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Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America

Tipping Points

Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, shares helpful tips from a life better led.

Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of AmericaDear Matt, This is a letter from your 46-year-old self. No, you’re not going crazy! Recall the plot of Back to the Future and just stay with me for a bit. You won’t be disappointed. I’ve got some great life tips that will make us better off. Remember, we’re in this together. As added incentive, I’ll include a few amazing stock tips if you read on. Deal? Cool.

We’re 18 and just graduated from high school. We’re super busy as we head off to North Carolina State University. (Go Wolfpack!) Life’s been good so far, but a quick heads up: Our current girlfriend ain’t the one. Trust me. Moving on.

Now, I’ve got good and bad news. Knowing us, we’ll want to only read about the good news and sweep the bad news under the rug. But that’s no way to navigate life. We must meet whatever comes our way, and when it comes. Life tip No. 1: Ignoring bad news only leads to more bad news.

Now for some good news: You’re alive at 46! With chronic high cholesterol running through our family—including a grandfather who died of a heart attack at 36—that dark cloud hangs over us. Thankfully, tons of statins and other injectable drugs makes us good to go—and still (hint) running strong. Life tip No. 2: It helps a lot that we become an avid runner. (I know, totally shocking.)

Just out of college, more good news comes our way. That’s when we meet the gal of our dreams, who soon becomes our wife. She’s full of beauty, grace, and wisdom. Together, we’ll bring into this world three beautiful daughters. I know we grew up in a house full of dudes, but being a “girl dad” is where it’s at! Our family life is robust and active and interesting. We’re blessed beyond belief!

Now, about our career…We’ll graduate, no problem, earning a degree in political science. That said, school ain’t really our thing. (See what I mean?) Graduating college is only a means to a beginning, which takes a year or two (or three) to finally land on a career track in government affairs. It leads to many amazing adventures. Like working for the president of the United States and traveling the world in support of global trade! Can you believe that?! Later on, we work in support of the world’s greatest footwear companies, again traveling the world. Our career is one wildly enjoyable ride.

Our first stop, in 2003, is on Capitol Hill, working for Sue Myrick, an amazing U.S. Representative from North Carolina. It’s during our three-year stint there that we’ll send a pivotal email that alters the course of our life forever. That may seem a tad dramatic, but it segues nicely to life tip No. 3: Remember to step outside of our comfort zone and volunteer to take on challenging issues when such opportunities arise.

Doing just that propels us to help move major trade legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives and, in the process, catch the eye of the Office of Presidential Personnel at the White House. That leads us to becoming a Deputy Assistant Secretary, at age 29, at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the George W. Bush Administration.

Then, in 2009, we’ll land our current job as President and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) trade association. Here, we help support global businesses like Nike, Adidas, Wolverine Worldwide, Caleres, Foot Locker, Rack Room Shoes, and Designer Brands Inc., to cite a few. It’s a big job with tons of responsibility, but we love the dynamic and fast-paced shoe biz. FDRA proudly serves 95 percent of the industry, boosting sales and pushing back against increased tariffs. We also host amazing seminars around the world, help companies classify thousands of shoes, lobby global governments, testify before Congress and administration agencies, educate on best sustainable manufacturing practices, cofound the Black Footwear Forum (one of our proudest accomplishments), and host a podcast, which is the future‘s version of a talk radio show. We even appear on TV numerous times as the industry’s main spokesperson, helping shoe companies thrive and compete globally.

We work hard and long hours, but that’s no different than the equally dedicated people we serve. FDRA members have blessed us immensely with their trust and confidence to serve their interests as best as we possibly can. We’re fortunate to work with many gifted executives. We rely on these people tremendously, and learn so much from them. While it’s too many to list here, remember all their names.

That leads to life tip No. 4: Really get to know the people we work alongside. That, of course, includes our beloved FDRA family. Namely, Andy Polk, Thomas Crockett, Sandi Mines, Sabria Butler, Jolie Gracia, Ashley Moore, and Gary Raines. Each relationship is special. Cherish them.

Now for a little bad news. There’s going to be turbulence along the way. That’s life, even if some of it is self-inflicted. So here’s life tip No. 5: Remember how God described Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as He reveled His glory to him. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” We experience God’s love, compassion, and forgiveness repeatedly. Trust me and, more importantly, trust Him. He won’t let us down.

That’s enough bestowment for a busy 18 year old to absorb. Now for those stock tips: Apple, Pfizer (don’t ask), and Nike. Oh, and hold onto those Air Jordan 4s and 6s, and Magic Johnson Converse Weapons. They’re worth a ton in 2023! You’re welcome.

Take care buddy. You got this!



P.S. Don’t expect another letter in 46 years. That’s not happening.

The March 2024 Issue

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