Blake Mycoskie: If the Shoe Fits, Set Sight on New Mission

By Theresa Minton-Eversole May 3, 2012
Blake Mycoskie
​It’s as if Blake Mycoskie years ago heard Tony Schwartz’s message to unplug the gadgets to reclaim your focus and productivity. And having done just that in 2006, he can now be the poster child for the awesome results this can yield.

Mycoskie founded TOMS—a self-sustaining, for-profit company where the act of giving is the cornerstone of its business model. He shared its story with more than 1,000 attendees during his May 1 keynote address at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition, held near Washington, D.C. Still known as much for competing in 2002 on the CBS television series “The Amazing Race” as for his company’s “conscious capitalism” business model, he explained how companies can adapt and use it not just as a good will gesture but also as a smart business move for financial success.

Serendipitous Start

It was apparent from the start of the presentation, which opened and closed with poignant videos of his company’s efforts to provide shoes and eye care to people of the impoverished areas of Argentina and Peru, that Mycoskie is all about “walking the talk” when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

In 2006, he said, he was running an online driver education business in California and decided to take a month-long vacation to recharge his batteries by revisiting Argentina, where he and his sister had competed on “The Amazing Race.”

“We missed winning the $1 million grand prize by four minutes,” he said, noting that his sister still sends him text messages of numbers that represent the interest he owes her on that lost prize.

While in Argentina, Mycoskie met up with people who asked him to join them on their humanitarian mission to distribute shoes to poor children. He agreed. Upon learning that most children in developing countries grow up barefoot and are not permitted to go to school without shoes, he created TOMS with a simple promise: “to give a pair of new shoes to children in need with every pair sold.”

“The trouble with creating a shoe business,” he said, “was that I knew nothing about shoes.” So initially he relied on his sister and her girlfriends to guide him; then he “hired people a lot smarter than me” to implement his plan. He said the One for One business model “harnesses the power of consumers for good” and has become the hallmark of social enterprise as taught in universities around the world.

“When you give, it feels good,” he said, noting that that’s not the only benefit. “When you give, your customers are your greatest marketers. We focus on the giving, because our customers have become our brand evangelists.”

As of September 2011, TOMS had donated 1 million pairs of new shoes to children through giving partners in 28 countries.

Advice: Start Something That Matters

Mycoskie has no intention of resting on his laurels, however. TOMS has launched its second One for One product, TOMS Eyewear, to help save and restore sight to people in need. There are 165 million people in the world with vision impairments, according to the video clip shown during his presentation, and 1 percent of the population is blind unnecessarily.

“We will provide a pair of glasses or eye care treatment, such as cataract surgery or something else to improve a person’s sight, for every pair of sunglasses we sell,” he said.

Mycoskie’s book, Start Something That Matters (Random House; 2011), references other companies and individuals who have been motivated and inspired to integrate philanthropy into their profession as well as their personal lives. He shared this advice with attendees:

  • If incorporating something in terms of giving into a business model, be consistent.
  • If a company opts not to incorporate giving into its business model, allow employees one day per year to do something to support a charity of their choosing. Dismissing the claim that this costs too much in lost productivity, he said, “Their morale will be more positive, and they’ll work harder when they come back to the office.”

As for the future of TOMS, the new goal is to “give the one millionth person their sight back.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager forSHRM.


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