Nike CEO, Mark Parker, is featured in Fast Company’s September edition cover story, “The World’s Most Creative CEO.” It chronicles Parker’s internal rise to Nike’s chief executive and his recipe for success by using “elite athletes, artists, and his own shoe designs to drive a $34 billion business.”
Parker is not a household name outside of Nike and the sports industry, compared to co-founder and chairman, Phil Knight. Knight was CEO for almost 40 years until he stepped down in 2004, when he brought in an outsider from S.C. Johnson, William Perez, to replace him. Perez lasted only 18 months before hanging up his cleats, saying that the culture at Nike was too difficult. That’s when Nike turned to Parker, a long-time Nike executive and über footwear designer.
Parker came to Nike in 1979 as a product designer and footwear tester. It wasn’t long before executives realized his talent in creating some of the most memorable and profitable Nike shoe products in the company’s history. His creations have adorned some of the globe’s most celebrated athletes, including John McEnroe, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant – a veritable “cobbler to the gods” as described by Fast Company.
An avid marathoner himself, Mark Parker knows a thing or two about athletes and footwear. Most important, he brings a creative mind to the CEO role, which he continues to nurture every day. According to the article, he “regularly hosts dinners for about 25 artist friends to just talk and kick around ideas.”
It’s no surprise that Parker stays laser-focused on Nike’s design and R&D work. He frequents the company’s secretive “Innovation Kitchen” sessions, an internal think tank of sorts, “where athletic ambition, art, and a bit of mad science are cooked into the stuff that made Nike the dominate player in sports shoes and apparel.”
Parker also spends a lot of time and attention on sustainability and cutting product waste. And, Parker recently outlined some pretty big goals of increasing sales by 40 percent by 2015. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but stretch goals and competing hard are nothing new for a company which aligns itself with world class athletes and sports.
If you want a little insight into what makes this successful corporate executive tick, take a look at his choice for the new company mission statement nine years ago: “To bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world.”
Since becoming CEO, Parker has also developed nine “maxims” that he wants to serve as guiding principles at Nike. His favorite is No. 6, “Be a sponge. Curiosity is life. Assumption is death.” Parker says that was one his grandmother taught him.
Parker’s approach demonstrates that curiosity and a hearty appetite for creativity are a powerful combo for Nike — and for any other company seeking to compete and win.