R.M. Williams | From the Bush to the Boardroom | A Continuous Lean.

R.M. Williams | From the Bush to the Boardroom

Feb 3rd, 2014 | Categories: Footwear, Jake Gallagher | by Jake Gallagher

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When R.M. Williams was sold to LVMH, the high-fashion conglomerate, early last year, my first thought was, “what would R.M. say about all this?” After all, this was a man born on the Australian bush to a lower class family who worked his way up from a swagman to a millionaire with his eponymous line of Chelsea boots. Even still, I imagine that when R.M. churned out his first pair of Chelseas back in the 1930’s, he never would’ve fathomed that his name would once be listed alongside the likes of Louis Vuitton. Hell, I doubt he even knew who Louis Vuitton was.

R.M. was born Reginald Murray Williams in 1908, and for the first quarter of his life he lived primarily as a transient, traveling across the Australian countryside doing whatever odd job he could find. After dropping out of school at thirteen, R.M. worked as a camel driver, a well digger, and a leatherworker (a skill that R.M. learned from a saddler named Dollar Mick, because that’s just how stories like this go), which ultimately paved the way for his life’s greatest work.

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By 1932, R.M. was living with his family (in typical folk hero fashion, R.M. had two wives and fathered ten children) in the Southern Australian city of Adelaide, but he had fallen on hard times. During his younger years, R.M. had traveled with aborigines, ranchers, and general journeymen, which gave him the idea to create a boot tough enough to battle the outback’s unpredictable elements. R.M. used his leather skills to craft a pull on riding boot, which he swiftly sold to a man for twenty shillings, or roughly two bucks today.

R.M. realized that there might just be a fortune to be made in the boot business, so he built a factory behind his father’s house and began placing ads in rural newspapers to entice the country’s cattlemen and cowpokes. Over the next few decades, R.M. conquered the outback, then the cities, then the globe, as his hardy yet handsome Chelsea boots became adored from the bush to the boardroom. R.M. unfortunately passed away in 2003, but his legacy lives on in his brand’s boots, which continue to be produced in Australia, and remain some of the best boots that money can buy. —JG

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Comments: 11

11 Comments to “R.M. Williams | From the Bush to the Boardroom”

  1. Dave
    on Feb 3rd, 2014
    @ 12:36 PM

    Great post. I can’t say enough about the quality and style of RM Williams boots. I’ve been wearing them for almost 20 years and am on my third pair – which I’ve had for a decade now. I resole ‘em when necessary, and despite how old and beaten they are, I still get compliments. Sure, the price (+/- $500) makes them a bit of an extravagance but their timeless style and quality makes them worth it. Buy some – they’ll become an instant favorite, guaranteed.

  2. Young Australian
    on Feb 3rd, 2014
    @ 7:05 PM

    Having never commented before, I think I’ve chosen a good day to begin.
    I was a little baffled when LV bought out RM Williams and they have made some style changes that follow trends, but I just hope they keep the quality that RM is known for.
    I’ve had my belt from there since I was 12, a simple piece yes, but sometimes the simplest are the easiest to screw up. I know my father has had his RM Boots since the late 80′s and they’re going strong.

    Well written, solid company.

  3. Interested Party
    on Feb 4th, 2014
    @ 1:13 AM

    Please note that it was L Capital Asia that purchased a 49.9% stake in RM Williams. L Capital is an LVMH-backed private equity fund that invests in mid-tier companies with the intent to realize a gain on the investment, and its holdings do not constitute core brands for LVMH.

  4. Jake Gallagher
    on Feb 4th, 2014
    @ 9:01 AM

    @Interested Party – Yes you are correct, but it is backed by LVMH (as you said) and it is the holding company of LVMH’s chairman/chief exec. Bernard Arnault. As you can see based on multiple stories (below) the deal was largely considered to bring RM Williams into the LVMH fold. After all that is one massive umbrella.

    http://www.brw.com.au/p/marketing/why_giant_williams_got_the_right_6K0Fu5k3rNo9QcppSOwPrO

    http://blogs.wsj.com/dealjournalaustralia/2013/04/15/lvmh-fund-lands-r-m-williams-stake/

    http://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/news/lvmh+invests+in+rm+williams,24365

    http://www.news.com.au/finance/small-business/bootmaker-rm-williams-sells-499-per-cent-share-to-l-capital-asia/story-fn9evb64-1226621334642

  5. PE Investor
    on Feb 5th, 2014
    @ 2:44 AM

    L Capital seems quite clear about their relationship with LVMH:

    http://www.lcapitalasia.com/lvmh-and-l-capital-asia.html

    It should be noted that YTL (the Malysian family group) is also a key investor, and the L Capital company portfolio extends to other mid-market companies, including Jones the Grocer!

    http://www.lcapitalasia.com/rm-williams.html

    It appears the local news media there in Australia might have embellished a little…

  6. Edward
    on Feb 5th, 2014
    @ 10:32 AM

    I bought my pair in 2001 and paid $150. That’s when the exchange rate was favorable to the American dollar. Now, not so much. The moleskin jeans are great too.

  7. Tad
    on Feb 5th, 2014
    @ 2:04 PM

    Does anyone know what happened to their NYC shop? It appears to have closed. Love their boots and I think that was the only place in the states to buy them.

  8. Bebe
    on Feb 7th, 2014
    @ 11:13 PM

    Guess I’d best buy another pair. Every fine old business the M&A and hedge fund boys/girls touch turns to dross. Thanks kindly, Jake Gallagher, for yet another sterling write-up.

  9. Michael
    on Feb 8th, 2014
    @ 11:53 AM

    @Tad – I also was curious what happened to it? I’m living in NYC currently, does anyone know where one can find their boots to try on a pair?

  10. Roger C. Russell II
    on Feb 13th, 2014
    @ 6:58 AM

    I am shocked to find so many fans of R.M. Williams. It is by far the best fitting and toughest wearing boot I have ever owned. Infact, R.M. Williams fit me better than any of my custom made boots. I am a fan of the yard boot. One pair lasted me 10 years of hard daily use with no cream or pampering at all. The information about the purchase scares me. I hope no outsourcing occurs. Someone commented about the NYC store. I can not find them either. However, there was a store called Australia Faire in San Francisco. Also, the store Ben Silver was selling a few styles. I need a new pair and I have been communicating with Bootonline ($50.00) shipping. I would like to avoid Bootsonline because evidently the size is marked differently now than from my first purchase because my American size does not jive with the Australian counterpart.

  11. Jake
    on Feb 13th, 2014
    @ 1:19 PM

    @Tad and Michael – I was at R.M. Williams in midtown just a few days before it closed, the sales people said that that location was closing for good, but the company was looking into a new space, specifically somewhere along Madison. Hopefully they find that new location soon.