Patrik Nilsson, President of adidas North America
Last Friday I attended an interview with Patrik Nilsson, President of adidas North America, in one of a continuing series of “Power Breakfasts” organized by the Portland Business Journal. I had heard of these events before, but had never actually been to one, and therefore was not sure exactly what to expect. I was interested in learning more about adidas though, and so decided to go check it out. In the end, what I got out of the event was a thought provoking idea or two, both things that I could apply to how I look at companies, and also how I view my own potential as a job candidate (more on that in a bit).
The event was held in the fancy Governor Hotel in downtown Portland, and was very well attended. I had been told that these events are often good networking opportunities, but what surprised me somewhat was that most of the other attendees seemed to be from companies not related in any way to the footwear industry. I spoke with a local banker who said that he simply liked the adidas brand and their products, and that is why he was there. Mostly, I seemed to meet folks who came for the breakfast, and to hear an interesting conversation.
….And an interesting conversation it was. Once the early morning mingling died down and everyone had taken their seats, Craig Wessel, Publisher at the Portland Business Journal invited Patrik Nilsson to the stage, and proceeded with a lively and informative interview. Patrik Nilsson’s personal background itself was fascinating enough (originally from Sweden, played hockey and dreamed of making it into the NHL when he was younger, never graduated from university, but has now been President of adidas North America since 2007). What really interested me though was what Nilsson had to say about a company’s brand and identity.
Quoting the Harvard Business Review, he said there are 4 things that successful companies tend to have in common:
1: They have a vision.
2: They have a clear values system.
3: Have a BHG (a Big Hairy Goal).
4: Finding a position in the marketplace that they can defend over time.
To explain a little more, having a vision is important because it gives the company a direction, and a framework for what the company would like to accomplish. A clear values system is important because it communicates internally to employees and externally to customers what the company stands for, and helps to define the company’s culture. More specifically, Nisson said, people like to work for companies that they feel have integrity, this can be one of the best ways to instill trust and loyalty among employees. A Big Hairy Goal (also known by some as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal), is something that gives the company a target to strive for, and hopefully fits with the overall company vision. The words hairy and audacious point to the fact that this goal should not be something that is simple and straightforward, but something that will take time, effort, and creativity to accomplish, with payoffs to the company along the way. The fourth point, finding a position that you can defend over time, is about differentiating yourself and doing something that no other company can do as well as you.
The Portland Timbers and adidas support local youth soccer programs
How might adidas fit into each of these points? Nilsson himself did not directly answer point by point, but he did reference values of the company, such as efforts toward more sustainable business practices, as well as support community outreach such as youth soccer programs. For a vision and BHG, he mentioned the goal of becoming the world’s leading sports apparel company (which in Portland certainly qualifies as an audacious goal, given a certain industry-leading competitor located just across the river).
While these four points may be easily related to companies, reflecting on them made me think that they can just as easily be applied to individuals. Maybe it’s just that I’m in full job search mode right now, so I can’t help but think along the lines of stating my goals, and how these four points can serve as a nice framework for a job candidate in articulating the direction that they would like to move.
Using myself as an example:
I have a vision of global corporations as drivers of more equitable business practices, and that make decisions with all stakeholders and externalities taken into consideration.
My values are that I believe businesses can and should be more than organizations that seek only thin financial profits, and I want to work for a company that sees the value in its natural, human, and financial capital.
My BHG: To help bring about industry-wide changes for footwear and apparel companies, to make it the first industry that has zero (yes, you heard me), zero impact on the environment, while working to increase profits of the companies themselves.
Position I can defend over time (what is something that I can do better than anyone else?): I have been following a personal interest in materials and manufacturing for footwear and apparel, I have work experience and language proficiency in two countries, Japan and China, that have and will continue to be major players in the design and manufacture of footwear and apparel. I want to use these experiences and knowledge to work toward my goal and my vision.
That’s my simple attempt at articulating the direction that I would like to take my career, and what I have to offer. Whether it’s for an individual, or an organization, establishing a framework and a direction can give a much needed sense of purpose to what you do.
So these were thoughts that I was left with as I walked away from the Power Breakfast the other day. Would I recommend these events to other MIM students as networking opportunities? Not necessarily, but you never know who you might meet at business events around town. If however, you are looking for thought provoking talks with dynamic and influential leaders, the Portland Business Journal does a good job of inviting fascinating individuals in the local business community, and Patrik Nilsson is a great example of this. Definitely check out their list of upcoming talks, and find one that interests you.
In the meantime, try thinking about how you would answer the four points above. What are your career goals? What direction would you like to point yourself in? Which companies do you feel best fit your own values? And what is your BHG?
Josh is a full-time student in the Master of International Management program. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in Japanese, he taught English in Tokyo for 3 years, before moving to China and teaching at a university in the city of Zhengzhou. Inspired by his experiences in Japan and China, he was drawn to the MIM program because of its regional focus on Asia, as well as for Portland State University’s reputation as a leader in the field of sustainable business. He is studying Chinese in the MIM program, but tries to keep up his Japanese whenever he can.