Mark Parker Awarded Brand Innovator of the Year from WSJ. Magazine

WSJ. Magazine hosted its fifth annual Innovator Awards at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City earlier this month. Seven trailblazing talents, all of whom are featured in the magazine’s November issue, were honored amongst more than 200 guests for their groundbreaking accomplishments in their respective disciplines.

Mark Parker, CEO and president of Nike, was awarded Brand Innovator of the Year. Tom Sachs presented Parker with the award.

In his interview, Parker – who is credited with doubling Nike’s revenue since taking the reigns as CEO in 2006 – talks about balancing short-term results and long-term investments; a memorable visit to Apple with Steve Jobs; and how innovation is at the core of Nike’s culture.


How his grandmother’s thirst for knowledge influenced him: “She would take me on walks through the woods and point out plants and say what phylum and species. She was a huge influence. At Nike, we have a set of guiding principles, and one of those was directly inspired by her, and that’s ‘Be a sponge,’ soak in everything around you. Look deeply. Observing is really the fuel to innovating, ultimately.”

Balancing short-term results with long-term innovation: “It’s kind of like choreography. You run into ‘us versus them,’ and people saying, ‘I have a better idea’ or ‘Not invented in this department, so no.’ Innovation is the center of our culture, so we can deal with those things pretty effectively and naturally through that lens. But it’s always a balancing act. There is this magnetic pull to focus more on the short term, the immediate, the quarter-to-quarter. And then there’s a sense of, f— that, we are going to go out here and really create the future. And we need to do both. I have to live that tension.”

Allowing himself to be a… “wacky creative, to go off and not have any regard for commercial sensibility. And I think that’s OK sometimes. You have to untie those limitations and let it fly and then see where it goes.”

Encouraging a culture of innovation at Nike: “You don’t want to be having a conversation or an idea tethered to a brief that is all about volume and commercials…. [I]f there is something truly out there and game changing and it’s going to disrupt much of our current formula or approach, people can become quite uncomfortable, and that’s a trap. One of my biggest sources of angst is having people so comfortable with a formula that works that they are not challenging themselves or their ideas.”

His conversation with Steve Jobs about why Apple doesn’t have a museum, influencing Parker’s decision not to have one at Nike: “What I got back was, ‘Well, we are more focused on the future,’ Past is past.”

Selected by WSJ. Magazine editors, the additional honorees were: Richard Serra (Art); Thomas Heatherwick (Design); Angelina Jolie Pitt(Entertainment/Film); Miuccia Prada (Fashion); Karl Ove Knausgaard (Literature); and Stewart Butterfield (Technology). Each winner was presented with an award designed by the 2011 Design winner Joris Laarman.