Joe Foster, Founder & CEO of Reebok | How to Build an Iconic Brand

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About The Guest

Joe founded Reebok in 1958 with his late brother Jeff, following their family heritage back to 1895. Joe’s Grandfather, also Joseph W Foster, pioneered the spiked running shoe and famously made shoes of some of the world’s best athletes of the early 20th century.

Wearing (pumps) made by J W Foster & Sons Ltd, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell won Olympic Gold Medals in the 1928 Paris Olympics and were immortalized in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

With Reebok, Joe & Jeff followed in his grandfathers footsteps, creating footwear that led to Olympic, Commonwealth, European medals and World record-breaking performances and over time, became the globally recognized brand that we know and love today.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 – Joe’s Story.
  • 07:12 – Using influencers, before they were cool.
  • 20:07 – The origin of the name, Reebok.
  • 24:06 – The importance of moving forward and innovating.
  • 42:03 – Bringing Reebok to the USA.
  • 52:12 – Overnight success is never overnight.
  • 1:02:10 – You need to be dead-set on what you want to accomplish.
  • 1:10:09 – Advice for young entrepreneurs.

Show Links

Podcast & Newsletter Sponsors

1. Manly Bands — Bands For Men (25% Off)

2. Masterworks  — Learn To Invest In Fine Art

3. Hubspot Podcast Network

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What is the Success Story Podcast?

On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their story to help pass those lessons onto others through both experiences and tactical strategy for business professionals, entrepreneurs and everyone in between.








Machine Generated Transcript


shoe, reebok, business, people, grandfather, running, Paul, buy, star, uk, world, check, problem, foster, registered, years, athletes, jeff, book, story


Scott D Clary, Joe Foster


Scott D Clary  00:00

Welcome to success story, the most useful podcast in the world. I’m your host, Scott D. Clary. The success story podcast is part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. The HubSpot Podcast Network has other great podcasts you should go check out like being boss, hosted by Emily Thompson. Now with the holidays just around the corner, you’re probably thinking, what’s next for you in the new year? What other shows are you going to listen to to level yourself up? Well, on the success story podcast, I interview a lot of entrepreneurs and I usually dive deep into the creative aspects of building a business. So if you are a creative, a creative business owner, or you’re thinking about eventually becoming one, which at some point everybody kind of has to be because you have to be a little bit creative in how you build a business, how you market a business. Now you sell your product. All of that does require some creativity, but also for people that are hyper focused on the creative niche you may be interested in being boss hosted by Emily Thompson. Being boss is an exploration of not only what it means, but what it takes to be a boss. As a creative business owner. If you are into some of the following topics. You’re gonna love this show, project management and building systems for creatives, freelancers or side hustlers, opening a retail store rituals that inspire and evoke creativity and taking time off as a business owner to focus on yourself your creativity and upskilling you need to listen to being boss. They cover all these topics and more, you can listen to being boss on any of your favorite podcasting platforms or at network. today. My guest is Joe Foster. He is the founder and former CEO of Reebok. Joe founded Reebok in 1958. With his late brother Jeff following their family heritage back to 1895. Joe’s grandfather also Joseph W. Foster, pioneered despite running shoe and famously made shoes of some of the world’s best athletes of the early 20th century, wearing pumps made by JW Foster and Sons Harold Abraham’s and Eric Liddell won Olympic gold medals in the 1928 Paris Olympics, and were immortalized in the film chariots of fire with Reebok, Joe and Jeff followed in their grandfather’s footsteps, creating footwear that led to Olympic Commonwealth, European medals, and world record breaking performances and over time, became the globally recognized brand that we know and love today. Joe wrote the book Shoemaker that highlights and speaks about his journey, it speaks about his entrepreneurial journey, how they came up with the idea for Reebok, where the name Reebok came from, how he had to adopt a certain mindset in order to make Reebok a success, some of the highs and the lows that he experienced in his life and his journey, how he brought Reebok from Europe over to the US some lessons there, and why it was so important, ultimately, for the success of the company, and then just some experiences and some insights that he’s garnered from an incredible career and an incredible success. This is Joe foster founder and former CEO of Reebok.


Joe Foster  03:05

Oh, god, thank you so much for the invitation. It’s wonderful. And it really is great to be able to tell the story. And you’re more or less laid it out. It really did start. You know, we knew very little Jeff and I knew very little about our grandfather. And surprisingly enough, it was just to us a growing up local business. And we, we didn’t know until we got Reebok, we’re well down well down the road with Reebok before we had a little bit of money. Some time, we could get somebody to really dig into the family history. And it’s remarkable. But of course, we didn’t have communication like we have today. So that story didn’t really get out and about and writing the book, more or less. enable me to tell the truth, because we’ve been looking at reports on Google Wikipedia. This is how Reebok started. Now we won’t lose this. And that is even a photograph. I think it’s in in Google, maybe Wikipedia. Joseph Foster, the founder of Reebok. I don’t know who he is. And they had to get this down on writing. So seven years ago, I sat down and decided that night, we were living in Tenerife at that time we should Canary Islands. We spent some time there and nice relaxed. Start writing get the computer out. Probably if I’d had to do it longhand, maybe maybe or even on a typewriter with a computer, you can do lots of things. And so I started simply to begin with to put the story straight. But you know, once you start going you You abandon remembering things. And this happened this. So the story started to grow from memory. The only thing I had was chronological now the chronological order of some of the stuff. Okay, grandfather knew with my own experiences, we needed some chronology. But, yes, grandfather, he started way back in 1895. It was only 15 pretty young. And but I suppose in those days, 15, you know, you’d finish school, are you finished, you’re probably 10 years old. And, and that was it sort of 15 he was a cobbler. It was also a member of his local Athletic Club in the northwest of England. And it was it struck him that maybe if I put some spikes in the bottom my shoes, I might improve my running results. And he got this idea from his grandfather. So, but his grandfather didn’t know anything about running, running shoes. His grandfather was a cobbler, quite some distance away, probably 50 miles or 50 miles away. In those days in the United Kingdom. You had to do some traveling to get there. But he went to see his grandpa and his grandfather, a cobbler. Not only Reapered street shoes, they also repaired cricket, oops, cricket boots. And those days are spikes in the water. And of course, probably my grandfather, Joel said to his grandfather, why have they got spikes in one way? Well, give them grip. Ah, okay. So that was probably his lightbulb moment. And he thought, given what I could do with the person’s limits, spikes in to give me grip when I’m running. And in those days, Cinder tracks, so spikes would have been great. And so coming back, he made himself but I ended up the story goes that really, he hands hold one of the soldiers down. But he was so impatient with the other soldier, he nailed it on. And I think that came off in his first race. But apart from that, that was the start. We, you know, what, what do you seem to know is today, sort of commonplace and as influences. He knew he knew something about influence and used to give his shoes to, obviously to lead him anonymous. And by 1904, he had three world records. In one in one race. It was a one hour race, and the guy al shrub. He broke three world records during a one hour in one race. So that was the beginning. Also, he got lots of gold medals in that first decade of the 20th century. But then, of course, we had 1914 1918 World War One. Unfortunately, nobody wants to bring issues in during the war. But the 1920s came along. And as you said, you don’t we had out he has little parallelograms and he got Lord burly, I think Lord barely. He earned his gold medal either before or just after little, and Abraham’s and all three of them were in chariots of fire. So he made those shoes and he gave shoes to many lead Natalie’s and he did lots lots and lots of gold medals. And we learned this and I have I have a file of the advertising he used to do in in newspapers throughout the UK and some magazines and it’s incredible file is about four inches thick. All these adverts and some of the quite cheeky but most of them just say science of oneness race and all these top leading athletes were winning races in his in his shoes. Unfortunately, Grandfather died in 1933. I was born in 1935, some 15 months after he died. And as you’ve already said, since I was born on his birthday, 15 months after he died. They call me to get I came with my name. Grandma grandmother insisted she, she was she says that we brought his name with him. That was it. I didn’t know any difference. And my mother. My mother didn’t like the idea that I’d be called Joe. I don’t know what she wanted to call it. No job. The family my my grandfather’s business was she set up in 1900 was JW Foster and sons and all the family JW Foster. My brother was Jeff at a younger brother, John. My father was James and my uncle was John, all with the William so have we done I? Purposely don’t Yes, purposely done. When I have children, there were no JW is but we were, in fact, Jeff married a gene and I married a gene. So and we were living together we live together in the factory premises we live together. So can you imagine the male when it comes to Jada views and to Jays first, though, you know, it was confusion, it was a lottery as to who won the letter. Anyway, that’s, that’s what happened, per se. We, we didn’t continue with the J W’s. Beyond that, I think, I think it was a sort of tradition in those days. And so I’m born in 35. By analogy, 39, four years later, we have another World War One and World War Two. And for six years until 1945, no lights on. You know, my kids were growing up, you don’t know any difference is exciting or linesman. Running around the street is where things like double summertimes or it was like, forever, and printerland Fully fine when Moreover, wow, the lights come on, things change. Real probably education started. We did have education during the war, but it was in the front room of some teachers house, and not really not consistent to do it. But by the time I was 10, we were put in full education and I went to college, which I had three to two years ago, three years of college, and I left at 17 to join the family business. Family Business was by this time being run by my father and uncle. I only one year before, both Jeff and I happened to be at the same time off to do national service, it was mandatory, we would not just bother national, two years of national service, which was I think, probably the making of a violent, sort of the reason why we decided in the onset of our own business because we went away and we spent two years away from family. You know, Mother’s not getting your kind of morning make doing your washing, making your meals. You’ve not want to refer to your learn how to be independent. And you learn the best ways of being independent out trying to do things. For 12 months of my two years, I spent just playing badminton. At that time, it was reasonable at badminton, obviously good enough to play for the thing was the we were Fighter Command in the RAF I played for malaria. So yeah, enjoy that. We came back though from National Service Jacobin in Germany, in Germany had seen that it isn’t pure my only came back and we’re talking. We’re looking at the business is failing. It’s going nowhere in the making the same shoes made in 1930s and early 40s. And when we think why. And but the reason why was it my father, my uncle, or a bit my auntie Dassler and Rudy dasa, they feuded therefore, it was six years apart in age, and he didn’t, didn’t go to this day. I don’t know why, you know, and so the business really wasn’t progressing. My father was looking after machine song work. And my uncle looked after the handsewn shoes work, which the shoes the grandfather to started making. And also the shoe to ascend into Yale University. Gail used to buy 200 pairs a month from Foster’s and then distributed through USA. So I knew at that time that USA was a good market, but the company was failing. It wasn’t moving on. Orders were less and less. And, you know, it was up to my father to look progress. And we’ve got to change this. We need a plan. We need to do some marketing. No. And all he could say is look, when I’m gone, you and uncle gone. This business will be yours. And I’m saying that but number one, we don’t want you to go you know, we’re not looking for you to only you know, prefer you to be around. But number two, this business will have gone there will be no business. Still didn’t listen. So Jeff and I by 1958. We we’ve made our plans, we’ve thought if if they can’t change we’d have to change. And so in 1958 We left the business set up our own little business, Mercury sports former Mercury sports footwear. Brilliant. I’m gonna be doing fine. We’re doing fine for 18 months. And we’re making some money by making money. Then the our accountant. He came, He said, Look, guys, you’re doing well, but you better register that name. Yeah, I was 23. Jeff is 25 of our time for the teleporters. It was him why? I said, Well, if somebody stops and thinks you’re making good shoes, they’re good. They start making Mercury for work, you’re going to have a lot of trouble. Because you’re going to have to prove that that’s your name. What are we doing? Because see a Patent Agent and a Patent Agent will check the register for you. And so we did. I went along to see a man in Manchester, and he checked out the name, Mercury. And it was already pre registered. Ah, you know, we’re making a living this lies with like the name of America. And we also have the winged messenger as our logo. Right. So our agent said, Well, I’ve been in touch with the people that was lost and delta, they were part of British shoe Corporation and big corporation. And they’ll sell it to 1000 pounds 1000 pounds. We’d set up our whole factory on about 250 pounds without anyone. We couldn’t we couldn’t find 1000 pounds. And it’s like, impossible. Okay said, so you’ll need to change. And if you need to change, you’ll need to give me 10 names, at least 10 puzzles and why? Why 10 employees? Well, we’ve got to check the register. And it’s surprising how many names are already pre registered and uploaded through his window. It was open was nice Mayday. Sun was coming in pointer to enter to Kodak. And I’m saying Kodak was with Kodak. He said, Well, sma don’t name. Now they invented the name. So it deserves the registered is invented. Any name that you bring along if it’s already happening, name you pick. It might already be pre registered. We don’t know. Okay. So we go back and sit around the table. Look, we need a new name. So we think Cougar Falcon. These are aggressive names. That was good. Yeah. Let me take you back to 1943 90 For this reason, the middle of the war. And by COVID Nobody can really go anywhere we are more or less staying at home. And but we had we had events and low a little event. I want an ATR as an 80 or 60 yard race. One race course had an advantage Foster’s race bikes. So I was I asked by Excel. What an advantage of the rest of the kids that were earning to get what I want fantastic, right? Go up to click my prize. Yes, as prize what was my prize? A dictionary. Dictionary. Where’s the football guys, you know, my kid that I want the dictionary. And at the time, I didn’t know it. But it was an American Dictionary. Webster’s and you probably want Webster’s Dictionary. I mean, that’s of course. The non name right. And as we know, American spelling of one or two names is different. Now we have color labor, they all have a unit in the UK and don’t have a unit in America. So I’m supposed to learn how to spell things and I’ve got an American Dictionary and I’m Asian. Okay. Present one sec. So fast forward now. Now we’re back into 1960 and a problem to find a name we brighten all these out but I had my dictionary there and I like the letter R but good strong, strong letter. Open the book or cable and turn to and start something through from sooner I’m doubly be okay. What’s up? It’s Paul South African busy sell yourself. Wow. Fantastic. That’s gonna be put at the top of the list. And it’s arguably we’ll get now if I had been looking at an Oxford English Dictionary. I Without that spelled Rh, B, okay, or even RH or B or C K. So, you know, it was I may have just passed up by. But fortunately, I had an American spelling of a small gazelle. And I took this to the agent, and he checked out all the naps. And Reebok was the only name that came out because I’d said, Look, we need this one. We’re in love with this. And we’ve got to be on top of it, because it’s got to be our passion. But it was the only one that came out. There was one caveat. And that was from the registered registrar, who said, We can only put it in part B of the register. And why can’t it be more sound? What’s the difference? Well, he said, if anybody makes shoes as Reebok skin, we can’t stop them all. These are Reebok. And Jeff and I we looked at each other, is that gonna happen? Will go and Reebok. And 20 years later, we got, we got a letter from the registrar to tell us that narrow, Reebok had removed from the B section to the air section. And the reason was that everybody now knows that rebar is a shoe and not an animal. That’s how we became rebar.


Scott D Clary  21:23

That’s an amazing story. Thank you so much. And you, you know, you really you carry the story, you didn’t force me to ask a lot of questions that I wouldn’t have known to ask. So I appreciate you telling that over. And, obviously, your portion of the story you knew well, and that’s an incredible story. And I didn’t know I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that story behind Reebok. But you also discovered a lot of interesting things behind your grandfather and whatnot. When you when you wrote Shoemaker. And were there


Scott D Clary  21:54

certain you alluded to it, but was there certain things that you that you discovered that? That basically, you’ve tapped into that were key in some of the learnings that you’ve implemented in the company you mentioned even for example, perhaps I just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode. masterworks. Most millionaires do this. Listen, after interviewing over 200 entrepreneurs and investors, highly successful people I’ve discovered they all do one thing in common to become a millionaire, you have to invest like one. But that’s easier said than done. Because the truth is investments and luxury real estate deals lucrative pre IPO deals and hedge fund products are closed off to 97% of Americans, the odds are stacked against you. But there’s a new app that lets everybody invest like the ultra wealthy, it unlocks a massive $1.7 trillion opportunity that to date has been closed off to investors. It’s one the millionaire’s used to not only grow their wealth, but protect it. And for good reason. This asset beat the s&p 500 by 174% from 1995 to 2020. What I’m about to say might surprise you, but what I’m talking about is contemporary art masterworks which is New York City’s newest $1 billion unicorn gives you the opportunity to invest in the same type of art as the world’s richest individuals, including works by legends like Banksy, Basquiat and Warhol demand for masterworks offering is higher than ever. Luckily, I’ve partnered with masterworks to get VIP access to skip to the front to secure your spot, head to story. That is story, you can skip to the head of the line and start investing in contemporary art that the ultra wealthy invest in to see important disclosures go to Moving away from innovate, like moving towards innovation, understanding the ability to go into new markets when perhaps your father your grandfather didn’t these were all sort of lessons learned that you took into the company. And I guess you probably discovered more when you did more research. So I guess the two two ways I want to take this first I want to understand some of the interesting things that perhaps you did discover about your grandfather, just at a high level we not to go into too much detail and tell more stories. But then I also want to I want to understand some of the insights that you took from your father and your grandfather when you’re building out the company going into American markets, innovating and trying new things and all these other things that have made Reebok successful and and and some of those learnings that you could probably teach over. So first I would say what did you learn about your grandfather outside of what you had already known?


Joe Foster  24:59

Well I guess we knew we started the company. But what we didn’t know is, is who had supplied. All these athletes, all these other were really leading athletes. And I think that woke us up to the fact that if you’re going to be successful, you’re going to be need to be a winner. Because you need to be seen to win things. And in athletics is racist, though, he had, he had shoes on people winning races, when we know that some would buy them, but even back then, in the early 20th century, you know, giving away shoes, and he did because in his adverts, the essay gave them to somebody who was a writer, or an athletics writer writing for the reporter for the news, and, and this report, I say, rah, rah for that, you know, I’ve just received this pair of shoes from George Foster. And I must admit, they’re the best shoes I’ve ever worn. And so he, he knew how to promote his product. They know, right now we have computers, and we have mobile phones, where we’re able to communicate social media, it’s everywhere now. But in those days, now, you just had local events advertise and race, race events, and magazines, in the, as far as the UK was concerned, but that moment in time, it was an empire. Now as a commonwealth, but as an empire, whatever magazines were sort of printed and issued in the UK, would go out to Canada would go to Australia, New Zealand, India, Africa. And people would write in because the adverts were always say, please write illustrated catalogue. And a lot of people in these different countries learning English, this is part of the way to learn English, they will be given these magazines and all right, for an illustration. And in fact, it’s quite funny because when, when these letters came in from abroad, my father and uncle, they used to cut the stamp off and stick it on the wall, next to the desk. And that must have been two meter square, it was massive, all these, I wish I could have it today, I shouldn’t go back and say that was a debit, it would be people with a fortune, it was absolutely incredible. How many different from all around the world or 150 countries belong to the Empires even smaller land. So all these islands have their own stamps. But so we learned that communicating and sort of influencing you need to get athletes, but I you know, we learn that this from what grandfather was doing, without, you know, we’ve got a lot to do to equally lead what he achieved. And he obviously didn’t. My father and my uncle did not carry on that spirit that business. Maybe two world wars that have lived through World War One World War Two more wars took away the the the energy vibration


Scott D Clary  28:20

the energy, yeah.


Joe Foster  28:23

took that away from them to sort of create a business because by that time, they’re probably in the late 40s, early 50s, not the time to start sort of building things, I suppose. It was settled in the business, it would bring in a nice living. And that’s how there were so we had to sort of think, again, oh, you build a business. It won’t build itself. And I used to go out on the on the water I would sell enters to the retail shops in different towns all over the UK. Okay, I did quite well, but so many shops, I would call it and I say I’m Reebok. And most people say who? Bring the shoes. And it looked at me and they say look, I’ve got Adidas, and I’ve got gone well. Why do I need Reebok? That to me was a very important question. And I think it came up two or three times for a hitman. Why do they need Reebok? They don’t. They don’t leave Reebok. They’ve been running the shop and being successful and making money. Well before Reebok was around so they don’t need Reebok. So at that time, we decided we go to the athletes. We went to race meetings with shoes in the car we sold and we became very much involved in the athletic scene as people who produce the right sort of footwork. And also in the UK we had the Amateur Athletic Association three A’s, and they have produced a handbook. That handbook was about three to 400 Different clubs, and where the name and address of every secretary promotional opportunity, writing letters, the letter went to each one, we offer them a 50% discount, and our business started to grow. At that point, then the retailers that had been calling on, they were following me and say, you’re supplying some of our athletes, the local athletes, and you know, we’ll start your shoes. If you stop talented athletes? Well, I said, Look, we’ll deliver to you at a wholesale price. The athletes only get 15%. And we’ll also advertise that you’re one of our distributors, if you want, but we’re not stopping selling direct because that’s our marketing. 90% of these guys agree. So that’s how our business grew in the United Kingdom. But you know, athletics is a small business. Big businesses in the UK is soccer. Football, because soccer is a big business. Try enough we go back to grandfather, and he was supplying almost every I think there’s only one or two team, almost every football or soccer team in the United Kingdom, including rugby teams, there were 96 he was supplying direct use as a pilot. And we just wondered what happened. How did outed father and uncle lose that business? But we’d lost it. It was now in the hands of Adidas to get in that retains out that much money to get in there wouldn’t need a lot of money. Because by that time I do this was started to pay people and the soccer scene football scene would be an influence street. You could see the kids on the street with replica shirts, balls, and also training shoes. We needed to go bigger. How do we get bigger? Well, that came back to my experience with Foster’s in America. Why not America? That’s a big market. In America. We’ve got colleges, universities, they all have coach, coaches a garden, you can go there on a on a sports scholarship. That’s got to be a big market. 1968 I’m reading a magazine is this a sporting magazine is an advertisement in there from the British government saying that we want you to export. And we will get you astound the NSGA show. That’s the National Sporting Goods of America, in Chicago will organize a stand for you will pay for your return airfare and will pay half of your your expenses, your hotel and whatever is like going for holiday on Sunday pain. Let’s do it. Yeah, get onward. No. So yeah, the 1968 I, I had worked with a friend of mine who he was in the outdoor industry. We were in the sport, but we were making a a climbing boot for a rock climbing boots. And he said, Yeah, I’ll come along. Let’s let’s go together and went. Went out to Chicago. Well, first of all, went into New York, and we visited the sports store, I visited sports stores, the visited outdoor stores just coming to what a business was like that onto Chicago onto the stand. And okay, lots of people. Lots of people love the shoes. And there’s the sample word. We get these strung out in England. There’s the car in the sand. Is that New England? No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s the old England, the one the one near London and across the sea. And well, they love the product. But they said look when we can get the products here if we’re buying in the in the States, we’d love to give it a try. This is 1968 It was 1979 before I got that distribution and in America 11 years, six complete failures. Six times I was with one guy I was there for four years trying to get in knock on the door. But it was the same with the problem I had with the retail business were the retail sports stores in the UK. Why didn’t a rebound. They didn’t and then they rebound. It was the child that give it a good book that didn’t really reveal that I had to make them meet again. Fortunately, it was Runner’s World. Running started to running during the 70s running became a massive business. It really took off. And with it came Runner’s World. I don’t know if it was Runner’s World that created the business. Because Runner’s World started a small, one single page a4. That was Runner’s World by 1975. It was 100, page, glossy, full glossy magazine, with everything in the events where there will be at low level going to take place. People who run event and Bob Anderson who was the publisher, he, he was so, so influential, that he decided he could tell people, what’s the best shoe, what is the best running shoe. And he did. And he said, This is the number one running shoe. And it was a Nike running shoe. Well, you can think of Phil Knight, Phil Knight probably died on the spot of thinking, Wow, fantastic. We’re now we’ve got the number ones who, then then it would strike him. How do I meet the orders. Because you know, 350 million people in the USA and probably 40 million we’re going out running for 4 million would probably like to get the number one shoe. So they place an order with Nike for for a shoe could Nike, you know could put together a shoe. No, because Nikes they bring them in from Japan. And you know, the demand suddenly probably fell Naess blessing orders for 250,000 purse problem in place an order so 20,000 purse, now, John is trying to get his production up so that you can meet the potential orders that the retailers with the on demand. If you’ve been in business, producing an item like a real issue, and trying to wind up that business to meet demand, that takes almost a year, just just to get it going off the ground. And so by the time by the time Phil Knight, Nike got the shoes, or were getting get in the shoes in the retailers, we get the shoes for their customers, Bob Anderson was gone two months, we’re gonna have another number one shoe. And this was a different shoe. So by this time, the business, the retail business, in total disorder, tons of shoes were coming in all of a sudden, as a new number one shoe, everybody changes to the top we want the number one shoe not the not last year shoe. So this was obviously a problem for the for the whole retail sports shoe business. And it was a problem for for Bob Anderson, which he created. So he changed, can you change to the star rating. So instead of me going to number one or number two shoe, you can be five stars, four stars, three stars, whatever. And five stars meant you can have four, maybe more shoes than five star shoes. That would be till the end. Guess what? I knew how to make a five star shoe. I knew I could do that man a number one shoe to be a gamble because you know, once you when you’ve got Nike New Balance atomic and do a lot of there’s a lot of competition on on the market. But I knew I knew we would get a five star shoe. And by 1978 We’d made Aztec and Aztec was to become a five star shoe. As tight we tested out in the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. We got a bucket load of metals, we did really well in Edmonton. But then I in February, February 1979. The shoe addition for runners will come down in August. And but running is getting that big now that I get came out came out some alone. And this is due on 25,000 perps. Well, our factory little factory back in England, we could add to take us six months, six months. But we knew that we knew we know. We knew we knew if we got a five star shoe. And that’s what we were absolutely certain we could do. We knew we need help. And I had my friends in the industry and one of my friends is barter. And that I said yeah, we’ll help we can make your shoes. But then came out said Yeah, but we need a better price that we were also we were aware of the fact that the whole business would go to the far east that they can make that less than half the price we could make them right back pay the contact in London who was who was sourcing from the Far East so again, we could meet that if we go that five star shoe. Right? That’s great. So also the


Scott D Clary  39:52

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Joe Foster  42:05

The 1979 exhibition NSGA shoulder, I met Paul fireman, Fireman was with his Boston campaign. The small wholesale campaign outfit, Boston campaign, Nick came along. Immediately I like the guy. If someday I could get on with you. I’m thinking came that’s gonna be a tough 120 5,001st. But if you don’t meet the the turnover that they’re required per square footage, and in the stores, there’ll be a first door and the last door profiling later. And he could see that’s a by the way. He he was rather tired of the same business he’d been in for 10 years. He’s in the business with his brother and his brother in law. And they were selling tents, fishing rods, camping equipment. And then you can see, that wasn’t growing. It wasn’t going anywhere. It was doing the same business he done for less number of years. And he said John says I love to be distributed. But we need a five star shoe. And Paul got it below. I’ll say Come on Joe. That’s not a five star shoe yet. Not yet. No, not yet. But this is going to be this closer look. I believe you really needed to be five star shoe. And as a fan. So what went our ways? And I visited the states I went to see Kmart there in Detroit. And from the I went on to see Paul, Paul picked me up from the airport and took me to his Boston campaign. Nice outfit. Yeah. Great stuff. Yeah, nice little business here. And then Paul came to to the UK he was really disappointed with the size of our factory when he saw Yeah, small factory I said don’t worry about it. We’ve got this and we’ve got this you know, the factory is this is this is how we make our start in life. But and and he wanted to go to see to some races to see just you know, how many Reebok shoes was all of a round doesn’t take you to be a genius to understand that every race we took into was won by Reebok. I don’t lose 25% of the people taking pounds. Were in Reebok. But I guess Paul also knew that. Yeah, but at least it proved to him that Reebok was around. And that was great. So we were waiting for the August edition for the Punisher edition. And this This was the last weekend you Lie. And I formed Paul, probably a bit early in the morning because he had I think it was about midday in the UK, which will be at seven o’clock in the morning in in Boston. So it was a bit goals as a part of Runner’s World edition will be out there. Can you nip down to one of the kiosks. And finally I read it. Oh, Paul writes, an hour later, an hour later, Paul came back into the job. A set of five stars. Oh, fantastic. Yes, they smile smile around as it is. But I mean, as tech was a trainer, and that was the volume shoe. But he said You also got five stars for anchor, which was a spike shoe. And also for Midas, which was a racing shoe. So we got three five star shoes that enter the US market. Amazing.


Scott D Clary  45:55

And then obviously, that’s when supply chain, Kmart, all this stuff is starting to come together. And then now you can fulfill that you can fulfill all these 25,000 Plus orders. And that was the first that was the first major sort of like foray into the US markets. That was the first successful for a


Joe Foster  46:14

successful we are not the first foray I buy that new was a guy in California, this guy in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Ohio, the guy in Cincinnati, I’d been all over the place we tried tried very hard to get in. So the difference was this bit like I was saying with a British sports trade. I had to make them want me by going to the athlete, and this occasion the hook. The hook was a five star shoe. When we got a five star shoe and it became something big in Runner’s World. That was that was the demand was that we we’d got a little so that that was the big difference was to get into the American market, which was fantastic. But okay, so dashing across the Atlantic again, buoyancy and Paul. Paul again, picked me up and we got to drive down to his office. And I said worth Boston campaign one. Oh, we quit. But they just stopped the business. That was it. I knew I knew he didn’t. He wasn’t that keen. But I thought this would be a bolt on to the business of be nice to know. Paul to Reebok, his brother went making wallets, snap wallets look all the time with fabric, and his brother in law, launder a secondhand count. But all of a sudden, we’re okay. This is This is Paul, this is Reebok and okay. So that is a star. That’s amazing. But I mean, it took a lot of guts from Paul to do that. You know, sell it, but he was already very hungry. He obviously needed something he needed to get out of what he was in. And, and in a way that problem was better. The fact that this succeed? Snap, yeah, it got his whole attention. Most of the guys had been with before trying things they don’t have. They don’t have an income. Now they are working on something. And this would be something to try. So I guess when it got tough, it was easy to say. It’s not working for me. And so we pulled out. But right now we have a nice business going. Great. We have met a guy down in in LA. I know Martinez. And I know his wife is he was a tech rep and he used to go around and you know a tech rep just shows what you can do with a shoe he he was a good athlete himself was I think he wants to have a trial for the Olympics, but I only get quite made it. But his wife is coming home after being to aerobics classes. And she’s following it got a friend with a liberal full of discipline and answer are you doing? And she said that these aerobics classes are fantastic and aerobics. And she said, Well, it’s exercise to music. Oh, well, next time we go. I’m going to come down and have a look what you’re doing, which he did. What is the season instructor wearing trainers after class wearing trainers rest just in bare feet. I think that was a fantastic lightbulb moment for why don’t we make a shoe specifically for these girls. Wow, this was really good. So I was on the next flight to have to Boston to meet Paul fireman and he said to Paul Paul look fantastic thing. This is News really going to be fantastic. And it’s going down unless I did the girls do. And policy. Oh slaughter. What do you mean? You want us to make shoes for? Yeah, no, look, we’re running company. We’re doing very nicely. We’re running. And we’re growing very nicely. Why do we need to think about making a few shoes and some girls down there in LA? And Alice say look on this pot. This is gonna be big pots in Canada boy, Adam wasn’t put off though. He went to the back door. He went to see Steve leggett, Steve Leo was in charge of manufacturing. And he, he was very persuasive, obviously, because he persuaded Steve to produce a 200 pairs of shoes, specifically for women on a woman’s last. Okay, he got his shoes, he went back down to LA and he gave the shoes to the instructors and to some of the girls out there. And they love them. Absolutely love them. Few manufacturing problems to begin with, because we’re using glove leather and glove leather just too easily. So it had to be backed up with Ireland and different things. But anyway, it would rip at the girls in LA didn’t worry. You know, if they if they only got three, four weeks out of it, they got bang on the road. And then Jane Fonda, she started doing videos, fitness videos, were in Reebok and she obviously bought. Wow. But now the girls weren’t just wearing them for aerobics. They were never going to work in them. They were going out and they’re enjoying life. And all of a sudden, this thing just exploded. We were 9 million or $9 million. company by that that was our revenue the year later, with $30 million and $9 million. Very impressive. Then $2 million, and then $900 million. So in four years, we’ve grown from almost zero, 9 million to $900 million. It was a fantastic product.


Scott D Clary  52:12

I was gonna say I was gonna say it’s just it’s an incredible story. But how many years did it take you to? To get to that? 9,000,021? Whatever? Yes. Yeah, like something like it right?


Joe Foster  52:27

A slow burn to begin with.


Scott D Clary  52:30

Yeah. But then But then when it hits, it hits, do you think? Do you? And what do you think? What do you think led to? Because obviously, you were correct in assuming the US was an impressive market? I don’t think anyone would disagree with knowing now. But what do you think, really led to your success? Was it a certain mindset of the people that worked in the organization to try new things? Or was it just perseverance, tenacity? Was it aligning with the right people? When your opinion, what do you think led to that success?


Joe Foster  53:06

Well, I mean, you’ve mentioned that yourself, it took 20 years to get to that. And then then an absolute rocket for five years, and then a bit of a loner, but it takes perseverance, you’re quite right, that 20 years you go through, and numerous pieces of hell, and back again. But you know, you got to keep positive. And you got to keep going. When one door shuts, another door opens, and you’ve got to keep pushing and doing it. And, and I think it’s all that determination, because, okay, when we got there, and then when we got aerobics, it wasn’t a matter of where do you get the next order from? It was a matter of how do we how do we fulfill these orders. This, this was fantastic. What was happening is like, okay, maybe from nine to 13 million wasn’t a big jump as far as product was concerned. But when he got from 300 to 900, that’s immense. And so, there’s a degree of luck here. And, you know, when you’re having that success, also your team is feeling right is feeling good. The right people join you. And you you have a culture, you have that winning culture. So whichever way, you know, your pressure side, the problems, but look can look came along in many, many times in many different ways. Okay, you can say we had bad luck in certain ways. But you know, we changed our name with Reebok better than Mercury. We think so. I did a set of four years been in business complained because we had two stripes in the T bar. And we were down there was a letter and we have been in business for years. And the lawyers was a letter we find minutes were destroyed. Then we thought, just a minute, added us nowhere. Then all around They think we’re a bit of a challenge because they don’t like what we’re doing. That’s great. Okay, that’s great. What’s? What’s your strike? But these are what the vektron You know, the things on the book, so behind them. So silhouette change better. So as and newest things progressed as you gone, and you have the vision, but why don’t we do this. And so that progression, it can be slow to begin with, because getting everybody to start getting everybody to read my book now. It’s progression is slow, we’re going to get them that, but once it clicks, we’re going to get to number one, because that that happens for 20 years, that growth was slow. But that was knocking on that door for 1011 years. I need this market. I need this back, then, if I’d gone too soon, maybe we’d have missed a running market. I don’t know. Would we have seen the robust market would we have had, so the timing is the time and and that’s, you know, if you’re long if you’re around long enough. Maybe the timing is there all the time, maybe you will run into the time. But you know, we were the the timing was right. And during that massive growth, we we were lucky.


Scott D Clary  56:22

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Joe Foster  57:25

has to go from 300 to 900. Because Nike at that time now can be doing fantastic. But they just hit a glitch, it just all of a sudden the sales drop, no idea why maybe they’ve been always selling or whatever. But they were overstock and they had to pull out of three manufacturing units in Korea, just as we needed. And that was the only way that we could have managed to go from 300 to 900. So again, a bit of luck. And we managed to get the product financing that had been a pilot in the early days. But Stephen Rubin have Pentland he was he sourced out of the fairies. And so he gave, he gave us a credit line. And that’s all Paul needed to expand the company. So you know, yes, a lot of stick with it. Don’t just stick with it. You have a belief that you can do it. Plus, you know, maybe maybe clever people think this is you know, I can do something easier. I don’t know. Yeah, was this but it was a fantastic ride. Yeah, we it was absolutely fabulous. And the fact that we had this tremendous growth down in Los Angeles, Hollywood took it on, from Jane Fonda that we got lots of stars in the shoes. And then we started to do the Princess Grace. tennis tournaments in in Monte Carlo. And all the stars are coming in. Even even Frank Sinatra came in on one occasion to be part of this, this show and it was great. So we got an Oscar nominee stars. And those are there were influences. And in those days, all I needed to do was to take them to Monte Carlo and give them shoes. And we were seen every So yes, we were influencing we’re influencing Street will become in fashion. And really today, that’s where Reebok Nike and Adidas are a fashion companies and influences. Now influence and as a profession. People make a lot of money out of just influence it. So life has changed. And you know, we don’t have this. I used to travel miles and miles and earn miles. I must have had too many miles. i All I had was a bunch of American Express traveler’s checks, and I jumped onto Panama or TWA in those days. And I fly wherever the next exhibition was show or people I was interested in meeting and it was going around and I left the company. I retired at the end In 1989, because at that time I put on America, I turned 30, all the different distributions around the world. And I got to the point where I’m at 35,000 feet for most of the month, and picked up but the porch by a limousine, and I’m taken to the best hotels, and we dine at the best restaurants. But I’m thinking, Now the challenge is all you know, is, this is another challenge. This is I need to, I need to sort of move backwards, which I do. But you know, the story I tell them, I’m moving out of Reebok is the one of the Eagles, and Hotel California, you can check out, you can never leave,


Scott D Clary  1:00:45

you can never leave.


Joe Foster  1:00:48

You can never leave. So I’m still sort of very, very much involved with with Reebok people. And now she’s added to selling the company, it’s going to be a very interesting future. So looking forward to that. Yeah, no, likewise,


Scott D Clary  1:01:05

and thank you for you know, really going really going into into detail about the story, but also providing some insights, just some of the lessons you learned over your career, it was a hard run, it was like a hard run for sure. But I think that some of the things that you’ve learned are, like universally, universally applicable to entrepreneurs. And I think he’s just some very smart lessons there that people are looking to do their own thing. You you need to put in that grind, you need to put in that time before. You know, I think a lot of people actually make make something of, of their business before the 20 year mark. So I think you actually had it more difficult than most. But still, there’s a lesson there for sure. What was I gonna say? Did you ever I want to I want to finish with some rapid fire questions, just to bring out some insight from you. On top of obviously, all that stuff that we’ve already spoken about. But just a question, have you did you ever at any point think of giving up or quitting? Or was this just what you were dead set on doing?


Joe Foster  1:02:10

I think you have to be dead set. I think if you’ve got hesitancy in the game, we got a problem. You know, get out very early. I think it’s something you just got to be probably blinded by something that is just, you make all this stupid. It probably was my wife used to say to me, Joe, why don’t you get a decent job? And I’m saying, you know, as a likely question, someday. So no, I think you if you have any hesitancy, I think it’s, I think that’s fatal. I think you’ve got to have full belief. And certainly, if you’re going to take the 20 years, plus, you’re going to choose. And you know, even though some of the times it was on a small increment, some of the time we were nearly out of business, when our when our UK distributor went out of business and nearly took us out of business. There are some of those days where you where you wonder, but yeah, we have a strong feeling that winning. And we we would say the race isn’t over until you’ve won. Yeah. So you just keep the win. And that was our attitude. And Jeff, Jeff loved to work in the factory, unfortunately died. He died, just as we got to America, we’ve just got the agreement just gone with Paul. But he died of stomach cancer. He was a runner, but he used to run too far too, too much. pushed himself too hard. And I think that probably causes problems. But at that point, things did change. It was difficult. But you get by and you know, I was never left with the feeling. What do I do next? I was always ever feel this a change. I’ve got to change something and keep moving. And I think that’s it. I guess it could be bad if you’re desolate, and you sit down and you don’t know what to do. Fortunately, I always had an answer, I always had something to try something that will keep going. And so keeping going was the essential thing. And then when you get the reward some in the rewards, we have a tremendous, and the journey was fantastic. And meeting all those people and doing things. It was incredible. But you know, we got lucky.


Scott D Clary  1:04:33

Amazing. All right. I want to go through some rapid fire questions for you. And you can go as short or as long as you’d like on these. The biggest challenge that you have experienced over your career, and how did you overcome it? It could have been a personal or business what is one that stood out?


Joe Foster  1:04:49

I guess the biggest challenge really was when when Jeff died. I guess that was the fact that there were two things that came out of it. One, I was destroyed that I lost a brother, and I work. But the other side was, if there was any decisions, anything I had to discuss with people, because your wives become part of a team when there’s two of you, and to now, all of a sudden, this became me 100%. So the benefit doesn’t outweigh the problems that I wish the Jeff could have been here to even today, you know, he would have been two years old me, he would have been 88. But you’ve got to then take those decisions. So that that was the biggest thing in my life was taking decisions immediately and changing things. Not a lot, but change it so I could work with it. So that was the biggest one. Very good.


Scott D Clary  1:05:52

Who would be one person? And it may be the same answer. I don’t know. So excuse me if I’m just reiterating the same question. But I was gonna ask you, one person has had the biggest impact on your life. And what did they teach you?


Joe Foster  1:06:05

Well, there were a number of people who had impacts on my life. And probably the biggest impact was when we were very small. And I’m going around to washrooms because the shoe industry in the UK, it was being destroyed because things were coming in Far East. And so with too much competition from the various price wise, and uncomfortable, greater business, and all their businesses were being auctioned off. And I used to go around to the auctions to see if I could buy cheap machinery or whatever. And I met Amanda, who he just he was on every one of the sales any other around the large factory about 10 miles, 50 miles away from where we were in barre. And we got talking. And the I just told him, I had trouble on the auction before I bought too much leather. And my van that I was in was like more like a speedboat, trying to up the motorway. The police have pulled me over, as they’re not unwelcome and weighed me and I was too heavy. So I got to find that told the guy was called John Willie Johnson. And I told John about this as a journalist, and he said, I said, Joy said, Don’t bother. He said, If you buy in my metal, pick it up. He had a truck and you know, he, he would do the sale, he tells him to go down and pick up his middle pick stuff up. And he says, why don’t why don’t we’re always at the sales together. Why don’t we go together next time? You know? I said, Okay, I’ll pick you up. And he said, No, no, no, go in my car. It’s in my car. Row of I went over to his place and b2b through his factory. He knew everybody’s name. Everybody on every machine. And he asked that the wives and the children. And then I said, John, John, what do you do with all this data that you buy these sales? Because he didn’t buy anything? If the auctioneer couldn’t find a buyer, he would look down at John and John would just nod. And that would become his it could be anything. And yes, stuff bertzi Buy a stuffed bear which was in the office or even stuff. Crocodile is everything. What do you do with it? We went into it another large building just full of everything. He just bought all this stuff? Consider it. He probably bought it for next to nothing. Probably. Yeah. Did he want it? No, he didn’t want it. But on occasions, he found stuff for you. And I spotted a machine in the corner. Counting up machine which to us, you wouldn’t understand the pattern of CI unless you’re in the shoe industry. But it knocks the wrinkles out of when you have lasted at all. It knocks all the wrinkles out so it looks nice and smooth. And I said to him, John, you see that machinery? The machinery? Can I buy it off? You resent No. Oh, can I rent it? No. Okay, Joe, you said Joe, he said you can have it. This just given me back when you’re done with it. Oh, thank you, Joe. And normally that his men brought the machine down to our small factory, put it on the production line, wired it up, set it boy. And anytime I wanted a machine, I could go along and if John had one, you can have it. Just let me have it back when you’ve done. So, for me, that was one of them. The guy would he would help he would give. He was so generous that whatever I wanted if I’d have asked him for it and I’m sure I think he almost went out of his way to buy buy a property because we will look at a change from our and the almost as well. It’s okay, we found one. Yeah, but he was just so generous. So that generosity. I mean, I’ve not seen in anybody I didn’t was made you


Scott D Clary  1:10:01

know, that’s incredible. That is truly incredible. If you could tell your 20 year old self one thing, what would that thing be?


Joe Foster  1:10:14

A problem with advice when you’re 20 is don’t listen too much. Don’t listen to advice. Believe in yourself. If you listen to advice, you probably not do it. Because most advice is to tell you the downsides. Not the upsides. Most people with the advice they’ve either failed in doing what they are, they’re succeeded in doing something else. And that advice probably won’t relate to what you’re trying to do. Because they will tell you all the problems. And so be careful with the advice just trusting yourself just in the fact that you’re young. Yeah, and destructive. I love and what can go wrong? Yeah. And if you just pick yourself up, start again. Young. That’s the important thing. I’m 20 years old. Yes. Young. What would be


Scott D Clary  1:11:17

besides, besides your own what would be a book or a podcast that you’d recommend people go check out.


Joe Foster  1:11:25

Ashley’s recent podcast is sneaker nomics. I don’t know if you’ve heard of economics.


Scott D Clary  1:11:32

No, I haven’t. But the new one. Yeah,


Joe Foster  1:11:34

well look it up on Twitter isms. But it’s on Spotify, or Apple, or Spotify or what? Spotify, Apple or BBC? It’s made by the BBC and it’s called sneaking omics i star in it? At some point,


Scott D Clary  1:11:52

good. Okay, that’s a good one. I’ve never I’ve never heard about it. That’s okay. That’s great. So we’ll put that in the show notes, too. So what do you speak about? What


Joe Foster  1:11:59

do you Well, what do you dramatize quite a lot of it is just really a documentary, if you will. And in a lot of it is about the Adidas Puma fighting, and then the Adidas fight with Nike. And that and it brings Reebok in. So and, and they they dramatize that a bit where I pick up my dictionary. Oh, eight years old Lanigan addiction? And it really is very interesting. We found two pages about maybe, maybe, but I would I would this.


Scott D Clary  1:12:35

Okay. Great recommendation. Thank you. That’s a new one, the new one,


Joe Foster  1:12:38

nine episodes to it. And they’re each about 45 minutes. So and then it’s good. Yes.


Scott D Clary  1:12:47

And then last question, and then I’m going to get some socials and some website. Links from you. But what does success mean to you?


Joe Foster  1:12:58

Come and join enjoyment. I was I was, I was asked, What are the three most important things that you do in your business, and it was have fun, and then have more fun, and have a lot more fun. Because if you’re not having fun, you’re enjoying it. So I think success is something that I don’t see you’re expected, it is a bonus. It is something that you’ve worked so long, that you can look back on and have the satisfaction of saying, I enjoyed that. That was really good.


Scott D Clary  1:13:38

Amazing. And then, most importantly, so where can people go find Shumaker, your website, your social, all of that. And then we’ll also put in the show notes.


Joe Foster  1:13:49

We’re on all the social platforms outside LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook, Instagram, we’re on all those as Reebok the founder. So Reebok the founder, you can find you can find a book. Good book shops, all good book shops, or Amazon. Amazon have the book they have it in or they have the book. They have the Kindle, and they also have audio. Perfect,


Scott D Clary  1:14:18

perfect. Okay, so Reebok the founder, and then and then Amazon Kindle anywhere they want to go find books, and we’ll link all those links below. Anyone. Perfect. All right. That’s all I got. That’s perfect. Thank you so much.


Joe Foster  1:14:31

Well, thank you so much, Scott. It’s been a pleasure. And I hope people get a bit inspired. It’s again, and I know from people who tell us they enjoyed the book because it did inspire them. And it wasn’t written to inspire people. It was written to tell the story, and I really do love


Scott D Clary  1:14:50

  1. If a story inspires if the story inspires and if it’s a very good story, that’s


Joe Foster  1:14:55

a good bonus too. So we’re after again, less than number one bestseller in the American market. That’s what that’s what the next target is.


Scott D Clary  1:15:06

You’ll get there I have no doubt you’ll get there because if you put 20 years in to dominating a shoe industry, I have a feeling that getting a book to a number one bestseller is going to be easy, easy work for you. But like, you know, like you said, you’re not going to give up till you get there anyways. So this is


Joe Foster  1:15:25

actually excellent. Thank you Scott , Its my pleasure

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