Care for the Long Run: Joe Foster
Published on: November 17, 2021

/The story of Reebok told by its founder, Joe Foster, himself/

What does it take to found a global No.1 company? Is it talent or hard work, or both? Is there a formula we could derive, based on all the success stories we hear around us? Well, who’d be more fit to answer this question than the founder of such a successful company himself. On episode #45 of The Leaders Who Care podcast, we welcomed the founder of the iconic global sports brand, Reebok – Joe Foster.

Flipping the first pages of his new book “Shoemaker: The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand”, one can learn that Joe Foster neither likes running nor is a good shoemaker. Okay, so this isn’t a story about a lone shoemaker working hard in his workshop, then. However, it is a story about the shoemaker who put on his shoes and started running towards the first place. And on this venture, he wasn’t alone.

1. Family Business

It all starts with a family. Joe’s grandfather was known as the inventor of the running spike, owning a small company called “J.W. Foster and Sons” where all the living family members in business worked together.

However, when Joe and his brother, Jeff, became of age, they started noticing some issues with the business that could lead to its end, and they wanted to make some changes. Their father didn’t approve of that, so they made the hard decision to build their own company.

Sometimes, we need to make difficult decisions in the name of growth. As they say, no old road leads to new destinations.

2. Establishing Their Name

The story of the origin of the name “Reebok” sounds almost like something straight out of a movie. When Joe was 10, he won a running race, with the advantage that he wore the Foster spikes. The award was a small American dictionary, one he didn’t open until they started looking for a company name with his brother. That’s when they encountered an interestingly-sounding word for a gazelle – rhebok.

The brothers wanted to become known in the athletics field in the UK, so Joe found a handbook with about 250 athletic clubs…and he contacted all of them offering discounts. He was also quite a lot on the road, introducing their brand to various sports shops, and then to races and different sports events. After a while, the company did pretty well, but Joe knew they needed to go even further.

“I needed to get into America”

To follow through with that, in 1968 Joe went off to Chicago looking for new buyers there.

3. Great Things Take Time

11 years and 6 failed attempts, to be exact: that’s how long it took the Foster brothers to start selling in America. It also took them a total of 30 years from the founding of the brand until it reached its highest peak. 

In the style of the newest Reebok campaign, “Just Keep Going”, on The Leaders Who Care podcast, Joe Foster shared some tremendously valuable advice on enduring hard times and leading the company to scaling. 

  •  “There will be so many things you’ll be tripping over, so many hurdles, so many problems. But you just have to keep going.”
  • Have a passion for what you do. Otherwise, if you’re not feeling excited about what you’re doing and creating, you’re risking failure.
  • Build the right team – with people whom you trust. And then give them credit, opportunities, and nourish them well.
  • Be leading that market. Be so much ahead and immersed in your product that you don’t have time to look at the competition.

Make your business and the whole company culture one of success, so that people feel inclined to be part of it without you even advertising. “The best people were coming to us. They wanted to join success,” Joe shared.

4. The Most Important Lesson

 Above all, Joe Foster was trying to look after the world and bring value to his customers and employees. He continues doing so even now, long after he’s retired, through his foundation and active knowledge sharing.

“I would say, up until, maybe, almost 12 months ago, people didn’t know that Joe Foster was the founder of Reebok… Because it was never about me, it was always about Reebok.”

The greatest leaders are often very humble. However, Joe’s journey has led to the existence of a successful global brand that has changed the world we live in – in terms of sports, training, and travel. Moreover, with his story, Joe Foster is hoping to inspire and raise the next generation of leaders that care about the world and strive to make a difference. If you’re one of them, put your running shoes on, and get ready to sprint to the top! You’ve got this, and remember – once you’ve begun, just keep going! 

 Interested to read the full story of the founder of Reebok? Look for Joe Foster’s “Shoemaker: The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand” on Amazon, or at your local bookstore.

Listen to the full episode for more life stories and business insights of Joe Foster, the founder of Reebok:

YouTube |  Anchor  |  Spotify |  Apple Podcast

Written by Ani Nedyalkova


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