If you’ve seen an NFL game in the past seventy-eight seasons, you’ve seen a Bowdoin connection in the handiwork of Horween Leather Company, headed by fourth-generation president Skip Horween ’78. Horween has been the sole supplier of leather to Wilson Sporting Goods for official NFL game footballs since 1941. The company also supplies leather to Spalding for official NBA basketballs and Arena
League footballs, and to Rawlings for baseball gloves. Not a sports fan? You may wear shoes of Horween leather by makers such as Timberland, Cole Haan, or Brooks Brothers. “We’re a family company. We think in terms of the importance of each person we work with—it’s deliberate to say we work with people, they don’t work for us,” Skip explains. “That mindset, along with staying small and true to our traditions, has been the key to our success.” Skip has worked in every area of the company from the time he was a teenager, but he wasn’t destined to join the family business. “I studied archaeology at Bowdoin because I enjoyed it. Digs expanded my learning about how much a team can accomplish and how rewarding it is to face challenges and solve puzzles.” Skip went on to earn an MBA at Northwestern and returned to Horween Leather in the early ’90s. “Professionally, I’m proud to still be in a difficult business making awesome products the old-fashioned way,” he says. “Personally, I’m most proud of my family. It sounds sappy, but my kids are the two best things I’ve ever done. By far.”
“We’re specialists,” says Skip Horween ’78, explaining how Horween Leather became the last tannery operating in Chicago. Fun fact: Footballs are made from cow hide, but, when the sport began, the balls were made from pig bladders, and the nickname “pigskin” has stuck.
Bowdoin Magazine featured Skip in our Spring 1999 issue, available to read as a PDF.
Photos by David Johnson
This story first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Bowdoin Magazine. Manage your subscription and see other stories from the magazine on the Bowdoin Magazine website.