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Still Running After All These Years - Reebok and Revival

How Joe Foster built a billion dollar shoe company, lost it, and is having it rise again! 

He’s 88 years old and Shaq is giving him new life.

Joe_FosterJoe Foster and his brother Jeff were born into the footwear business. The family company, J.W. Foster and Sons, founded in 1895, had pioneered the spiked running shoe and their father developed the sneaker. The boys worked a bit in the small family business but struck out on their own in 1958 after returning from the National Service. “We could see they were making basically the same running shoe for over 20 years and though we didn’t know how to do it yet, we knew things had to change”  

Foster and his brother attended night school to study relevant production and business fields, then set up their own shop. It was a struggle. He and his wife, Julie, lived and slept in their rundown factory for stretches of time. “She would ask me sometimes why don't I just give it up and get a paying job.”

Watch Joe Foster at METAL

Joe_Foster_MME_IMG3They wanted to name the revamped company “Mercury” but discovered it was taken.  Foster found the word reebok - a south African antelope - and the enterprise was born.  Living on the edge, they finally had their breakthrough five-star shoe, the Aztec. Runner’s World gave them the five star rating and the American Market opened wide. 

From there it was nothing but up. Reebok reigned as the number one athletics brand in the mid-’80s, its sales spiking from $12.8 million in 1983 to $310 million in 1985, and well over one billion in 1987. By 1989 was raking in $1.82 billion in sales compared to Nike’s $1.71 billion. 

“It's not hard to make a shoe, once you have the materials and machinery. It was a wild ride but we grew so fast, it was clear we had to bring in bigger, more corporate management and capital. In retrospect, I’m sorry we sold to Adidas,” he admits. But ABG has since bought it back.  Joe_Foster_MMD_IMG5

Foster becomes animated as he talks about the new direction. “Shaq has just come in as the President of the basketball division. He’s brought in Alan Iverson as his deputy and they love the brand, love the shoe and they are going to go crazy growing Reebok again. Shaq has brought the soul back to the business! I’m involved and it’s so much fun to witness.”

Joe_Foster_MMD_IMG2Foster is nearly 90, but is clear and energetic as he spins his tales of triumphs and disappointment.  He’s been criss-crossing the world publicizing his book, “Survive and Thrive,” his second, following “Shoemaker: The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand.”

“If I didn’t do this book tour, I would sit back and do nothing.  We have a saying: ‘Don’t let your brain go to sleep. Don’t let the old man in.’ Sciatica hasn’t helped. But acupuncture has.”Joe_Foster_MMD_IMG1

He’s already writing his next book. “There are just so many stories to tell. I’m going to become the next Chicken Soup of the Soul series!”

Regarding his media blitz for the new book, Foster admits, “I couldn't be doing what I’m doing without Julie. She’s my external hard drive and drives the machine of my life. She talks to everyone, makes our appointments. She keeps me going.  Although to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if she’s keeping me old or young!”

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