Blake Mycoskie told students the story of how he began TOMS Shoes, which donates shoes to poor children.
When down-to-earth entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, well-known world traveler and founder of TOMS Shoes, answered a question about what inspires him most, he didn’t hesitate.
“My staff,” he answered immediately. “We have a great group of people working here. All of them are dedicated to our mission of helping those in need. Their commitment really inspires me to inspire others.”
As a part of Temple’s “Exploring Leadership” speaker series, Mycoskie discussed his organization – which sells shoes and donates a pair of shoes to children in need for each sold – on campus last Tuesday, Oct. 13. Little did students know, they would be getting more then what they expected.
“I had known of him for the AT&T commercial but had no idea he was such an inspirational speaker,” junior advertising major Melissa Markowetiz, who attended the talk, said. “He is really a phenomenal speaker and has accomplished so much at such a young age.”
Mycoskie, a 33-year-old Texas native, is no stranger to launching businesses. Before he founded TOMS Shoes, Mycoskie already started four businesses, including a drivers’ education Web site through which he showed others that teens could learn to be better drivers through a Web site, rather than real-life experience.
But Mycoskie was led in a new direction after a trip to Argentina in 2006.
Mycoskie’s inspiration to create TOMS Shoes came during the visit, when he took part in his first shoe drop to help impoverished children own their first pair of shoes.
“I called my business partner at the time and said I wouldn’t be back for another month because I was making shoes for children,” Mycoskie said with a laugh. “I’m pretty sure he thought I was kidding and was only staying so I could stay on vacation longer and drink red wine and play polo with friends.”
But Mycoskie’s perseverance and determination had turned the vision of TOMS Shoes into a reality. Not only did Mycoskie manage to create a sustainable business, but he also introduced a new style to the corporate world.
The “One for One” mission of TOMS Shoes says that for every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS Shoes will donate a pair to a child in need. TOMS Shoes became a fashion trend, and as of August 2009, TOMS Shoes gave more than 150,000 pairs of shoes to children in need.
“His unique way of going about starting a commerce, by giving back to those in need, is something the business world needs more of,” Jeremy Palmieri, a junior accounting major, said. “One of the things I enjoyed most about his lecture was that even with all of his success, he still seemed really humble.”
After starting TOMS Shoes, Mycoskie sold his Santa Monica loft to live on a sailboat and save his money for travel expenses and donations to help children in need.
“After seeing how little the children have, TOMS has driven me to simplify my life. And to be honest, I love living on a sailboat, and traveling with TOMS Shoes is what makes me happy,” he said.
He said there’s only one downside to running TOMS Shoes.
“I’m not sure if this qualifies as a downside, but everyone thinks my name is Tom. TOM is the name of the label. So when someone buys a pair of shoes today, we give a pair tomorrow, but tomorrow didn’t fit on the label, so I shortened it to TOM.”
Caitlin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.