Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Carroll School of Management

Mark Parker

President and Chief Executive Officer, NIKE, Inc.

Excerpt from remarks to Boston College’s Chief Executives’ Club of Boston

May 1, 2014

TAKEAWAY: Inspiration to Innovation

For the last four decades, we have nurtured this passion for working with the athlete, for listening to the athlete, as we say, to the voice of the athlete. The voice keeps telling us to innovate. It’s really driving those insights that fuel that innovation. It’s what we would call our rudder in the water.

The process of helping athletes be the best that they can be really puts us in a position to fulfill our own potential. You know, many of the athletes we work with are really the best at what they do. 

And people often ask me, Are the athletes (Nike athletes) just high-priced billboards for the swoosh? And the answer I’ve always given is an emphatic no. Nike athletes are some of the world’s best experts out there. They know their sports. They understand the demands on their bodies and know their equipment and what it needs to do.

Sometimes this understanding seems almost beyond what’s humanly possible. I’ll give you an example. We were testing a new driver with Tiger Woods. We had sent him eight samples of the driver and asked him which one he preferred. He said the heavy one. There was only one small problem. They all weighed the same—or at least, according to our club designers, they weighed the same. 

But this was Tiger Woods, so we decided to reweigh them. And in fact one of the clubs was actually heavier, but not by much—in fact by one gram. And one gram is about the weight of a dollar bill. So it just shows you the sensitivity that the athletes have to their equipment. It’s incredible. And their desire to have something that works for them pushes us to reach our own potential. And to me that’s one of the things I love about what we do.

You know, in games where there’s a gram or a fraction of an inch or a hundredth of a second that can really spell the difference between being a champion or being an afterthought, it’s that sort of precise, one-of-a-kind feedback that really ensures that the innovations stay real and really serve a purpose. 

When you work with athletes that are as demanding as Tiger Woods, you don’t just innovate for the sake of change. You innovate to change the outcome. And because our athletes demand that we get it right, it keeps us focused on what’s essential and really what matters. Yet, in turn, propels us to develop products that are authentic and that allow us to connect with consumers in a real meaningful way.