Making A Difference IS Up To You: An Interview With TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie

Blake Mycoskie is the Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS, and the person behind the idea of One for One®, a business model that helps a person in need with every product purchased.

Maybe you’ve seen a pair of his shoes or own one. Maybe you’ve seen him on TV. You might be thinking, why would I care about him? Why read about him on a philosophy website?

Well for starters, he has global movement: TOMS Shoes has provided nearly 90 million pairs of shoes to children since 2006, TOMS Eyewear has restored sight to over 600,000 people since 2011 and TOMS Roasting Company has helped provide over 600,000 weeks of safe water since launching in 2014. Blake is also a student of Stoicism. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is his favorite book of all time, saying, “You could read only that book and have all the wisdom you need to live a virtuous, successful and adventurous life.”

It also happens that Blake is committing immense resources and energy to a new project he wanted to tell us about. After the recent mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, Blake decided to overhaul his company’s entire giving model in an effort to take a stand on ending gun violence. (More on that below)

We interviewed Blake about his introduction to Stoicism, his approach to business, why he decided to take action against gun control, and much more.

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What was your introduction to Stoicism? Why do you think it resonated with you so much?

My good friend Don Chick gave me Marcus Aurelius’s book Meditations in 2010 as a birthday gift and as I read it, I thought this is exactly what I have been thinking and writing in my journals for years. I love this guy.

Was there a particular quote or passage—maybe from Marcus Aurelius—that you consider to be a favorite of yours? Or that you return to often?

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one”

What’s so interesting about your career is that you’ve tried—from the outset really—to combine success with giving back or helping others. There is that Stoic idea of sympatheia (that we’re all connected, that we’re meant to take care of each other and help each other). Is that your philosophy?

Yes. It is also seen in the most important spiritual texts. For me, I am most familiar with the Bible and the life of Jesus, and as far as I can tell he basically had one message: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Why has it been so important for you to do good with your businesses, as opposed to just trying to be as financially successful and then maybe give back privately?

If I am going to spend most of my life creating businesses, I don’t want to waste a day doing that if there is not a bigger purpose than my own gain.

One of the things the Stoics talk a lot about is making the distinction between what’s in our control and what isn’t. A big, depressing, complicated issue like gun control might be the kind of thing that someone tells themselves is outside their power to influence or change. What made you decide to take action with regards to ending gun violence?

My wife called me very emotional and was afraid of taking our son to school.  She kept reciting all the recent shootings on the phone, and before we got off, she said, someone must do something about it (she was not suggesting me per se). I got off, and a higher power put a thought in my mind and it was simply: If not me, then who?  If not now, then when? After that, we changed everything at TOMS to evolve our entire business model in 8 days. It was the most challenging and inspiring 8 days of my life

The campaign you’re doing now—where TOMS is sending postcards to congressional representatives—is by definition, political activism. Despite the stereotype of Stoicism = “resignation,” there is a long history of Stoics who were active politically. Why do you think it’s important for people to take action—whether it’s about gun control or any other issue they believe in? As opposed to say, just focusing on their own individual betterment or problems?

First off when 90% of Americans are in favor of universal background checks, it is not a political issue anymore. It is a human issue. We all want to be more safe. All I am trying to do is bring people together to have the politicians listen to the people they are supposed to represent.
Because our voice can be heard when we make it loud enough. It all starts with individual actions, and if enough happens, they cannot be ignored. History shows us that over and over again. In 5 days, 522,000 Americans have used the tech on TOMS.com to send postcards to their representative and we are just getting started. We will be heard. We will make this country safer, and we will change the history of this country.

There’s a rumor you carry a memento mori coin with you on the golf course and use it as a ball marker. What does that idea mean to you?

When I was 18 years old, my best friend died in a plane crash. I could have been on that plane if I was in town and not playing a tennis tournament. From that day on, I realized I could die any day. I decided the best way to honor my friend Scott was to live each day as if it was my last, and I started signing ALL letters, etc “carpe diem, blake”. I still sign all emails and letters that way to this day.

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In an emotional appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Blake announced a $5 million donation campaign to end gun violence. The campaign directs users to Toms’ website where the company has created a system where users enter their information and a physical postcard is sent to their congressional representative, urging them to pass universal background check legislation. We hope you’ll check it out and consider participating.