Joe Foster — The Visionary Shoe Maker Behind Reebok

Giuliano Gonzalez
3 min readMar 8, 2021

How did Joe Foster lead and manage Reebok to become one of the top sports brands in the world today?

Born into a family of shoemakers with a distinguished history in Britain, Joe Foster was the grandson of Joseph William Foster, founder of J W Foster & Sons Limited and the inventor of the spiked running shoe and the trainer, most currently known as Sneakers.

After finishing two years of National Service in 1955, Joe and his brother Jeff started taking interest in the family business which, at the time, was managed by their father and uncle. Like most sports shoe companies, their father and uncle spent more time disagreeing than collaborating. Failing to make productive changes for the next 3 years, Joe and Jeff initiated their first rebrand in 1958 and named the company Mercury Sports Footwear. After finding out about an existing business with the same registered name while filing the patent in Manchester, Joe Foster resorted to looking through a dictionary he won in 1943 at the age of eight and came across the word Reebok — a small South African gazelle. This then inspired the brothers to register their company as what we now know today as REEBOK.

As the only surviving founder of Reebok, Joe Foster travels when there are opportunities to recount his early stories from start-up to becoming the World’s №1. Wanting to tell his incredible story of perseverance, he even published his book Shoemaker — The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand.

Through this book, Joe Foster passes on to his readers' countless wisdom about willpower and determination he learned throughout his journey. According to him, continually facing challenges makes you stronger and more driven, while making sure to surround yourself with people who have a “can do” attitude ready to bend, not break under pressure, anytime.

For a period of time, Joe Foster actually lived in a factory with his wife. The support of his wife and their family were the very first steps in breaking out of that situation. Lucky for him, he inherited his business management skills from his marketing genius grandfather and was able to move his company forward to greater heights through marketing, promotional advertising and the use of influencers building his business globally. On top of this, Joe Foster’s company progressed from the need for sportswear to perform to becoming and influencing street fashion to keep up with the trends with the help of technology. By virtue of pure happenstance, Sneakers and the Sneakerhead culture re-entered the mainstream these past 2 decades which was an incredible advantage for sports shoe companies including Reebok.

Now that he has retired, Joe Foster spends most of his time traveling to places he visited during his working years to meet people who were part of his Reebok journey. He now enjoys the Reebok culture he nurtured and shares as many insights, knowledge and guidance to all aspiring business owners as possible. To anyone who wants to grow on a similar path, his best tip is to always trust your instincts and to always go with it. Never take too much advice from others.

To connect with Joe, follow his Instagram @reebokthefounder and Facebook page JWFosterheritage.



Giuliano Gonzalez

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