Mark Parker was the Chairman, President & CEO of NIKE, Inc. His business expertise earned him the title of ‘Business Person of the Year’ in 2015 by Fortune. Parker’s focus on innovation led the way for Nike Air and other industry-changing breakthroughs in product design.
Blue Ribbon Sports was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman, a track-and-field coach at the University of Oregon, and his former student Phil Knight. They opened their first retail outlet in 1966 and introduced the Nike brand shoe in 1972. The company was later renamed Nike, Inc., in 1978 and now is amongst one of the world’s top brands.
When we think of the iconic brand that Nike has grown into, we instantly think of a few names behind the brand’s success. Amongst them, Mark Parker is one that stands out.
Parker joined the company in 1979 and ever since has taken the brand to new heights while working relentlessly to achieve higher standards. With Parker as the Chief Executive, the annual revenue (including footwear and sports apparel) has doubled, from $15 billion to $30.6 billion. The share price has risen sixfold, from $21 in January 2006 to $34.8 in 2020.
Guided by innovation and creativity, Parker said, “When you work in a culture that thrives on innovation and is constantly moving into unchartered territory, you’re going to hit dead ends. But to be successful over the long term, remember what you’ve learned and moved on from it quickly.”
Parker joined Nike soon after college and has grown with the brand. He had the task of designing sneakers when he first joined. Since it was merely a start-up back then, Parker was not only drawing shoes but juggling various responsibilities that entailed checking the leather, helping out with marketing campaigns, trying new ways to boost sales. In an interview with WSJ, Parker revealed that he did it all back then, “Conceptualizing, creating. putting it on an athlete, getting all that feedback, and then modifying. The whole process was a very tight loop.”
Parker thinks it is vital to keep innovating and trying new things. According to him, it is crucial to allow himself the space to be, “a wacky creative, to go off and not have any regard for commercial sensibility. And I think that’s OK sometimes. You have to untie those limitations and let it fly and then see where it goes.” He recognizes that his designers, technologists, and engineers also need that space. “You don’t want to be having a conversation or an idea tethered to a brief that is all about volume and commercials…. If there is something truly out there and game-changing and it’s going to disrupt much of our current formula or approach, people can become quite uncomfortable, and that’s a trap. One of my biggest sources of angst is having people so comfortable with a formula that works that they are not challenging themselves or their ideas.”
In 2001, Parker got the President’s position that instantly put him in the spotlight. In 2004, everyone was expecting Parker to be named the new CEO to replace Knight, but he lost the prize to William Perez, the first outsider to run Nike Inc. A year later Parker added another feather in his hat when Knight handpicked him to become the new CEO of Nike after Perez left the position citing differences with Knight.
Before becoming the CEO of Nike, he served as Co-President of the Nike brand beginning in March 2001. He also participated in shoe design and found himself creatively drawn to the process. He created and designed the Nike HTM project of limited edition footwear alongside Nike designer Tinker Hatfield and creative consultant Hiroshi Fujiwara.
During his reign at Nike, he made some drastic changes for the better. He put Nike on the path of sustainability, ensuring that the brand would remain environmentally conscious. After ten years of work, Parker and his team launched the first “Green Shoe” that adheres to sustainability principles. He is also the brains behind some of the other distinguished brands in Nike’s portfolio, including Converse Inc. and Hurley International.
In 2015, Fortune named him Business Person of the Year to award him for his exceptional flair in business. Parker’s legacy also includes the procuring of patents, 500 of which the company landed in 2015 under his innovative gaze.
Parker also significantly boosted the brand’s image by getting famous athletes onboard from Christiano Ronaldo’s likes to great legend Kobe Bryant who recently passed away last year. He made sure to create long-lasting relations with each of the athletes that went beyond just business.
“He’s a mentor of mine,” says Kobe Bryant, who receives a reported $15 million per year from Nike. “I go to Mark with all kinds of things. I can bend his ear on anything. He’s a pretty damn busy man but he takes the time to sit down with me.”
Parker has now passed the torch onto Donahoe, in his resignation speech he said,
“[Donahoe] ’s expertise in digital commerce, technology, global strategy and leadership combined with his strong relationship with the brand, make him ideally suited to accelerate our digital transformation and to build on the positive impact of our Consumer Direct Offense.”
Parker’s success with the brand has set a good start for Donahoe and also opens the doors for even more exploration within digital retail under his new reign. Parker’s Nike journey wasn’t all that easy, with several ups and downs, but he always found a way out of it with creative strategies and charisma to charm his audience.
Mark Parker said, “Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from, or who you love, everyone’s individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole.”
He used his employee’s experiences to make Nike a brand that motivates and pushes people to be the best that they can. And that is one of the reasons why it is the legendary brand that is today.
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