Foster & Son – Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson

Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson:

What is your background and what brought you to Fosters?

I started my career in a small branch of Barclays Bank, literally adding up the figures by hand, making the tea and stoking the coal fired boiler, and then joined Citigroup, where I helped grow their London business from an entrepreneurial 240 people to an organisation which by the time I left in 2000 employed over 10,000 in the UK.

Over the years I developed an interest in design and craft work of all kinds, including furniture and jewellery, but Foster & Son is my first venture into footwear and leather craft.

I came to Foster & Son through playing backgammon! One of my most feared opponents was a friend who owned the business and asked me to help her after the very sad and sudden death of her Husband, and when I saw the amazing shoes they made and the wonderful craft skills in our Jermyn Street workshop, I decided I had to get involved.

What is your role at Fosters?

I am the proprietor and Chairman, so my first responsibility is to set the highest standards for our business, keeping faith with the generations of shoemakers who have handed down the Foster ethos, including our famous Terry Moore, who has not only designed and made wonderful shoes, but has given much of his time to teaching and helping younger colleagues.

I also have to help create the team that will provide the impetus for the business to expand beyond its traditional home in London’s Jermyn Street, to decide on the design and structure of our collection, lead the company in its expansion plans, and build happy and successful relationships with the many people and firms who form part of our Fosters extended family of suppliers, craftspeople, customers and well-wishers. I must say I have been very lucky to inherit a warm and supportive circle of people who love our craft and what we stand for.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I think firstly, our craftsmen and women are talented and dedicated, and so they are continually growing their skills much more quickly than in the old days, so it’s very satisfying to see the new work they are able to create and the progress they are making.

It’s also uniquely rewarding to feel you are building a world-class team, and that your people get on well and enjoy their work.

I also love talking about our shoes, exchanging ideas about what we do and how the Fosters team can do it better. You would be amazed at the enthusiasm we attract and I never tire of that.

Then, in contrast to finance, where you rarely see a tangible result from your efforts, it is wonderful to admire the beautiful things that we make, and see the pleasure they bring to our customers.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

We are quite a complicated business, because we design, make and retail a wide range of leather and related goods, and we are expanding, so just keeping momentum under all our initiatives can be quite a challenge. Foster & Son is a relatively small business but we try to run it professionally, and that is altogether more challenging than running a major bank because you don’t have its H.R., premises, legal and other specialist departments to help you.

Finally what is your favourite Fosters’ shoe?

I went on record a few months ago with our “Saturday Boot”, which I guess was made about 40 years ago and I stand by that. I was recently also thrilled to hold in my hand a Foster shoe dating back more than half a century with our classic chisel toe, a design much copied since but, I think, rarely matched for elegance and refinement.

Bespoke Saturday Boot

Bespoke Saturday Boot

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