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The BoF Podcast | Allbirds’ Tim Brown on Learning to Lead With Resilience

The co-founder and chief innovation officer of the Nasdaq-listed sneaker brand reflects on how his time as a professional footballer prepared him to lead a business through the highs and the lows.
Tim Brown.
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Background:

When Tim Brown stepped away from his role as co-chief executive at Allbirds in May, the footwear retailer that he co-founded seven years ago was losing its sheen. In its first full-year results since its Nasdaq flotation in November 2021, the sustainability-focused, direct-to-consumer darling that once enraptured investors revealed a series of setbacks, leading to net losses of $101 million.

Indeed, the Allbirds’ team has been tested relentlessly since the IPO, yet according to Brown, it’s been an opportunity for him to draw on inner strengths to excel as a leader, a lesson he learned from his time as a professional footballer.

“Rising and falling is just a part of the journey,” he wrote in a recent post on LinkedIn in which he also shared an article by a team of business reporters that laid bare Allbirds’ challenges. Rather than criticising the article, he said he saw it as a reminder that “you are never as good or as bad as they say you are and that all of my best work has come when I’ve been written off.”

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This week on The BoF Podcast, Brown speaks with BoF founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed on how his journey from the football pitch to the corporate boardroom prepared him to lead with resilience.

“It’s a funny thing with success — you have a little bit of it and then things get harder, and that’s good,” he says.

Key Insights:

  • The football pitch served as a training ground to cope with “an even more pressurised environment as an entrepreneur,” Brown says. “Sport teaches you to trust the process and to hold a long-term view, knowing that in the fullness of time that hard work usually is rewarded.”
  • Brown believes entrepreneurs need to find time to take stock, even if it means not working “100 percent” all of the time. “The most important thing that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is not to confuse hard work with the right work.” he said. “You have the ability to maintain your focus on something for a longer period of time by just pulling back a little bit. And that space allows you the perspective to see something for what it is, which is a journey with steps forward and steps back.”
  • When reflecting on the setbacks Allbirds has faced in recent times, Brown says that instead of searching to understand what he could have done differently, he wants to look forward. The key now, he says, is to “get really, really clear on the things that we do better than anyone.”

Additional Resources:

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