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Someone from Nike on the phone

People at Luskentyre know him as Donjon. He’s been weaving Harris tweed for more than 40 years on the remote island of Harris in Scotland. He works from a small shed, as his father used to do and as most of the other independent self-employed weavers still do. Donald John MacKay had seen the business decline year after year. It was painful, because the islanders depended on the Harris Tweed industry to supplement the income from their agricultural work.

When the industry was at its lowest point Donald John was only weaving one tweed every six weeks, which provided a maximum income of £100. The situation was not sustainable.

At one point he decided to go solo and set up his own company instead of weaving for the mills. For many years he and his wife barely survived, and they were on the point of closing down when one day in 2003 Maureen, his wife, received a phone call.

She came to Donald John’s shed and told him that a company from America called Nike wanted to talk to him. It turned out that they wanted some samples for a new model they were testing.

At the beginning they were sending Nike 40 metres a month, until one day they received an order for 950 metres, to be dispatched in eight weeks. This was a totally different game for Donald John and Maureen. They were definitely going to need some extra help, so they thought about hiring someone.

The next day they received another email from Nike, apologising for their mistake. They needed 9,500 metres, to be provided within the same time frame.

And this is what Donald John did. He called Derek Murray at Shawbost Mill and asked for help. Derek had many weavers who had practically no work. The mill itself was in a very precarious situation.

As a result they were not only able to respond on time and honour their contract with Nike, they also created full-time jobs for 50 weavers. This was the beginning of a series of contracts that brought an industry and craft that were on the point of disappearing back to life.

I first heard this story from Andrew Barrie from the Gen. Although the story is about the power of collaboration, it really struck a chord in me about the role of luck and audacity in business.

Sometimes we have an opportunity to shine, to do something much bigger than what we were expecting, and it’s so big that it’s scary. We can be tempted to say ‘This is not a good moment’, or ‘We don’t have the resources right now’ – or we can be like Donald John Mackay and respond to luck with audacity and generosity.

This is a story I love to share to show people that the unexpected can knock on your door at any time, and when it does we’d better have a good answer. Opportunities don’t necessarily come associated with a big brand: are you good at spotting your luck?



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