard his unforgettable laugh — the kind of loud, hearty laugh that filled the room and made you smile. That was Karl. Happy. Positive. Enjoying the moment.
Karl was born in Downey, California. He was an only child but had more than enough cousins who stood in as surrogate siblings. His dad, Frank Lopker, was an MIT master’s graduate who managed the Convair airplane factory in San Diego before starting his own mechanical engineering firm. Karl’s mother, Julia Weber Lopker, was an accountant for Weber Trailer, a family business that manufactured large trailers for the trucking industry.
Karl never worked for anyone — not even as a kid. He always figured out a way to make money on his own. In summers during high school, he painted parking space lines for businesses around Downey. Later, he started his own business as a freelance Volkswagen mechanic.
As a freshman at UCSB in the late 1960s, he upped his mechanical game by flipping VWs — fixing them up and reselling for a tidy profit. Then, at some point during college, his entrepreneurial eye was drawn to leather working. Working out of his rented garage, he quickly mastered the production of belts, bags, and sandals, selling his wares under the name “Styled Steer.”
Perhaps his most significant creation was a simple, yet elegant leather sandal — the “301,” that found its popularity in shops up and down the California coast. “We used to walk around campus and ask people if we could trace their foot”, recalls long-time friend Brooks Barthel. “That’s how the whole sandal thing started.”
“He made and sold flip flops at the craft fairs in the early 1970s,” said Doug Otto, another close friend and former business partner of Karl’s in the Deckers company. “He gave me some samples to sell to surf shops and leather boutiques up and down the coast. That was the start of our 10-year business partnership when we were pretty much joined at the hip. Looking back, it was essentially a graduate course in navigating the extreme highs and lows of running your own business.”
So successful was his new leather business, he leased a warehouse in Goleta and enlisted more friends to help expand his fledgling enterprise.
“I met Karl 45 years ago,” Randy Alcorn reminisced. When his sandal business took off, “even though Karl had studied to be an electrical engineer, he redirected his focus to learning all he could about business and finance. But academics are rarely more instructional than experience, and Karl learned from his mistakes — rarely if ever repeating them.”
“We met at freshman orientation,” recalled college buddy Peter Link. “After college, Karl hired me as a mechanic to fix the ‘clickers,’ the cookie-cutter machines that stamped out the basic shape of the sandal. I personally owe my lifelong shoe career to the start Karl afforded me at Deckers.”
Those original leather sandals soon morphed into the now iconic neoprene sandal that launched yet another company, Driftwood Dan, later to be called, Deckers. Deckers Outdoor, as it is now known, would later grow to a worldwide, multibillion-dollar enterprise under the wing of Doug Otto.
While implementing new software to help streamline the Deckers sandal production, Karl was drawn to another business opportunity. His girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife, Pam Meyer, had started her own company, QAD, specializing in manufacturing software. Realizing the huge potential in the software industry, the two joined forces.
Evan Bishop was fortunate enough to have worked with Karl at both Deckers and QAD. “Karl loved to read — business books, investing, supply chain — he always had something he was reading, and he proved to be quite the good negotiator from all of his acquired knowledge.”
Together, Karl and Pam became an unstoppable force. They forged what is today a multi-national juggernaut, with offices in 18 countries, customers in more than 80 countries, and thousands of employees.
Anton Chilton is QAD’s Chief of Global Field Operations. “Karl was one of the most principled people I have ever worked with. He worked hard to ensure emotion rarely clouded his judgment, but stayed true to his core values of fairness, honesty, and openness.”
QAD Chief Financial Officer Daniel Lender marveled at Karl’s attention to detail. “No matter how good a presentation, a business plan, a negotiation strategy was, Karl would always find ways to improve them, then run through them again, and make some more improvements.
“I will also remember,” Daniel continued, “Whenever we had organized meetings there was always an element of fun that was very important to him. It was about making sure that others were having a good time.”
Indeed, Karl relished his self-imposed role as host and funmaker extraordinaire. Whether at the seemingly endless number of QAD dinner parties or casual get-togethers with friends, his mission was to make sure everyone enjoyed being there.
Karl was intensely competitive at virtually everything he did — it was in his DNA. Whether it was volleyball, tennis, foosball, or chess, if he didn’t win, he was determined to figure out a way to improve his strategy or technique to ultimately succeed. He did so without bravado. He was gracious in defeat as he was humble in victory. As the sports metaphor goes, champions never complain, they are too busy getting better. That was Karl.
His engineering mindset compelled him to constantly tinker, adjust and improve anything he felt was not quite right — a production process, an office floor plan, even his volleyball or tennis serve — anything that needed improvement, he was figuring out a better way.
His critical thinking and analytical skills allowed him to cleverly solve seemingly complex problems. The late Joe Nida, a prominent Santa Barbara attorney, once said, “If the end of the world was announced, I would try to get to wherever Karl was, as I’m certain Karl would come up with a way to stop it.”
That sentiment plays repeatedly with those who knew Karl throughout his life.
“A pillar of patience and brilliance that we could all rally around no matter how dire things might get. He was always the man with the plan,” said Randy Alcorn.
“He emanated an aura of competency you could just feel in his presence,” echoed Peter Link. “There was little he could not master.”
“He never made you feel afraid of anything — or afraid to try anything. He made everything light and fun. There was nothing he felt he couldn’t do or attain, and he seemingly didn’t have to try very hard — he just did it!” reminisced another long-time friend, Sue Papazian Cobb.
“He never gave up and was always pushing forward. I’ve always been in awe of his perseverance, his tenacity and drive,” said Doug Otto.
Karl was an ardent family man. He adored his wife, Pam, and of course their two kids, Bo and Juliana. He taught his kids to be confident and independent thinkers. He challenged them intellectually and made sure they were street smart as well as wise. He was never prouder than when they succeeded at their various endeavors.
My wife, Linda, and I and our two kids often went on family vacations with Karl, Pam, and family. We were at dinner in France one evening in the mid-1990s and our kids were aching to do something other than sit around and listen to us talk. So, Karl whipped out a street map and challenged them to navigate their way back to the hotel — on their own. They confidently hopped up and went on their way, arriving at their destination without a hitch.
Karl was my best friend. I met him in 1975, prior to his and Pam’s marriage. A friend and I traveled to Europe with the newlyweds on their honeymoon. We scoured the countryside of France, discovering incredible wines and meeting owners and winemakers along the way. That experience turned out to be a catalyst for both of us. Linda and I later started a wine business, and Karl began in earnest his deep appreciation of fine wine.
Enjoying great wine was always a part of the equation at the Lopker house. Many a visitor was on the receiving end of a nice bottle of wine on their way out the door at the end of a fun evening.
Karl was simply a good guy — fun, honest, unassuming, and supremely capable. He was interesting to listen to and interested in what you were saying. I will miss many things about him, exchanging quips over internet chess, the collective belly laughs, the competitive games we played, and the awesome wine we shared, but most of all, his genuine friendship.
His entrepreneurial endeavors created many careers and personal relationships throughout the world. He was an inspiration, mentor, and role model for many. It is no accident that an unusually high number of his friends developed into successful entrepreneurs or leaders in their respective industries.
The Santa Barbara community will forever appreciate Karl and Pam’s philanthropy. QAD has made substantial donations to United Way, Santa Barbara Foundation, and Ventura County Community Foundation, as well as individuals affected by the recent Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides. They also offered numerous educational grants by way of computer equipment donations, scholarships, and research training for students. A recent donation for the establishment of the MOXI Museum of Innovation and Exploration furthered their focus on encouraging creativity and education in young people.
Pam is highly successful in her own right, but she is always quick to point out it has been a team effort the entire way. Bo and Juliana, properly launched and successfully navigating their own paths, made Karl a supremely proud dad.
The world, our community, friends, and family have lost one of the quintessential good guys. There are special people in our lives who never leave us, even after they are gone. Karl will be greatly missed and always remembered.