Jim Davis is the wealthiest businessman of Greek origin on the planet today.
This Greek billionaire is not just one of the most powerful expatriates in the USA but is, in actual fact, currently the richest businessman of Greek origin in the whole world.
The tycoon recently ranked 134th on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest people and is ranked 380th on the Forbes World’s Richest Billionaires list, with his personal fortune currently estimated at $6.5 billion.
But who is this billionaire with the anglicised name who earns more than Tom Gores and John Catsimatidis, or Filippos Niarchos, Vardis Vardinogiannis, Aristotelis Mystakidis, and others with Greek ancestry on the Forbes 400 list?
Davis was born in the United States, in Massachusetts, to Greek immigrant parents in 1943.
Davis started his career working for his father’s restaurants “bussing” tables.
He received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry from Middlebury College in 1966.
In 1972, on the day of the famous Boston Marathon, Davis bought a small Boston shoemaking business and, together with his six employees, manufactured 30 pairs of running shoes each day.
Fast forward to today, New Balance employs 4,000 people, produces more than 4 million pairs of shoes in the United States per year and ranks as one of the most successful business organisations in the world.
Entrepreneurial instinct and insight were never lacking in Jim Davis, the man who built the New Balance empire from the ground up.
These same qualities, however, which led the now 78-year-old business mogul to make choices that grew his company into a sports footwear and clothing giant, seem to prevent him from investing in Greece, despite apparently being approached by entrepreneurial hopefuls.
Davis has invested elsewhere however, including in commercial real estate such as the $25 million development of the Beauport Hotel Gloucester with partner Sheree Zizik. The Beauport Hotel Gloucester was built on the site of a former Birdseye frozen food factory in 2016 and is estimated to have brought 250 hospitality jobs to the Cape Ann area.
Nonetheless, a small part of his $6.5 billion fortune does come from Greece as New Balance sneakers and clothing are considered very popular in the country, recording high sales against super brand competitors such as Adidas, Nike, Puma and Under Armor.
Those who know him well admit that Jim Davis is not an easy person to persuade, no matter how much he is pressured.
It is rumoured in American business circles that this trait was made well known to one of the permanent placeholders on the Forbes list, Warren Buffet.
One of the most successful investors of all time, Buffett attempted to purchase New Balance 13 years ago, however the cheque was returned to the famous billionaire, leaving no room for negotiation.
Self-depreciation, considered to be a characteristic of intelligent people is an attribute for which Davis is also known to possess.
“You do not need to be very smart; you need to be lucky” is a phrase that Davis has used, yet his decisions seem to provide evidence to the contrary when it comes to his own success. New Balance belongs to 95% of his family and has not been listed on the stock exchange.
How did Davis come to make more money than he may have ever imagined?
All good businesses, as many would say, start with a good idea. A successful concept.
Taking his first steps into business in the 70’s Jim Davis could not have foreseen that over the coming decades his business would be manufacturing shoes and jerseys worn by the players of some of the most popular football teams in the world, such as Liverpool, Porto, Lille and Roma; would gain such market share; and achieve turnovers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to the story, it was at the age of 28 or 29 that Davis decided to try his luck in business by buying the small, insignificant company from Boston with only six employees and a production capacity of 30 pairs of shoes per day for just $10,000.
The New Balance Company was originally founded in 1906 by British immigrant William Riley as the ‘New Balance Arch Support Company’.
Riley’s first product was a flexible arch support, designed with three support points to provide greater balance and comfort in the shoe. It is believed that Riley came up with the name “New Balance” by observing chickens in his yard and demonstrated the way his arch supports worked by keeping a chicken foot on his office desk. He explained to customers that the chicken’s three-pronged foot resulted in perfect balance.
The acquisition took place on the day of the city’s famous Boston Marathon, a fitting date to purchase a destined to become one of the most successful producers in the world of athletic shoes for runners.
The first great success of the business was achieved in 1976 when its model 320, the first New Balance sports shoe designed with the “N” trademark icon on the side, was awarded as the best running shoe by Runner’s World, giving the brand an international status.
This award provided the impetus to develop a series of technical features and technological innovations that have made New Balance one of the highest-selling sports shoe brands in the world.
Relying on word of mouth in the early days, the Greek-American businessman grew his business that is now recognised internationally by the characteristic ‘N, by record leaps and bounds over the next 50 years
In 1972 sales did not exceed $100,000, yet by 1976 sales had reached $1.3 million. By1985, sales had skyrocketed to 80 million euros and by 2002 to $ 1.3 billion. Today New Balance turns over between $3.6 to 4 billion a year, and Davis possesses a fortune of over $ 6.5 billion.
Despite the overwhelming success, the business life of self-made billionaire Jim Davis has not always been rosy. Entering into the world of steep competition with the other top global brands of sports clothing and footwear, has inevitably brought with it some conflicts.
The most famous – and most intense – of these conflicts occurred when Liverpool FC, one of the world’s most successful professional football clubs, decided to terminate their multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with New Balance prematurely to partner with Nike.
Under the terms of the contract, the footwear firm was entitled to renew its sponsorship if it matched any competitor’s offer.
The case was taken to the Supreme Court of London and ultimately won by Liverpool, who argued that New Balance could not match Nike’s five-year deal of £30m a year in terms of marketing.
The ruling signified a painful legal defeat for New Balance with the end of a 5-year cooperation and an impact on the company’s reputation.
New Balance started as a private family business and has remained primarily so until this day.
Davis’s wife Anna started working for the Human Resources Department of New Balance in 1977, and she currently serves the company as Vice President.
The charity work of the Davis family is extraordinary. Davis has donated $5 million to the University of Maine and a library in the campus of Middlebury College has been named for him.
Responsible leadership is the moral fiber that is woven in our culture. It is part of who we are and what we strive to be.
In 1981 the Davis family established the New Balance Foundation.
Since its inception, New Balance Foundation has granted more than $100 million to best-in-class non-profits, investing in research and clinical, educational and community programs that promote healthy lifestyles, children’s fitness and nutrition, and overall community wellness. Its primary focus is on the prevention of childhood obesity.