Jazz Shaper: Joe Foster

Posted on 09 April 2022

Joe Foster is Co-Founder of the global sports brand, Reebok.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the pioneers of business world together with the musicians shaping Jazz, Soul and Blues.   My brilliant, change-making guest today is none other than Joe Foster, Co-Founder of the global sports brand, Reebok.  Grandson of the shoemaker JW Foster, the inventor of the spiked running shoe, Joe and his brother Jeff were born into the family business but after two years away from home on National Service, the brothers returned in 1955 to find the business struggling and rooted in the past.  Joe and Jeff decided to create their own brand, focussing on the growing athletics market and after taking evening shoemaking courses, they launched Mercury Sports Footwear, as it was then called, from a, quote, ramshackle Bolton factory in 1958.  Renamed Reebok, the company grew into a $4 billion business, overtaking Nike and Adidas in the 1980s to become the Number 1 US, yes you heard that right, US footwear brand with a legacy of product innovation, including the creation of the first athletic shoe for women.   A British success story that is, as I think one of the adverts used to say something else, did rather well over there and it’s actually done rather well everywhere.  Joe, it’s an absolute pleasure and a privilege to meet you, the man behind, well as I said, one of our most famous exports. 

Joe Foster

Thank you for the invitation and the introduction.  It’s a pleasure to be here, it really is and I’m looking forward to this, I’ve never sort of done anything with Jazz FM but it’s going to be very interesting. 

Elliot Moss

There’s a first for everything.  I’ve met many Founders over more than a decade and most people say, oh the business was founded in 1988 or 2000 or even 2020 or whatever it is, I think you might be the first person I’ve met where the business was founded in the 1950s, 1958 to be precise.  Just take me back there for a moment, what was life like as a young person just come back from National Service, thinking about moving away from what was an established family business, big name in athletics, spiked shoes, Chariots of Fire and all that and going off and doing your own thing?  Tell me about what an entrepreneur was thinking about right then. 

Joe Foster

Well you know, we came back because as you explained, we came back to a failing company, we didn’t know that before we went off to do two years of National Service, we were part of a family – mother does everything, makes the bed, makes the meals, you know, she was there, if you go away for two years though and you know, your eyes are opened, all of a sudden you are having to look after yourself, you’re thinking oh I’ve got to do it and you had to do it.  Jeff went to Germany and he saw Adidas and Puma and what they were doing as far as the footwear scene was concerned so when we came back and we came back to the family, we came back with a little more sort of seriousness should we say, a little more ooh, yeah, have to think about business now, what are we going to do in the future instead of just sort of work for the family business and fortunately my father and uncle, they had inherited the business from my grandfather – grandmother was alright while she was there, she seemed to keep them together but she died while we were away in National Service, she had actually died and so when we came back they were feuding, they were fighting with each other, literally, on occasions we had to drag them apart and thinking, just a minute, this is not going to do any good for the business, we’re going nowhere.  And you’ve heard of Adi Dassler and Rudi Dassler?  They fought, they were exactly like my father and uncle but they had the good sense or at least Rudi probably had the good sense to get out of the business and go and set up Puma.  Unfortunately, father and uncle, they just kept fighting and whatever we do, we said look, you know, we’ve got to change, we had no salesmen, we’ve got to get salesmen out there, we’ve got to do some marketing.  Marketing?  What’s that?  That was a new word, you know, marketing.  Yeah, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to really build the business otherwise it’s going to die.  My father, all he said to me is, “Look Joe, when I’m gone and your uncle’s gone, this business will be yours.  You can do what you want with it” and I said, “Well, Dad, to begin with, we don’t want you to go but this business will be dead long before you are.”  It didn’t make any difference so we had to leave and we left because we wanted a future.  We could see there was a future in the business and there was competition out there but we left because we wanted to grow a business. 

Elliot Moss

But Joe, at that point how old were you in 1958?

Joe Foster

I’d be 23.

Elliot Moss

23 year old, young person, young person comes back from National Service, has family business over there and obviously you know I come from a family business, you see it at the kitchen table, you see it in the factory, you see it, you get the sense of what’s going on but how did you know that you needed to fix the sales?  How did you know about marketing?  You were a young fellow.  I’m just interested that the things you talk about now as if they were just, they were natural to you, people listening will go well, how did he even know where to start?  How did he even know what the language was?  Because again in the ‘50s, there was no press of a button internet, there wasn’t an amazing access to what was going on globally and you talked about the Dassler brothers and literally opening across the street and all that but to find that stuff out though in the 1950s, not an easy task. 

Joe Foster

I guess really that because my father and uncle were just on opposite sides as it were, my uncle he did the hand sewn premier, deluxe shoes and my father was on a machine sewn shoe.  They ran two different businesses and what we found it is you know when you, whatever it is you read in magazines, you’re seeing things in you know you go to sports shops and you’re seeing Adidas appearing in these shops and we’re thinking why are we not there?  Why is Foster not there?  What are Fosters not doing?  We have a letterhead from the 1920s and my grandfather was supplying 95 premier, well it wasn’t premier then but all the teams in the UK and I know that the only one I couldn’t find on there was Tottenham Hotspur, apart from that Man United, Man City, Arsenal, Everton, you name it, they were supplying them training shoes and football boots and I didn’t know that at the time, we only found that because as Reebok Group we decided to dig back and we had time, we could put people to it and we dug back into the history so, my father and uncle must have known that.  What happened?  You know, and you say well, how did we realise that?  I think we realised the fact that… we were young, we were adventurous, we need to do things.  Instead of being a passive business because that’s what Foster had become, a passive business, just waiting for orders to come in, just last year we got so many orders, this year we’ll get so many orders but those orders were coming later and later in the year because somebody else was fulfilling the early order situation.  So, we knew father and uncle fighting, the business was going nowhere.  It was instinctive but it was sort of a reasonable calculation going out of business. 

Elliot Moss

Sounded like the prognosis was pretty clear.  It makes sense that a 23 year old doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and you crack on.  I’m really interested, there’s a moment when Nike… when Reebok, not Nike or Adidas, when Reebok pops in the ‘80s and you know, we know the story that it went from $3 million to 30 million to 90 million to 900 million, suddenly it’s, it goes crazy.  I would call that the sort of 20 year plus overnight success.  What, in those 20 years from inception, what was going on in the business just in terms of the sort of two or three big things?  Were you just grafting?  Were you just trying to make this thing work using all your instincts that you had?  And then, why for you did it suddenly pop?

Joe Foster

Well, yeah it was like anything, you could start up a business and give it any name you want, whatever name but that business… you’ve got to sell that business, that name has got to mean something, you’ve got to make it happen and so yes, you graft in the early days and we grafted and of course I’d seen what Fosters weren’t doing, we needed a represents, we needed to get on the road so, I tried to get freelance reps to carry the product.  That was okay to an extent but you know, again, a rep goes in and he has four lives so he obviously brings out his first, his best and his second and of course, who knew Reebok?  So Reebok came out last so, we would have been okay.  One day, one of these reps said “Oh I’m giving it up now Joe, I’m going to open a sports shop” you know and I thought, he was called Bill Birchall, I said “Bill”, I said, “Well I’ll probably go out on the road and try a bit myself” so because he was stopping doing what he was doing he had a couple of brands that he said, “well why don’t you take these brands on” so I did and one was selling dart flights which was absolutely incredible, it’s never been so easy in my life to sell anything, you walk in the door, oh darts yes, you’d come out with like a £200 order just for dart flights in those days but anyway, I would go in with Reebok and I probably found out what the other guys had found out, I walked in and say to the guys, I’m Reebok and they’d look at me quizzically and sort of say who?  Reebok.  Oh, what do you do?  Nice shoes and show them everything.  Brilliant.  The one thing, I’m not a good salesman but I knew everything about our shoes so he couldn’t pick up anything and sort of catch, sell the shoes and he had… more than once they would look up on their stock and say, “oh, I’ve got Adidas and I’ve got Dunlop, why do I need Reebok?”  And having had that question up to me two or three times, I decided to stop being a rep, I decided that I’m trying to sell to a man who really doesn’t need me.  It’s only when people come in the shop and ask for Reebok that he will need me.  So it was at that point we decided well, we knew a lot of athletes and we knew, we went round to races and sell out of the back of the car and you get a hundred athletes running past and I’m thinking, these are my customers.  How do I get at these customers?   Well luckily, the AAAs, in those days the Amateur Athletic Association, produced a handbook and the handbook had about 200, 300 clubs all affiliated to the AAA and in that, they had the name and address of every secretary of every club.  That became a no brainer, that was out go the letters, out went 300 letters, said look we’re going to give you 15% discount if you want to buy our shoes, if anybody in the club wants to become an agent he can have the 15% and so on.  I got a hundred agents from the first letter.  Brilliant, I’m now selling.  A second letter, just for those people who didn’t seem to respond first time and I got another 50 so, I’m growing agents and then the telephone rings and these retailers, they’re on the phone, ‘I believe you’re selling direct to our local athletics club?’.  Yes.  ‘Well, look you stop selling and we’ll stock your shoes’.  And I thought about this and I said, “No I’m sorry, we’re not going to do that.  You can have the shoes at wholesale price, I’m only giving these guys 15% and I’m sure you give them 15% anyway if they come in as a club but we will advertise you and you can have the business but we’re not stopping.”

Elliot Moss

So basically, what you’ve just described Joe is channel distribution strategy right?  That’s what people call it in the parlance now.  You totally identified that and said this is what we’re going to do.  How did that translate into sales?  How quickly did you see an uplift in what happened to the brand?

Joe Foster

We did see a quick uplift but the best thing that happened to is that we became Number 1, we became associated as the athletic shoe in the UK.  It gave us credibility.  We started to box above our weight that people used us as, yeah, well Reebok, they’re the ones, yep, you buy those shoes.  So, yes, we did get sort of an increase in sales but you know in the UK, football, football is king and as far as volume is concerned, that’s it but we couldn’t get into football, mainly because we just set our factory up for £250 and that  sort of thing, we didn’t have a lot of money and football by that time was owned by Adidas, Adidas had come in and you know they owned that area and to start compete against them, we were not big enough or ready so, the first thing for me was okay, we’ll grow all we can grow in athletics and then I had my eye on America because every college, every university, has a coach and a coach is god over there and you actually go to a lot of those universities on a scholarship, a sports scholarship so, 350 million people and the available spending money is so much bigger than the UK.  In fact we did a bit of a study later on and we found out if you call America a 100, the nearest to them was Germany at 35, then Japan came in at 30 and the UK came in at 20 so, there was five times the amount of business that I was doing in the UK I could do in America, so that was my vision. 

Elliot Moss

That was the next place and we’re going to come back in just a few minutes to find out how Joe Foster took America by storm, which is exactly what they did.  You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss and Joe will be back very shortly, he’s the Co-Founder of Reebok. 

You can enjoy all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast and indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have got a smart speaker just ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will be greeted with a taster of our recent shows.  But back to today’s eminent guest, Joe Foster, Co-Founder of the global sports brand, Reebok.  Again, it’s very hard in a short period of time Joe, to traverse all these years.  I want to come to America in a moment but you talked about the fact that the Dassler brothers squabbled, you talked about the fact that your dad and your uncle were squabbling then.  For the two of you, you and your brother, how did you decide what you both focussed on during the time that you worked together and were there squabbles?

Joe Foster

Well you know, we never, never had a cross word.  It’s amazing.  I think two things, Jeff probably thought I was the one who could do more talking than of the two us and get on with talking but really, he loved being in the factory, he just loved making shoes and doing all the work that he had to do to take it from a drawing into an actual product.  He just loved that.  So, he said to me, “Joe,” he said, “I’ll look after the factory and you do everything else.”  Ah, okay, everything else.  And so I did everything else. 

Elliot Moss

And in the ‘everything else,’ when were you at your happiest, Joe?  When was Joe Foster going this is what I’m born to do, this is the fun bit?

Joe Foster

I guess that came about when I started travelling and meeting people and seeing how really we could get the brand to grow.

Elliot Moss

Is that where you get your energy from when you are doing that stuff?  We mentioned America.  So when you first start travelling to America and you’re trying to build up the Reebok presence, was that for you but as you look back, do you go that was actually a really great moment?

Joe Foster

Well that was the challenge, you know, I love the challenge, sitting in the office doing things, I did a lot of designing, in fact the one thing I designed was a shoe that got us a 5 star shoe and that’s, we’re going back now 56 years and that is still a major seller for Reebok, the Roll Star, and I drew that, so I like doing the drawing as well, I like drawing the shoes out but as I say, that soul which is, not this one, but we have a lot of them. 

Elliot Moss

Joe’s got special Reeboks on.  Only, the only pair in the world to have JWC, your initials on one, and 18…

Joe Foster

95.

Elliot Moss

…95 on the other, which is the…

Joe Foster

That was the day my grandfather, the year my grandfather, at 15 he actually invented his spiked running shoe. 

Elliot Moss

And am I right in saying that Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell won Gold in the 1928 Paris Olympics wearing JW Foster running shoes?

Joe Foster

You’re correct. 

Elliot Moss

That’s good.  I’m pleased that’s good because that’s one of my favourite films ever.  I cry quite a lot at films and that is one that totally gets me on every level, absolutely every level.  So, travelling, designing and like, as you said, you do everything else.  Was there stuff that you didn’t like doing?

Joe Foster

Not really, I thought it was an adventure.  The only thing I can say to Jeff and I could blame him for is that he allowed me to make the mistakes. 

Elliot Moss

But mistakes are important, right?  Again, we live in a very perfectionist culture and it sounds to me like that wouldn’t wash with you, you’d be like oh just crack on, got to do stuff.

Joe Foster

Well yeah, it’s like problems, mistakes and problems are the same thing, you learn a lesson or you should learn a lesson and if you don’t learn a lesson then you’re not seeing the problem, you’re not really seeing what to do because it’s like people say entrepreneur, what’s an entrepreneur?  An entrepreneur to a lot of people, they sort of go now to MBA classes and they’re being taught how to do this, this, this and this but they’re being taught history.  An entrepreneur takes risks, just something different, that’s an entrepreneur, it’s not somebody who can learn it out of a book, you could learn what other people did but you yourself have to be willing to take a risk, you have to be willing to do that something different and you’ve got to be excited about it and you’ve got to be in love with it and you’ve got to have fun because if you’re not having fun, the chances of success are very limited. 

Elliot Moss

America, just tell me the story briefly, how you broke into it, what were the two or three things that happened that enabled you to crack it?

Joe Foster

As you mentioned earlier, overnight, eleven years.

Elliot Moss

Exactly, there’s that bit. 

Joe Foster

Yeah well, you know, it’s one of the times and I’d say to the… Jeff and the families, look we need to get into America.  You can’t do that, it’s too expensive.  But I’m reading the magazine and this magazine, I think it’s called Eurosport and in it, the Government were advertising and they wanted us to export.  They were willing at that time to pay for a stand at the NSG show, the National Sporting Good of America in Chicago, they all wanted to pay for the stand, pay for the return airfare and half of the expenses, hotel expenses.  Well, no more objections.  You can go.  So off I went, 1968, Chicago, February, don’t go.

Elliot Moss

Cold.  I’ve been.  Very, very cold, yes.

Joe Foster

Very, very cold.  Colder than I’d ever experienced. 

Elliot Moss

Extraordinarily cold.  Yes, it’s true. 

Joe Foster

Yeah but four days there and the Americans coming up to the stand and saying, ‘wow, I love your shoes, great stuff, yeah, where do we get them from?’  And I’m saying England and they’re saying where’s that, New England?  No, no, no, not New England, England, across the water, you know.  Oh, near London?  Yeah, near London.  You get the message, the thing is, I needed a distributor and this is 1968 and when did I get a distributor?  1979. 

Elliot Moss

Ah, okay.  And then about two, three years later Jane Fonda, aerobics, focussed on that and off you go, suddenly you’re away to the races. 

Joe Foster

Absolutely.

Elliot Moss

I made it sound easy, of course it wasn’t, it was that bit in between and the whole series of decisions, I’m sure that you had to make. 

Joe Foster

Well we… I had at least six failed attempts at getting a distributor.  Good guys, have a go, they’d take the shoes and whatever but we’re trying to push into the market.  Our lucky break came, and we had a lot of luck, but running.  Running became a big category in America so, from being nothing during the 70s running became probably the biggest category that the Americans were actually competing in and whatever and a magazine, started off as a single page, by 1975 it was a 50 page full colour and that was Runners World.  Runners World, fantastic.  And Bob Anderson was really full of it and the thing is with Bob Anderson, he was so full of it he decided he’d tell everybody, which is the Number 1 shoe to buy.  Okay, you’ve got 350 million Americans, 10% were probably running, say 35 million, and you know, you tell an American this is the Number 1 shoe, well at least 10% of those 3 and a half million wanted that shoe.  Phil Knight, Nike, he was the Number 1 shoe but he’s bringing these in from Japan.  Tiger Onitsuka, now they were actually making for him at that time and could he get the shoes he wanted?  No, they couldn’t turn up the wick, they couldn’t turn on that production.  So, the idea that Bob Anderson had, he could put a Number 1 shoe out there, failed.  He tried it twice but it failed.  He changed it then to star ratings and 5 stars, that would be a top shoe, fantastic and there could be four or five shoes 5 star and they’d go 4 star, 3 star, 2 star.  I knew we could make a 5 star shoe.  I knew that.  But Number 1, that’s a gamble.  5 star shoe, I knew we could make it and I designed Aztec and there I am, 1970, well we test this out in 1978 at the Commonwealth Games, in fact what we tested out was our Gold range.  Our Gold range was a spike called Inca, a road racing shoe called Midas and our training shoe, Aztec.  We got a shed load of medals, great, fun.  It was 1979, February, I am back in America with my shoe which I’m going to say, this is a 5 star shoe.  Okay, first one on the stand was Kmart.  Have you heard of Kmart?  Big retailers in America and he wanted 25,000 pairs.  Wow.  Our factory, that’s six months work for our little factory in Bolton.  Wow, yeah, okay.  But one of my friends, he just set up these sports division for Bata.  Bata in those days were the Number 1 shoe manufacturers globally.  They were big.  He said we’ll help.  Fantastic.  But Kmart said but we want a better price.  Mm right and I knew what that meant.  That meant we had to go to the Far East, we had to go to South Korea and we could get them from South Korea at half the price or less than half the price but I already had a contact, I knew that if we actually got a 5 star shoe, we would have to up our game manufacturing-wise, we would have to do more shoes and probably better price.  So, I already a contact in South Korea. 

Elliot Moss

But all these foundations are being laid and a decade later, around the late 1980s, you are now, the business is in now the billions of value, then there’s a big corporate event and I want to, when we come the other side of the traffic and travel, I want to find out about what happened in… throughout the late 1980’s when you move from a management role into an ambassadorial role and basically why we’re sitting here right now and why you’ve written the book called ‘Shoemaker’.  Why now?  I want to come back to all of that.  Don’t go anywhere because Joe Foster is my Business Shaper.  He’s the Co-Founder of Reebok.  We’ve also got some Sam Cook for you as well, that’s all coming up in just a moment here on Jazz FM.

.Joe Foster is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes.  Co-Founder of Reebok, you may have heard of them, they were a $4 billion business when Joe was around, they’re still around just over a billion, they’ve just been bought recently again from Adidas, the Authentic Brands Group, ABG, and back then in 1989 you leave the business, you talked a lot about the challenges and you were in that business you know for what is that, 40 about 31 years, I can’t do the maths, 31 years, which is a fair amount of time.  Here we are in 2022, you’ve now written a book which I think you started in 2014 or something like that, books take a long time, everyone says you always, everyone’s got a book in them, right, yeah, they then say and it takes a while to write it but anyway that’s the small print.  What made you write the book because you know you live your life, you’ve lived an extraordinary life, you’ve done all these things, you’ve put a business on the map that just wasn’t and it didn’t just happen in a couple of years with a bit of a left and a right, it was a bit more than that, yeah.  What made you want to capture that in this book you’ve written?

Joe Foster

I wasn’t too personally interested.  A lot of people said why don’t you write your book Joe?  And I said ah well, maybe I’ll get round to it one of these days but I’m sort of lying on the… in the sun and I’m reading, you know, now we have computers, now we have Wikipedia, now we have Google and I’m reading Google and I’m reading Wikipedia and they’re saying this has how Reebok started and here’s a photograph of Joe Foster, the Founder of Reebok.  No, don’t know who the photograph was of, no idea and how the company started, two or three different ideas there, well Fosters just changed its name from Fosters to Reebok, no, no, no, it didn’t.  So, this got me a bit sort of got to put this right.  Even, when you’re trying to write to Google and say you’ve got it wrong, they’ve got to verify this, you can’t do it, if somebody else writes to them, yeah, you know maybe they’ll do something.  So I thought well, may be time for that book. 

Elliot Moss

But you don’t strike me as someone who is a… gets sour grapes, I mean, you know, in all the time and we’ve only just met but you’ve been talking about you know 40/50 years of your life, it feels like your disposition is, as my gran would say, ‘comme ci, comme ca’.  You know, it is what is, you get on with it, I mean you feel like that kind of person, it doesn’t sound like you were angry.  Is it just more like well, I’ve got the time and I just want to do this?  Was it another challenge for you? 

Joe Foster

Well I think the challenge came as soon as… you know and I thought, we should really try and put this straight and…

Elliot Moss

But just like that?  Just a simple I just want… yeah. 

Joe Foster

Yeah, we should try and get this straight because it didn’t happen like that and you know if you leave rumours out there and just wishy-washy sort of explanations, I thought no, and then when I, thinking about it more, I’m thinking just a minute, we sort of have a legacy here, we’re generations of family that you know my grandfather started this in 1895 and who knows JW Foster?  Nobody.  And if Reebok hadn’t become a successful company, that would have died.  That history would have gone totally and it wasn’t out there, even now it wasn’t out there so I thought here’s a chance, a chance now to really get the Foster family, whether it’s heritage, whatever it is, that tells the story and once it’s there in black and white, that’s it.

Elliot Moss

And Joe, are you more proud of your dad and your grandpa and the way what they did than you are of your own achievements?

Joe Foster

Well, certainly my granddad, my grandfather he must have been a genius.  He was there with influencers long before that word came out and people would know about it.  You know, he was giving his shoes to a guy called Alf Shrubb in 1904 who broke three world records in one event and he was giving them, as you said, to well Lord Burghley, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. 

Elliot Moss

Eric Liddell yeah.

Joe Foster

He was giving them to the guys who were winning races and that’s influencing so, that was brilliant.  My father and uncle, disappointing.

Elliot Moss

Really. 

Joe Foster

Disappointing because, yeah, as I said, 96 football clubs were wearing Fosters shoes and boots and why nobody sort of latched onto that and even till today, I’ve no idea how they missed the opportunity.  Missed it.

Elliot Moss

Let me ask you one last thing before we ask you your song choice, the affinity you have with Reebok, you’re wearing them, you literally, you created them, you live in them, you talk about them, you go trips round the world putting there in front of the book as you talk about the book as I was hearing earlier from you.  What does it feel like?  Is it a child?  Is it a family member?  What is Reebok to you today?

Joe Foster

Well Reebok, it does become a family, that’s, I mean a lot of people do, have talked about this.  How do you go on with your domestic family and Reebok?  How do you sort of wick it together and unfortunately it’s not always wickable because you fall in love with your family, which is your business?  Reebok is my family and either the family comes along with Reebok or we have problems and fortunately Reebok became very good and we’re off to Monte Carlo to the events we used to put on there and so that drew the family in, the family were quite happy to do those things. 

Elliot Moss

I bet. 

Joe Foster

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

I’d like to have been your son, that sounds quite nice.  I’ve never been to Monte Carlo.  Especially not to Formula One but I’d like but so, it’s still and is it still family today?

Joe Foster

It’s family today, yes, so I mean, you just can’t let go, you know, you’re in love with things, you’re just in love with things and you know I don’t need to own it, you know, that was never the ambition, the ambition was always… it’s like Joe Foster, who the hell was Joe Foster?  Nobody knows Joe Foster but they know Reebok and that was the mission.  The mission was let’s grow Reebok so everything was built to build Reebok and Reebok will go on long after me and that is good.  You know, if Reebok had died after twenty years, thirty years, I would have been said but fortunately, we got it to that level, that level now where, yeah, it’s forever, in fact I was reading something in I think it was on Google alerts or something like that that it’s just sort of now all the A Listers in America are wearing the Club C, it’s just something that is absolutely timeless.

Elliot Moss

It’s been brilliant talking to you.  Long may it continue, the timelessness I mean, I mean we’re not timeless, you know, I mean a hundred years from now Reebok will be going but neither of us will be around to see it.  It’s fantastic having some time to find out who Joe Foster is, I think people will know how Joe Foster is after this round of sharing the book around the world and talking about the JW Foster legacy as well.  Just before I let you disappear into the sunset, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Joe Foster

Well for me it’s Sing, Sing, Sing.  As we know, Benny Goodman.  When you’re young you pick up on something and then now just like Reebok in a way, you pick up on something and you don’t let that music go so, for me it was Benny Goodman and yeah, and I could hear it anytime and all the time so, yes, Sing, Sing, Sing.

Elliot Moss

The brilliantly uplifting Benny Goodman with Sing, Sing, Sing, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Joe Foster.  We’re not there, he said when he was young and wondered where his Reebok product was and he said we just need to do things in order to get there.  I love the way he said that.  I love a challenge he said, he’s a man who likes a challenge.  Mistakes and problems and the same thing aren’t they?  You’ve just got to learn a lesson each time and finally, that lovely thought about him not being able to let go of something he loved, in other words his business called Reebok.  Fantastic stuff.   That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

Grandson of the shoemaker JW Foster, the inventor of the spiked running shoe, Joe and his brother Jeff were born into the family business but after two years away from home on National Service, returned to create their own brand, focusing on the growing athletics market. In 1958 they launched Mercury Sports Footwear. Renamed Reebok, the company grew into a $4 billion business, overtaking Nike and Adidas in the 1980s to become the Number one US footwear brand. Reebok has a legacy of product innovation, including the creation of the first athletic shoe for women. 

Highlights

You could start up a business and give it any name you want, but you’ve got to sell that business -that name has got to mean something. 

Mistakes and problems are the same thing. You learn a lesson and if you don’t learn a lesson then you’re not seeing the problem. 

An entrepreneur takes risks, does something different. That’s an entrepreneur, it’s not somebody who can learn it out of a book. You could learn what other people did but you yourself have to be willing to take a risk. 

You have to be willing to do something different and you’ve got to be excited about it and you’ve got to be in love with it and you’ve got to have fun, because if you’re not having fun, the chances of success are very limited. 

Joe Foster. Who the hell is Joe Foster? Nobody knows Joe Foster, but they know Reebok and that was the mission. 

The mission was ‘let’s grow Reebok’, so everything was built to build Reebok. 

If Reebok had died after twenty years, thirty years, I would have been sad, but fortunately, we got it to that level where it’s forever. 

The best thing that happened to us is that we became the number one athletic shoe in the UK. It gave us credibility. 

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