When a couple of guys who liked to run founded the Blue Ribbon Sports Company in 1964, I’m sure they didn’t set out to create a mega-brand. They began with a simple need to make better track shoes. I haven’t found any prophetic stories about naming their company after the Greek Goddess of Victory – because at first, they didn’t. They named it after the simple goal of winning more track events. Perhaps it was this singular dedication to purpose that prophetically foreshadowed success that is rarely duplicated. Yes, I’m talking about Nike.
I’ve written about Nike before. In fact, I write about them more than I mean to….they just seem to keep coming up as an example of a company getting it right, at least reputationally speaking. It’s why they consistently appear in the top 20 of Fortune’s Most Admired List. It’s why their stock is at an all-time high, and it’s why everything they do – from making a shoe for a limping elephant, to signing the first openly gay pro athlete to a contract, makes headlines.
What does Nike know (and practice) that the rest of us don’t?
- Purpose is everything. It provides the courage to stand by your athletes during controversy, the inspiration to innovate and the power to change entire industries. And we aren’t talking about manufactured purpose designed to appeal to a certain set of stakeholders… authentic purpose that begins at the top. Maybe that is why their CEO gets a 90 percent approval rating from the employees.
- Leaders Go First, and they go BIG – Many great businesses have been built on the strategy of being a “fast follower.” Nike isn’t one of them. They create the future by marching boldly toward the future they define. That includes their approach to sustainability – of the planet, of society and of their business.
- Great companies have great stories. I know that storytelling is sort of a buzz word in our industry today. But check out this article from 2000 – yup, you read that right. It’s all about how Nike invests in corporate storytellers to create a culture, which ensures that the sense of purpose we discussed earlier lives on.
- Consistency, from the inside out. Nike’s approach to its employees is consistent with its approach to the world. They are noted as an LGBT-friendly company, and an LGBT-friendly sponsor. They live their values. They tell their stories.
- Simplicity rules. Nike has mastered the art of simplicity, in an increasingly complex world. Their discipline around branding, messaging and even decision-making is the stuff that B-school case studies are made of.
If you want a bullet proof reputation like the one Nike has earned, Just Do It. Enough said.