Many of us have heard of the brand “Reebok.” It’s a pioneer in the world of sneakers, becoming one of the largest sneaker manufacturers in the world. But behind it all is a great man who only a few knows, Joe Foster. He is the Founder of Reebok. Together with his brother, they built the Reebok from an almost crumbling J W Foster & Sons into the Reebok brand that we all know and came to love. They have won Olympic, Commonwealth, and European medals as well as accomplishing World Record-Breaking Performances. Aside from being the founder of Reebok, Joe is also a Founder member at One Golden Nugget and a Keynote Speaker.
On today’s episode of The UnderdogShow, we got the chance to talk to the legend, Joe Foster, and had a once-in-a-lifetime conversation. The highlight of the episodes include:
-How he has inherited the business despite the feud between families.
-Where did the idea and name “Reebok” come from.
-The journey that was traversed by Joe and his brother to reach their dreams despite setbacks and near-bankruptcies.
-The shoes that shoot them up to success.
-On a more personal note, our episode also covered who was Joe’s inspirations and the lessons that he would love everyone to hear.
Joe has also recently published a book. Shoemaker tells Joe Foster’s inspiring story, revealing the grit, hard choices, and personal sacrifices that go into creating a world-beating brand.
Tune in on how one of the great minds of the World of Sneakers shares his amazing story of resilience and passion. Listen to how you can ignite yours when you listen to our conversation with the one and only Joe Foster.
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Click To Read The Transcript
Joe Foster Shares His Journey of Resilience and Passion as One of the Most Iconic Brands in History
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of underdog. Today I have an incredibly amazing person here with me today. I have the iconic Joe Foster with me, the founder of Reebok and it is such an honor to have you here, Joe, welcome.
It’s an absolute pleasure. And being in Boston makes it even more of a pleasure. So it’s fantastic. Thank you.
It’s such an honor to have you here today. Like I mentioned before the interview, I’ve been studying the story of Reebok, how you started your grandfather, all this amazingness. And I just can’t wait to get into it with you, so I’m excited. So my first question in my opening question is what inspired you on your journey to where you are today?
What inspired me, I think, was the need to do something. Jada Foster, my grandfather, started. He was a genius, he really was. And I’m sure we’ll touch on him a bit later. But my father and uncle didn’t seem to inherit that DNA. Didn’t seem to inherit what you do with business, how you grow the assignment. Myself and my brother Jeff, unforced and Jefferson with tears. But we were looking at a family business father said, when I’m gone and your uncle’s gone, this business will be yours.
And we said, Well, look, Dad, we really don’t want you to go. You know, that’s not the plan, this business will be gone long before. Because it needs attention on this planet. But they didn’t get up, my father and my uncle just didn’t get up and that really is the base. If they don’t get out, they don’t speak, they don’t work together. You can’t take a company anywhere. So the inspiration was with Jeff, look, you know, we need to do something about this. This is not going to be a future, so we need to make our own future and so we left the family business. And we set up our own little company, Mercury sports footwear.
I remember reading that I was like, what Mercury’s. Oh my God. Amazing, amazing. And from there, I had read that your accountant had told you to register the name so nobody could steal it.
Were quite young, quite naive, we had no idea that you did such things. But he said, Oh, you better register your name because if you don’t, somebody else will start to make it. Because of the blank look of these Mercury issues, somebody else started making Mercury issues. And then you’ve got problems, you have to prove that you own it, and you used it and all that. So he said go and register and of course, Schiff read the story. I tried to register the name, only to find out it was pre-registered, somebody else had got it and that was British shoe Corporation. They’re a big company, we were a big company in those days. And they offered us 4000 pounds, which as you know, today 1000 pounds is not much money.
But if somebody says to you, $100,000, and you’ve just got a startup, you’re saying. Oh, we didn’t have that money, we’ve set a whole factory up for 250 pounds, 1000 pounds impossible. And of course, we were so small. The bank wouldn’t listen to us if we wanted to borrow that sort of money. So I have to go see a Patent Agent and it is in Manchester. Manchester is quite a big city in the north of England, near to where we had our factory. And the man said, Well, if you can’t buy it, then you have to think of a new name and he said. Don’t bring me one. Bring me at least 10 Any project through his window. It was a nice day in May. The project through his window to Kodak, there was a kodak sign and I said, Well, what’s with that?
And he said, it’s made up, they make that name. It’s their own name. They invented it, so nobody can have that name. So if you can make a name, inventor then fine. Well, I go back, and we sit down with Jeff and no one else around the table and we’re thinking names. And some silly names do come out at times as you can imagine. It’s extremely, extremely difficult to get really serious when you’re doing it. But let me take you back to 1943 and if I did it. I’m only eight years old and it was during the war, a bit like today and COVID Nobody could go anywhere. So there was a lot of events happening locally and I wanted to race. I think it was a 60-yard race. Eight years older, I had an advantage, I have spiked shoes.
Nobody else has spiked shoes JW Foster’s made spank shoes as make shoes. So maybe that was a bit of an advantage to me. Maybe a big advantage. But I wonder if that away kind of lines up to collect my prize? How do I get a dictionary? And I said a dictionary was the football. I’m only a kid. What can I do with addiction? And above all else, it was an American Dictionary and a lot of the spellings. That they would Webster’s low the spelling’s in the American Dictionary, a different from the English. You spell color with or without you we spell color with you and other things. So, okay, I know fast forward and we’re sitting down with thinking names, and I see my dictionary and I open it. Because I liked the letter R has a nice strong beginning to any word.
So turn into R, and it’s not long leafing through that I get to our debris be okay. Reebok, what’s now? Small South African Gazelle Zelle. Fabulous. That sounds great. Top of the list, Reebook top in the list, okay, we had this list. I went back to the agent and said, Look, I know you asked for 10. But we want that one. We bought, we’ve got to be in love with this. It’s got to be our passion. You know, we were here for a long call. And we really, really want that there. It said, okay, it took about a week to go through whatever goes on with the registrar.
And he came back and said, Well, you’re very lucky, because it’s the only one. There is absolutely no problem with that. But the registrar made one caveat. That is that if somebody came to them, and they were making shoes out of Reebok skin, it couldn’t stop them. But you know, Jeff and I, we looked at each other and said, Now, that’s not going to happen. So we registered Reebok heavily. I mean, my dictionary is American Dictionary, and I’d have been looking at an Oxford English Dictionary, it would have been R H, E, B, okay. And sometimes RSGB or CK, nothing like the Reebok just RW be okay. Two syllables. Brilliant. So that’s how we changed our name to Reebok.
But I love that it’s the gazelle, I love. It’s absolutely perfect. And that, basically, it was 15. It came to you 15 years prior through that dictionary. I don’t know, I call that destiny, Joe, I don’t know. It’s pretty incredible.
What it is, I mean, these are the side of things, good fortune, luck, whatever it is. And I think you have to look at your luck and I would speak to Dan Pink. He’s probably read his books. He said, we all have some luck, he said, just think how lucky I am. That was him. So I was born in America. And I was born in the 20th century. How lucky is that? When you think about that? Yeah, that’s pretty lucky.
And I was born in England in the UK and that’s pretty lucky as well. So we started off being lucky by being born in the right place and a good time, so you know, your luck. And whatever it is, I was obviously destined to win that dictionary when I was eight and my name was in the all that time before.
That is incredible. And now I have to ask you, what did you want to be when you grew up? The spiked shoes with you, you won that race? What was your dream as a kid?
I think in those days when you’re very small, you wanted to be a train driver. And as you get a bit older, you want to be a pilot to fly the plane. I spent my two years of National Service in the RAF and towards the end, they asked you if you’d like to stay. Because you do two years, which are compulsory, National Service got to where it was back then. It doesn’t happen today. But way back then we had to do that and they did say. Look, if you want to stay on, you can do it. We can promise that you will do this. And if you want to fly to school, we can train you. So maybe I could fly a jet. Maybe I could fly a fighter jet or something like that.
When you’re young, you’re full of that enthusiasm. And you know, it’s like, wow, that’d be great. But I think maybe sense prevailed and I left the area to come home to be a shoemaker at law school. I was educated at school as an engineer. That was quite interesting, because, again, we had in the town that we’re in, we had an aerospace industry. And I think it’s still there, but there was a chance to go into that. But no, I think you know, you’re not too interested when you’re only 17-18. You’re more interested in what’s going on in life? I’m having fun going to the local dances and meeting up with the girls. I mean, that’s what you do when you’re young. You’re seriously thinking and maybe some people do.
We’ve met one or two people who are 21 doing incredible things or is it 21. But we will still, Jack and I was still doing national service at that point. And so it was getting back into life again, you know, so really, I guess. I didn’t have many big ambitions at that point. If we had a family business, I would probably go in on something. My father wanted me to go into accountancy to be an accountant. And I spent a few days just in an accountant’s office and I saw just ticking numbers, and no, no, I gotta get something a little more active than this. So, no, so I ended up assuming.
That’s incredible. It’s so interesting to see, you know, what are the dreams as a kid? And how did it sort of throughout your life change a little bit? It’s interesting that your father wanted you to be an accountant. It was kind of like the same thing in my world. You know, my parents were like, Pam, get a nine to five do something normal. I was like, No, I can’t do that. That’s not fun. Oh, man, what an incredible story. So when you and your brother basically came together in 1958.
And decided that you were going to start this business. Even though you had come from a family of shoemakers. Or your grandfather in 1895, JW, foster and sons, he created this bike. He was an influencer of marketing of all sorts and just so cool. So I’m sure you had learned quite a bit from him. But who would you say was your biggest influence? Or could be one or a couple of them? What influenced this decision?
I think necessity. You know, necessity is the mother of invention. It also drives you to make decisions and the necessity was well, okay. I’m 23 and Jeff is 25 and we’re thinking about what we’re going to do this company’s failure. So the necessity of we have to do something. And then the enthusiasm that we went to night school before we left. We went to college, in the evenings, to learn about shoemaking. Because all we knew was what we picked up on the floor and the workshop floor there. In January, Foster’s was a good decision, not so much that we did learn quite a lot.
Of course, well, what we did, what happened is we met the industry. We met people we knew who to talk to, then you who we should talk to. And so we managed to learn how to set up a factory and things like that. So, and that, to me, was very interesting. Because people are so important to life and we’re going to be friends now for life. This is what happens when you meet people and you talk to them, and you discuss things that help you. And if you can, you help them. So what made it the inspiration was yes, my granddad Jeff and I knew very little about grandfather. Because grandfather died 18 months, 15 months before I was born.
But I was born on his birthday, which likes, so that’s how I got his name. He was Joseph William. I was born on his birthday the 18th of May, 15 months after he died. So my grandmother was so insistent that I brought my name with me.
I would be insistent to do the same birthday. Absolutely.
So I guess it’s a bit of fate in general, a bit of sort, why don’t people think on his birthday 15 months after. If you think we don’t get into that, but you know, it is that coincidence. And those are coincidences that happen in life, and whether that’s luck, and probably it is a good deal of luck for me to be born. Because it gives you that little bit of people to ask questions, well, didn’t really happen. Yes, that really happened. So we didn’t know an awful lot about grandfather. It took us until we were quite rebuffed, really going nicely. And we decided really with bits and pieces, bits of newspaper cuttings and things like that about January 1 about my grandfather.
So we actually employed a young man to just go to the library in Manchester, and to do everything he could. Now I have a folder, which is three inches thick of all the advertising and all the stuff that grandfather did. So we learned an awful lot more about grandfather and his successes. And when he picked up a letterhead, a letterhead from the 1920s on that letterhead, and this is written on the letterhead. My grandfather supplied every athlete at the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920, so he supplied them for anything. But in those days, the Olympics were just track and field. You know, I mean, now the Olympics are massive. It covers a lot of sports, but in those days the Olympics was track and field and you supplied the athletes.
So this was news to us. Plus also he was supplying, you know, soccer. Soccer is big in the UK, it was born in the UK is where it came from. And he was supplying, if you know any of the teams, all of the premiership teams. He was supplying them with 96 teams on this list. The whole of the UK and Scotland wherever. And so we wondered when we’d found this, what happened. Why we’re not Jeju fosters the biggest sports company in the world. When they’ve got that, why, why are they allowed just to comment. Because when Jeff and I left, the company added a subcommittee that was quite big. Especially in soccer and they were too big for us to challenge them at that time. So that’s why we concentrated on isometrics.
And on running grandfather, he obviously was an influencer. He knew what influencing was and he knew who to give his shoes to, he actually gave his shoes to journalists. And journalists will then write about issues. So he didn’t have anything like we have today. Computers, telephones, the fantastic communications where he had to rely upon journalists. So it was a great man. Unfortunately, as I said, Before, my father and uncle, maybe they didn’t get on together. The other thought is, they had gone through two world wars. They went through World War One and World War Two, and you come out at the other end. Do you want to start building a business at that point? Probably not, probably in the early 50s. It was probably just a matter we’ve got through the war.
That’s as liberal. And so we were left with that, that thought. Now, grandfather, we needed to, out of necessity, build a company. And it’s when you get going in your company, you know. How it became from two people or it became Reebok in the story and the fun games I had getting my cover to America.
Yes, my goodness. So your grandfather, I feel like today, he would be like this massive Instagram and YouTube sensation. Because he was already doing it 100 years ago, which is fantastic. And I love that he almost trailblazes the way in, in a way, right? Like way back when to put this all together and then for you guys to sort of put the pieces together, which is so incredible. And what I love in reading your book, Schoemaker, and I know you discussed this in the book. But I’d love to get into the story of what you just mentioned. How do you start from such humble beginnings in which I believe you and your wife and your brother and his wife. Were you living in the factory at the beginning, when you started Reebok? Initially.
Yes, the factory that we rented was an all brewing building, and the brewery at the front of it. It fronted onto the main road in our small town. And the front part of the building was the living quarters. There were some nice living areas, where we had a couple of living rooms and bedrooms, but we didn’t need much. Again, you’re young, you’re a bit indestructible when you’re young. Tonnes of energy. So what can go wrong and nothing can go wrong. It’s finding a way around the problems. And I think that doing national service, two years of National Service took us away from home. Making us think for ourselves. Mothers no longer do any washing or make their meals. So you do start to think for yourself.
And yeah, we started and we were living in this building, which, okay, I had to sell a property. I just bought a house and we had it on a mortgage. So there wasn’t much equity in that. But a bit and you just put yourself in to start working in those early days. Yes, you’re young, I sometimes think now when I look back, and I think I must have been tough. And I think again, now, this fun, we’re enjoying it. It was great for certain I was. I don’t think my wife enjoyed it as much as I did. But he was younger as well. So you know, we did, okay.
That’s incredible and to see where I grew as a global brand at this point is remarkable. So what was your first experience as an entrepreneur, like, the first couple years of starting. And then how you made your way into the United States. Because I think it’s just incredible and I know there’s a lot of entrepreneurs listening who they’re starting their businesses with or they’re in that initial phase. Or they’re looking to scale their business out that I know. Are going to be listening intently to the answer to this question on what your recipe was or what your story was.
Well, we know we had to change our name. That was our first challenge. Our second challenge came back four years into business. And we got a letter and this letter was from the lawyers of Addis and at that point. We had two bars and a T bar, two stripes, and a T bar was our silhouette. They considered that that silhouette was infringing the three stripes. Okay, and we sample, and for five minutes, we’re a bit off, what do we do? Then we looked at that this is from Adidas, and it is written by Reebok. And this challenge is thinking that we are a challenge. Fantastic. We are a challenge that, you know, that letter was pinned up on the wall and it stayed there for a long time. But what did he do?
Well, okay, they told us to stop using that silhouette. We don’t, well, let’s change our silhouette, we’ve changed our name, let’s change our silhouette. We came up with what we see today for Rebook. Which is the vector and that was a better sign, it looked better and got made as different. So again, a bit more luck pushed us into it, but we find something different, and okay, we’re going quite nicely. We’re going along as if we had a lot of upsets and spills. And you read those in the book trying to get somewhere. But the United Kingdom is small, we have about 70 million people just less than. So, and not the disposable income of America. And so the people didn’t buy running shoes that much.
So it was a nice business and we could make a nice living. And we also did rebel, which is south of the North of England. A sport that I knew that America was big when it came to athletics. All the colleges, all the universities, the head coach, and coach was a god. And you could get a scholarship to a university, a sports scholarship, and athletic scholarship. You didn’t need to do all the things that normally you would go to university to do and learn how to be an accountant or maybe a lawyer. No, that wasn’t it. You could go for anything, I knew one of the coaches. I had coached at Yale University, Frank ran, he did some work with Foster’s.
But when Foster’s just went down, I spent some time with him. We discussed it but I think he was a bit older and he didn’t want to start again. Because he’d started with Sannan San Foster’s, but he would tell me about the market in America, at Yale University. They used to tape faster than and then they would sell them around to different universities. Try though, that’s got to be my market, I gotta get in there. So at 1960 8 am, reading a magazine, and this is a sports magazine, both the business at the end.
There’s an advertisement in this magazine from the British government. And the British government would like us to start exporting our products. They want to help us, they want to help us and what they’re willing to do is to pay for a stand at the NSGA show. Which is the National Sporting Goods Association of America, in Chicago. They would pay for the stand, they would pay for our offer. And it would pay 50% of our cost with the meals and whatever. I thought that’s pretty good.
That’s almost better than staying at home. Yeah, and we get to see America. We had a friend who had an outdoor sports business and he decided he would come with me. So we took a ticket, which saved the government money. If we just had a one-leg ticket in and out it would have cost quite a bit. Well, we took one of these 14 air tickets, which you know, if you go in and out and, Sam. You can get a better deal. I don’t know why we did that. But maybe we got 14 days in America.
I think we guys this seven days in America and seven days in Bermuda. Because we decided it would be a nice side trip on the way back. And so we arrived in New York, and Bob went to have a look at the outdoor stores. I went to look at the sports stores just to see what’s going on. Then we went on to Chicago, but oh boy, is it cold in February, the first week of February freezing. I hadn’t known anything that cold. PitStop. However, I didn’t sell any shoes. Bob managed to sell a few of his climbing boots. We were making climbing boots.
And a lot of Americans would come and say oh, I love your product. Great product. We’ll get this from England. Here’s my business card. England. Oh, is that near London? Yes. Okay. Do you not have them over here? No, we’d have to sell them. Nobody wanted to buy them from abroad. Too much trouble? How would you do that? And indeed, I couldn’t agree with them. It’s quite a pain. So this is 1968 and by the time I actually got distribution in America, it was 19 7911 years of me going to every NSGA show. There were three in Chicago, then one in Houston.
And that happened three times and COVID wanted to use it and so went to Houston a few times. The biggest problem is how do you get in and add at least six failed attempts with different people. One was an ex-added US distributor that didn’t work. Another one was a couple of Brits who had emigrated one into California another one who was in. It was in New England somewhere. But we just couldn’t make it work, but what was happening? Late 60s and all the way through 70s Running became something really massive. Big, so big.
And we were in a running business, so surely we can get in there by 1975 Runner’s World as the magazine started in the 60s, as a small air for a piece of paper. By 1975. It was a full glossy colored magazine. Anybody was running Reddit, it was the Bible. And Bob Anderson, he was the publisher. He decided his magazine was so good that he could tell everybody. Which was the number one shoe to buy and he did. I think that was something like Nikes tailwind because Nike was just down the road.
And Nike was growing massively because running was growing Nike ROI. He put this Nike shoe as the number one shoe now you know, 350 million Americans 10% 35 million. We’re probably out there running, maybe 10% of them. 3.5 million, wanted the number one shoe, how’d you get that? You don’t Phil Knight was important from Japan. And so how does he get Japan to the production? No, just couldn’t happen. Bob Anderson did that twice, named a number one shoe. After that? I think that the whole industry was sort of saying no. Because of the retailers, everybody’s coming and looking for the shoe and it wasn’t available at the time. They got the production of Anderson to give them another shoe.
So the trade couldn’t stand that, so in his wisdom. Bob decided to have a star rating, so instead of having a number one, number two will have five stars. If your shoe is five stars, and it couldn’t be three or four or five-star shoes. Then you’ve got a choice of three or four shoes, instead of just this one. I knew we could make a five-star shoe, I knew we could make a five-star shoe. And we did. We made Aztec and 1979. I’m over at the NSGA again and came out. They wanted into the shoe market is running shoe market and they wanted to buy 25,000 pairs off me. Well, that was about six months of work. Six months work for my factory.
But we knew that if we got to find a style shoe and we got into the American market, we needed help. So I had a friend at barter. Barter would help us right? It didn’t work out very well. We talked about that this morning, then we’ll go. But he gave us a start. They also came out wanting a better price. Better price that we could make or barter could make. And we knew the footwear business was going to the Far East, so we had to go to contact. So we knew this is where we would have to go.
Did I go with Kmart? No. The main reason I didn’t go with Kmart and $25 is that I thought that could be the first and last order. You know, if we were not selling enough in the square footage they gave to the rebar. That would be it. But also that exhibition, Paul Faiman camo, and Paul Fireman was running a Boston campaign. A small wholesale campaign business sold intense fishing rods of whatever I liked.
Right from the beginning, we got on very well. But I could see he had a problem for 10 years had been running this company and they just going around the golf ball. It was just the same thing they were doing. They don’t seem to be anywhere where they could expand the business and so I could see they were looking for something. And he said, Joe, I’d love to be your distributor. But we need five-star shoe support. Look, this is Aztec. This is very stylish. Yeah, but you know, it’s not there yet, you know, doesn’t come out till August the shoe addition.
So it will be a faster way to work. You get a faster shoe Joe and I meant Okay, Paul. That’s the deal and we’re talking about February up till August. And so I went over to America Ghana went to see Kmart and yes. I demanded a scene sitting amongst another 200 buyers and a big sort of building mentoring, I need emotion. This is not going to give me the emotion. The drive. So I went along to see Paul and the Boston campaign, met his brother and his brother in law and Yes, nice little business and his headsails Jim Bartlett. Yeah, this is great.
This would be a nice, nice operation to bolt on our window. So come along, and it’s the last week in July. And I know that the Runner’s World Magazine is out and I asked Paul. But going on the telephone it was a bit early in the morning for him. I didn’t get it, I seemed to get him up. Paul. Can you go down to the local kiosk? Gone? Get the Runner’s World. It’s going to be out in the August issue, issue.
One hour later he came back that job as Tech Stars. Wow. He said, but normally that incurs, which was a spike we’d made and as well and made us which was a race issue. They also got five stars. So we had three five-star shoes. And that was our way in which that was the hook. That was the hook that got us into America. Wow.
So you not only made one five-star shoe, you made three five-star shoes. Incredible. Joe, I am loving this. You found your ideal client. And you found the best way to market to them? Yeah. Wow, wow. But what I love most I will say to you is that 11 years of persistence that you kept going and you never stopped trying to figure out that distribution. Oven years 11 years.
It just kept going. In fact, yeah, we have a campaign now in the UK, which we just started since COVID. Has been around pushing that just to keep going. It’s so important. And yes, we just kept going. But you know, one big disappointment was Jeff died just as we got our five-star shoes. Jeff died of stomach cancer, which was a great tragedy. It was an incredible tragedy, but it probably spurred me on because we’re going to make this work. This is going to happen and it did. But that was very sad. However, you know, we move on.
And Paul is ready to become my distributor. Right, fantastic and so the next thing I do, I go across to America after we made our arrangements and Paul picks me up at the airport. We go down to his office, and I’m saying well, where Steve was the rest of the guys. Oh, Boston campus, not more, we finished with Boston Cameron. I’m not. Reebok distributor. His brother had gone to make a wallet. See we do set up a company and make some wallets and his brother-in-law. He had a secondhand car lot. So from what I thought we were just going to bolt-on. No, that split it up or was we’ll take on this massive job on his own.
And Paul was incredible. He really was because we didn’t have much money and he needed money. So we eventually got funding and it was funny, really, because we asked a number of people. I’m with Paul on a number of occasions and went to New York. We went to the Empire State Building to see a guy there who sourced products from the Far East. And he’d been asked by Nike for funding and he turned them down. He turned us down as well and his story was he turned us down. Because he didn’t want to be seen to be the person that financed the failure, because we were just starting. So he didn’t come with us. But Stephen Rubin was a similar sort of person, he was in the UK.
He was sourcing out of the Far East. And Steven Avery didn’t believe that much in Reebok. But what Stephen believes is that this was a route into America for his sourcing company. And that if Paul was sent his salespeople into Sears and all the big department stores, yeah. Steven would get his business would be good for Steven. But Paul said, No. No, I’m Reebok. That’s it and of course, the report just grew and grew, but you know. The big thing that happened for Reebok was aerobics.
I was gonna say the aerobics shoe and Jane Fonda and all this. I mean, you’ve picked a niche. Oh my god. Tell me about that. That’s amazing.
Well, this is amazing. Fantastic because the pilot took on a guy down in Los Angeles called Art Hill mountain. Oh, Martin was a possible Olympic runner. He was very sporty and very much into it at home zone sports shop. But found that being in a sports shop wasn’t that interesting really. Because the reps were coming in and taking him for a meal, you know? And he was thinking, why don’t I become a rep, because you know, they seem to be having all the fun. So he signed up with Paul as a tech rep, but he just went into the stores won’t sell it. But he was telling everybody to choose what it is. All good points.
Were at the shoes and he was living in LA and it was his wife, Frankie. And Frankie is coming on with some friends after doing it. After going to aerobics classes, they’re full of it. They’re really enjoying it and I said, What’s going on here? Well, we’re doing these aerobics classes and they said, what’s that? What’s it that we’ve done? Well, it’s exercise to music, and it’s really good exercise to today’s music. Not just like strict dancing or whatever. No, this is great. Fantastic, he said how Coming down to your next. The next time you go to a class I’m coming. Yeah, come on, he went to the class and what do you see? He saw the instructor in trainers, sneakers and he saw half the class in trainers or sneakers and the rest, no shoes at all.
And that was quite a lightbulb moment. That was well, you know, we thought why don’t we make these girls a shoe just for them. Specifically for aerobics and specifically for women. Right, off we went up to Boston, St. Paul and he said to Bob, oh, this is something fantastic going on in LA, these girls. We need to make shoes for them and Paul says, whoa, whoa, hold on, hold on. We’re a running shoe company. And we’re doing very nicely. Yeah, but this is something great, Paul, this is gonna be really good. Not look sad. You know, just wait, you know, if it says do something we’ll you know, we’ll probably get in there and do something I wasn’t put off. I actually went to the back door.
And he gets to see Steve Legault. Steve Liggett’s in charge of production, Steve made me some shoes, made them with glove leather. Nice cushioned just with Reebok on-site and the flag and make money. A woman’s last. He got his shoes. Steve made 200 pairs and Adam tattered to give them to all the instructors and some of the girls as well. That was it. I love them. We had a problem again because it’s made of glove leather and glove leather. Like making it out of tissue paper, you can just rip it. And I didn’t know at the time that they were making this shoe. But this was done without any words to me at all.
And so what’s happening is what we’re doing, I won’t have to, we’ll have to support it with nylon. So they line it with nylon and that’s a little leather breed. Nylon doesn’t breed, you know, that’s not going to be good, so what do we do next? We punch some holes in the front so that the air can get in and out. So designing a shoe is wonderful stuff. And some of those shoes did fall apart really badly. We, you know, have been in many countries in particular in the UK and England. I think that would have been that would have killed us. Could we survive such a thing happening, shoes falling apart, but this is America, this is California.
This is Los Angeles. The girls love the shoes and they went out and bought another pair. We soon got the leather right once we got the leather. Yes, it just exploded. Then of course you know you say the cup champ fonder doing a workout in Reeboks. And she’d actually bought the pair of Reeboks, you know she bought them. Because they were all over and at that point, we just about got to a $9 million company. 12 months later, we were a $30 million dollar company. Then a $19 million company, $300 million, and $900 million in for just over four years were nearly 2 billion. Now your biggest problem is not even financing at that point. Because things are rolling that fast. That money’s coming in and you can fund it.
But how do you get from 300 to 900 million with a product? How do you get the product that was another piece of luck, Nike, that time Nike had been doing so well. And Nike hit this wall and all of a sudden there’s a pull out of about four factories in South Korea and just when we need it. So we moved in and we got our production. By the time we got to form just under 4 billion. And I put on another 30 countries around the world, put on distribution for the 30 countries and I went 35,000 feet for probably every month, probably about three or four journeys. I was going around the world at least three times a year, and I arrived and was picked up by a limousine.
I’m going to the best hotels, eating at the best restaurants. You know and then we did the Princess Grace pro-celebrity tennis tournament. Which was for her memory for a charitable charity at that point and of course. We get all the tennis stars coming into Monaco and Monte Carlo. And we also got all the Hollywood stars, you know with Frank Sinatra, we’ve got Sean Connery, Charlton Heston is endless.
Jesse Moore all these people are coming in. So you live a somewhat artificial life as you do with the A-listers. And I remember John Forsythe, who you’ll remember, he was fantastic. I’d only met him once before we met again at a very big dinner in Monte Carlo. He came along and he said Hi Joe, how are you? I’m dumbstruck, I’m looking and saying, John, you’re famous I know you and I can remember, but how do you remember my name? And he said, Joe, that’s my job. So fantastic, but we’re all very nice people, fantastic people.
But I think for me, the buzzard-gone challenge would come. You know, with loads of accountants and winning loads of lawyers. And a lot of people in between making shoes and picketing shoes and selling them. So just short of 4 billion. We then become number one, we don’t take Adidas overtaken, Nike were the number one. And I’m thinking well, yeah, the challenges or it’s time now to retire and I did retire. But when I say retire, the phone was ringing a lot. I know a lot of things that I went up. So for me, it’s like, like the Eagles and the song Hotel California, you can check out where you can never leave.
Joe’s Biggest Lesson Along The Way
Wow, what an incredible story, Joe, wow, it overtook Nike, Adidas, everybody, everybody for a billion, wow, internationally. Oh, my goodness. And I have to ask you, what were some of your biggest lessons that you learned along the way? I’m sure there were quite a few of them. But the ones that are most memorable to you, or even just one?
Well, there were a lot of lessons and I think the most important one is to find the people you can work with. And to empower them to let them feel part of your business. They have to have ownership as well. Share that excitement, build the right culture, build a winning culture and let everybody subscribe to it. Let them all come in on it and get that eagerness. So that people are not just saying, oh, gotta go to work? Oh, yeah, have bad days, crush it, have bad days. But you know, if you get up in the morning and say it’s going to be bad. It’d be a bad roof to get up in the morning and say, No. I’m glad to get the people turn up in the morning at six o’clock center drop that they want this eager to?
What’s next, what’s happening next. So I think that the most important thing I think is the Build Team. Have the team that really, really enjoy it. And really, there are many lessons where the main thing is to get the right people. No, you’re so talented and not got passion, you need the passion. Because that’s what other people feel is infectious. You infect people with your passion, this is we’re going to be a winner. And if you think that, then that’s the biggest lesson for me. Biggest lesson was to get the passion, get the people and you will grow.
Yes, I love that further faster when you have the right team with you. Right? Because without Paul on us, you wouldn’t have gotten to the US distribution. And then, of course, building more teams to stretch out. So of course, the team took you there, which is incredible. And I have to ask you, Joe, what’s one of your biggest mantras like your biggest sayings that you’re like, stick by it?
I guess the thing is that the race isn’t over until you want.
And you sure one that one 4 billion over? Oh my goodness and then this is one of my favorite questions ever. Because this can be business or personal or anything. But, what was your older self tell your younger self based on what you know now?
We all think it is with life. We’re sort of sitting across the table here, we’re having conversations, I didn’t have that. We didn’t have mobile phones. I had a handful of American Express traveler’s checks and jumped on a plane and I had to go places to meet people. What can I say now that technology. I would tell him to get into technology, really know your technology. Where he’s going, what he can do, and try to develop that technology with whatever your business is. Whether it’s making money issues, or whether it’s technology itself? So you know, I think I would say to him, the technology is growing, and it’s going to keep on growing.
And it’s going way faster and faster. So that is it and something remembering your grandfather. And how much influencing he did. So technology influences and those are the things that deserve to pass on. Because you won’t get the opportunity. I got my opportunities different back in the 1950s and 1960s, so you’ve got what is today? Well, today is technology.
Yes, absolutely. And what would be your biggest piece of advice to anybody listening?
If you have an idea, just go ahead, get on with it. Don’t ask too many questions, because nobody knows the answer. Only time will we find the answer and you got to experience it. And if you think you’re failing, no, that’s a lesson. That’s just something do. Wow, learn that one bit tough. But, um, we got, and they’re super lessons failures are super lessons, they really are. Because, you know, you do a plan and add on so many business plans.
And you look at that business plan in mind as a five-year business plan. Whatever, you look at it at six months, and you say, okay, to put that out why? Why did I believe that? Yeah. We’re totally when or near that, we plan it is good because it gives you something to aim for. But quite often, more often than not, you find that circumstances take you in different ways. And so do plans. But don’t, don’t have to make it work.
Just use this as a reference and say, Well, yeah, my thinking was. We were going to do that. Now here are either bigger or we’re not as big or in a different direction. So yeah, just whatever your salt is, is good enough. If you can believe in it. Carry it out. Make it happen. It’s so important to follow your dream when you’re young.
Yes. And just keep going. Just keep going. Yes. Oh, my God, it has been such an honor to have you here today. I can’t even express my gratitude hearing the story, I’m so inspired. I’m ready to go kick-off and just smell companies and go do something crazy. Know what it was serious, though, you are such an inspiration, you are incredible. Your energy is infectious and it’s no surprise to me that Reebok blew up the way it did. Because of your hard work, your dedication, and your perseverance, more than anything. And I would love it if you could let everyone know, how to reach you and how we can find your amazing book Shoemaker, all of that. That would be lovely.
Way on all social media. And the book is on sale through Amazon, I would hope that Barnes and Noble as well have it. I’ve yet to come across to America since we actually launched which we will do. But COVID has been a little bit of a problem as far as that is concerned and we will be coming across. I will be talking to a lot of people.
And yes, so the book is available, it’s out and it’s in audio as well. You get all the audio, you can get Kindle, as well as the book itself. And, yes, we’ll be signing some books when we come on. We’ll be happy to speak to people because, you know, that’s sort of life is about. I hope people can sort of look at what I did. That’s been an experience and this has been a great experience and fun.
That’s incredible, Joe, it’s the underdog story, though. If you really think about it, you came from the bottom net international multi-billion-dollar brand. Which is absolutely incredible and you’re so humble about it, It’s so remarkable. And everyone needs to read. Joe’s book Shoemaker is absolutely phenomenal. It’s Barnes and Noble Amazon Shoemaker by Joe Foster.
Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my incredible interview with the amazing Joe Foster.