Nike’s CEO a creative at heart

Nike’s CEO Mark Parker turned his teenage passion for shoe modifications into a creative shoe design job, and eventually rose to the top of his profession.

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Nike’s CEO Mark Parker began modifying his own shoes as a teenager, and followed his creativity to work his way up to CEO.

Parker still regularly supports creative endeavors, by commissioning blank-check art pieces and hosting artist dinners for networking and collaboration.

Obsession comes naturally to Parker. As a champion teenage marathoner, he routinely modified his own running shoes in search of better performance. Now, the designs he once called his “delicate creations” are so deeply embedded in the success of the company that he’s lost track of the number of patents he holds. One is for Visible Air technology, which he created as a side project; it helped catapult Nike out of the doldrums in the mid-’80s. John McEnroe, Kobe Bryant, Olympic athletes, and your high-school’s cross-country star — he’s shod them all. Bryant, fresh from the Lakers’ play-off victory and his MVP award in June, describes meeting Parker, then Nike copresident, in 2003 and watching him whip out his notebook to sketch while they talked. “I knew right from that that we were on the same page,” Bryant says. “He’s not doing things just for innovation’s sake. He truly wants to optimize my performance.”

Parker isn’t an attention-seeking sort of CEO, so until now it has been hard to get a sense of him. But the imprint he is making as CEO is turning out to be as meaningful as his design work. Putting his stamp on Nike as forcefully as the much splashier cofounder Phil Knight did, Parker has reorganized the company into units based on particular sports, “a conscious decision to sharpen each piece of the business so we’re not some big fat dumb company,” he says; reshuffled its regions to put new emphasis on China and Japan; streamlined the reporting process and removed regional middle management; handled a rare round of layoffs; and weathered yet another scandal involving a high-profile endorser. The company came out of the recent downturn with strong revenue numbers and earnings up 53% for the most recent quarter.

Read more at Fast Company.

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