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Leading the way with TOMS shoes

TOMS shoes

Offering inspiring advice, Blake Mycoskie, founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS shoes, spoke at an SPA Leadership Program co-sponsored event about his intriguing company, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold.

“TOMS shoes is the type of project that our organization really admires because it really does take a citizen-leader to start something like that,” said Anthony Miller, one of the Program’s Deputy Student Directors. “It was a good to have this as our first co-sponsored event this year because our freshmen are just beginning to experience the kind of work we do, and TOMS has the same elements of creativity and concern for humanity as our leadership projects.”

With his trademark scruff and wild hair, a vague accent from his Texas roots, and a fistful of notes on weathered hotel stationery, Mycoskie is every bit the hipster with a cause – a true citizen-leader. Before TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie had absolutely no knowledge of shoemaking; but thanks to his curious nature and his brilliant idea of giving “one for one,” he became an instant mogul, quickly working with the likes of Ralph Lauren and Vogue’s Anna Wintour.

Leadership Program students were thrilled to meet the renowned Blake Mycoskie and to learn his exceptional secrets to success. “His enthusiasm was inspiring,” said 2013 Leadership student Sylvia Brookoff. “It challenged me to rethink where I want to be in ten years.”

Leadership student Danna Hailfinger commented on Mycoskie’s unique rise to success and said, “while as leaders we are always taught to take things by the reigns if we want something done; [Blake Mycoskie] taught me that it’s okay to sit back and let world lead sometimes. Opportunities can present themselves in the oddest of places.”

Indeed, Mycoskie hit the career jackpot by making a job out of his passion and encouraged students to not only search for interesting or high-paying jobs, but to strive for the satisfaction of “social entrepreneurship.” It is this hybrid of business and philanthropy, he explained, that allows for the unique “one for one” model of TOMS shoes to be self-sustaining. “Of course, giving puts you on a high,” Mycoskie explained, “but giving is also good for business and for building your resume because your customers sell your shoes; people will come out of nowhere to help you when they see you doing good work.”

Mycoskie also related the theory of the “the purple cow;” that is, if you were driving for hours past fields and fields of cows, you would get tired of looking at them; but, if you found a purple cow, you would immediately hop out of your car to examine the rare find, and it would be the subject of discussion for weeks.

“Giving free shoes is, in a sense, TOMS’ purple cow,” said Mycoskie. Standing out “doesn’t have to be a ‘giving’ thing, [rather] our experiences make us remarkable; they make us purple cows.”

Leadership students admired Mycoskie’s uncanny ability to translate his natural convictions and goals into real work. “[Blake] is a true person who has maintained a certain humility that success sometimes blurs,” said John Lisman, a first-year student in the SPA Leadership Program. “Even more, he has never lost his vision and that has allowed him to have a continuous success rate with his company.”

The late September event sponsored by AU’s Kennedy Political Union saw an excellent turnout. Co-hosting the successful event is part of the Leadership Program’s effort to bring to American University great leaders to share their inspirational stories and successful leadership strategies for social change.