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How Warren Buffett saved Brooks Running Co.

How Warren Buffett saved Brooks Running Co.

“Everywhere people are running, we want to be,” says Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Running Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A BRK-B).

But it wasn’t always that way for the Seattle-based company. In 2001, Brooks Running Co. was on the brink of bankruptcy. As the company’s new CEO, Weber decided to re-focus the brand solely on running shoes. The move paid off. In 2014, Brooks’ sales hit $500 million for the first time, and it’s taken its runners-only brand global.

Over the last five years, Brooks Running Co. has established a foothold in Europe and recently expanded into Japan, Korea, and Australia.

Weber tells Yahoo Finance that Brooks plans to launch in China next year. “The Chinese are running, and it’s a very exciting opportunity for us to be in that market.”

He admits that having Buffett for a boss is a great asset for Brooks as it competes around the world. In 2006, Brooks was sold to Berkshire Hathaway’s Fruit of the Loom. Six years later, Buffett decided to spinoff Brooks and make it a standalone company within the Berkshire portfolio.

“Warren Buffett is well known, I think, everywhere in the world, particularly in China,” says Weber. “So with [Chinese] partners, it says a lot about our commitment to build a brand for the long term.”

Still, headwinds remain. “The retail market is really bumpy,” Weber says. “The consumer is cautious, and we’re seeing that happen at retail.” Weber cites Sports Authority’s recent bankruptcy filing as an example of the challenges facing the athletic shoe and apparel industry.

But Brooks is committed to its niche market of runners and the running lifestyle. While competitors are coming up with the latest wearable gadgets, Brooks remains purist.

“Your best piece of technology is yourself, the human body,” says Weber. “Our technology really comes from the biomechanics of [running]. And at mile 26, [you need to ask] are you having fun? Are you comfortable, and is your gear working well for you?”

While Buffett may not be a runner (he’s yet to accept Weber’s many invitations to run in a road race), he did add an annual 5K race in 2012 to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder weekend. The race, appropriately sponsored by Brooks, is held the morning after the annual shareholder meeting and is open to all.

Once again this year, Brooks sold a special edition Warren Buffett running shoe at the shareholder meeting. At $170, it features a caricature of Buffett on the heel and has “Berkshire Hathaway” printed on the guide rail and on the upper. It may be the closest that Buffett enthusiasts get to walking in his shoes.

Click here to view a full replay of the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting, which Yahoo Finance live-streamed exclusively. At this page you can also find our extensive coverage of the event.

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