Interview with Joe Foster

Today, we are interviewing Joe Foster – @reebokthefounder – the founder of Reebok. A multi billion dollar company that produces and distributes fitness, running and CrossFit sportswear including clothing and footwear, being present all over the globe.

Joe’s grandfather was the founder of J.W. Foster and Sons and the pioneer of the spiked running shoe, and also developed the trainer (sneaker).

As the surviving founder of Reebok, Joe still welcomes the opportunity to travel and recount those early stories from start-up to making Reebok the World No. 1 sports brand.

Question: What makes you happy?

Joe: Travelling to meet up with the friends I made on the journey building a Global distribution for Reebok. To enjoy revisiting those fabulous days and places in the 1980’s as the brand took off, first in the USA and then globally. Unfortunately, we are all getting older and Covid has stopped much of the travelling, but we can still connect using zoom, or similar.


Question: What’s the best thing you got from your parents?

Joe: An enjoyable childhood, although until I was 10 years old, six of those years were spent during WW2.

Question: What have you created that you are most proud of?

Joe: That has to be the Reebok brand, to be followed by ‘Shoemaker’ which tells the story of my journey and the heritage of the J W Foster family reaching back to 1895 and beyond.

Question: If you hadn’t started reebok, what would you have done instead, and why?

Joe: Who knows?

Having trained in engineering at college I was invited to apprentice at DeHaviland, who in those days produced airplane propellers, but it didn’t appeal and there was a job waiting in the family business.

However, during National Service in the RAF, I was a radar operator in a team controlling British and American Fighter Jets on practice interceptions over the North Sea.   So, I did consider an offer to do Officer training during, which could have lead to flying those Fighter Jets.      But, although the excitement was very attractive to a 20 year old, the realty was, the career would be short and what would follow.     So I returned to the family business of J W Foster & Sons, athletic shoe makers.

Question: What life skills are rarely taught but extremely useful?

Joe: To me and I believe Jeff also, the skills we learned during our time in the Scouts, during and just after WW2, added to the independence and discipline gained during National Service were indispensable to setting up Reebok.

Question: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or, Do you have a favourite failure of yours?

Joe: It’s hard to put a finger on failures when Reebok achieved the No 1 global sports brand before I retired at the end of 1989.    But, I did have at least six failures in my attempt to break into the USA market in the 1970’s.    From those failures I did learn what was needed to succeed, which as told in the book, was finding the key to open the door.

Question: What has become more important to you in the last few years and what has become less important?

Joe: Sharing life’s experiences. For many years I travelled to the USA to break into this most important market.      I followed this travelling the globe building the Reebok distribution network and for the most part I travelled alone.  I have many experiences that would have been so much richer if I could have shared them. My book ‘Shoemaker’, is intended to let the reader feel they are sharing some of those remarkable experiences.

What is less important: At 85 years old, fast cars!

Question: What is your motto for life?

Joe: I guess I have always remembered the Scout motto ‘Be Prepared’, which requires planning and be ready to change your plans as circumstances change.

Be prepared.