Why the President of Microsoft Signed My Air Jordans

My favorite shoes -- Nike Air Jordan 11s -- have an important signature on them, but it's not their namesake's. It's from someone who inspires me to move forward as an entrepreneur.
Why the President of Microsoft Signed My Air Jordans
Image credit: via Flight Club
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the April 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When someone enters my company’s El Paso, Texas, headquarters, they’re certain to see a bright-red pair of Nike Air Jordan 11 shoes. I have them displayed in my office. And if they look closely, they’ll notice the shoes are signed. “Is that Michael Jordan’s signature?” they’ll ask.

The answer is no. Those shoes are signed by somebody even more inspirational to me, even though he doesn’t have a pair of shoes with his name. The signature is from Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft.

Why? Because he signed those shoes just after my company survived.

Ochoa (left) and Microsoft president Brad Smith, after the shoe signing.
Image Credit: Courtesy of José Ochoa

I am a Mexican-American immigrant and a serial entrepreneur, and I co-run a packaging and logistics company called Global Containers & Custom Packaging. We grew steadily for a decade but then suffered a crisis in 2018: One of our largest clients filed for bankruptcy, which caused us to lose $1 million in cash and $1.7 million in business overnight. I was terrified. I felt like a big, incompetent loser. I guilted myself for not seeing it coming.

Related: How Ballet Inspired This Entrepreneur to Reinvent Her Career

After several long nights without sleep, I came to a realization. Money will come and go. So long as I have my health, experience, work ethic, and family, I can make that money again — and so I set out to do it. I saw a LinkedIn ad for a binational business accelerator program sponsored by Microsoft, applied, and got accepted. I poured myself and my staff into the program and prepared for the final event: I was going to compete against 10 other big players at a pitch competition, to be judged by a panel of corporate and government executives. 

I’m a sneaker lover, and I knew only one pair of shoes would be good enough for this big day — because they’re the shoes I always wore for major business events. I’d compete in my red Jordan 11s. The red symbolizes passion to me; it’s the flesh and blood that I put into my business. Jordan symbolizes relentlessness. He never retreated, which is how he became iconic. I wanted to channel those things when I pitched.

Related: 22 Successful Entrepreneurs Share What Inspires Them to Keep Going

It worked. I came in first place. Microsoft gave us a $25,000 prize, and we generated great attention and new business. A few weeks later, I met Microsoft president Brad Smith. We spoke for a while; he congratulated me on my win and complimented me on my shoes. I asked if he’d sign them, and he was happy to.

Now every time I look at those shoes in my office, I am reminded that we can overcome any difficult situation and any challenge. All we need is to believe in ourselves — and most important, in our people.

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