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Jim Van Dine paces Bill Rogers on his way to breaking the 25 kilometer world record in 1979.

Running Down a Dream

Industry veteran Jim Van Dine, looks back on a record-setting career with plenty left in the tank.

Jim Van Dine paces Bill Rogers on his way to breaking the 25 kilometer world record in 1979.
Jim Van Dine paces Bill Rogers on his way to breaking the 25 kilometer world record in 1979.

Dear Jim…Well, you finally decided to move on from your dream of being a world-class distance runner. After nearly five years of trying to recover from that injury you suffered pacing Bill Rogers to a world record, your body never allowed you to return to a full training schedule. But that time wasn’t wasted. Perseverance is what Dad always drilled into you, and he was right. You would’ve wondered your whole life if you didn’t give it a shot. Pursuing sports at the highest level has been a wonderful experience and stimulated life-altering behaviors—like goal setting, discipline, hard work, and continuous improvement. And let’s not forget the many great friends made and tremendous fun had along the way.

Now you’re 30 years old and you’ve come to another major life decision: You’re not going back to social work or teaching. Instead, you’re moving across the country to become a Field Promotions Manager—and employee number 14—at Reebok. It marks the start of a long and successful career in the footwear industry. It will span C-suite stops at some of the most influential brands of the coming three decades, including Vans (VP of sales), Keen (cofounder/president); Ahnu (cofounder/CEO), Hoka (president); and, most recently, Birkenstock, where you come out of early retirement to help out. You have a knack for big runs. Perhaps it’s in your DNA? Still, you feel a bit guilty right now, chasing financial security rather than committing to improving the world. Remember when you used to flip-off the business building in college? Well, life changes you. But you’ll soon discover that a successful business can be a force for a lot of good in the world.

The business world is fast-paced, uber-competitive, and (often) team-oriented. You’re well-suited for the speed, smarts, and strength it demands. Sure, it’ll be overwhelming at times traveling the world, meeting all kinds of people, and facing challenges that you can’t imagine right now. But you’ll need to catch up quick to those who’ve had a big head start. Just run hard and try your best. You can do it! But a good coach helps, so here are some tips for the road ahead. 

Father Knows Best: Dad was tough and controlling. But it turns out, he was right most of the time. Keep in mind the valuable life lessons he shared regarding perseverance, loyalty, fairness, humor, generosity, trust, and teamwork. And don’t let anyone push you around.

Fortunate Son: You’re lucky. Born in California to loving parents who provided a solid homelife, you’re white, male, and healthy. Off the blocks, you’re in the top tier of expected good fortune. Many lack such advantages. Don’t ever forget that. Do your best to provide opportunities to women, people of color, and all the under-privileged.

Give Back: You need not commit to a life of social work to provide great value to others. You can teach, share, inspire, and coach. And you can set an example that being successful in business doesn’t mean you’re selfish or uncaring. In fact, the more success you achieve, the more you’ll be able to share your success with worthy causes, as well as encourage others on your team to do the same.

The Company You Keep: You’ll work with many people over the course of your career. They’ll include great leaders, thinkers, and managers. Identify the most successful people, and learn as much as possible from them. You’ll also witness selfishness, short-sightedness, and some actions that border on evil. Learn from all of it.

Hire Power: You’ll interview more than 1,500 people and hire hundreds over the years. They’re some of the most important decisions you’ll make. Give them equal respect and opportunity. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Seeing hires grow and succeed will be your greatest business accomplishment—and what makes you most proud.

Room to Grow: Focus on always improving. You can only do this if you’re honest in assessing your own skills, talents, and behaviors.

Yin and Yang: Your greatest strengths can also be great weaknesses. You’re smart, confident, love to tell stories, and have a great sense of humor. But those traits can be interpreted as smug or unfocused. The higher the corporate ladder you climb, the more a fine line this becomes. You also have a tendency to resist authority. That can be good in developing your own ideas, but it can be viewed as uncooperative. So always be respectful to company leadership. Lastly, the smartest people don’t always win. There are many other qualities to develop beyond industry knowledge. It’s not just about what you know; it’s also about what you do and how you treat people. EQ is as important as IQ.

Winning Pretty: You’re over-the-top competitive. It leads to much success, but you don’t have to make everything a competition, and you don’t have to win every time.   

Team Works: Collaboration with stakeholders almost always provides the best solution. Never make unilateral decisions.

The Long Run: At times you’ll think the race is over, but major opportunities come later in life. Life is a marathon. Learn to pace yourself.

Family Ties: Stay true to the values Mom and Dad taught. Family is more important than anything. You’ll only succeed and enjoy life because your family is there to support and enjoy it with you. And you’ll get the best of both worlds: your future (lovely) wife will be a long-time work partner. You’re a lucky man!

Keep on Rockin’!: Stick with the guitar. You’ll get pretty good. You’ll even play professional gigs. Who knows where life might take us next!

Gotta run,


The April/May 2024 Issue

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