Like most executives, he’s often found in business meetings discussing the latest plan to keep the company prospering. Marketing strategies, new product ideas and possible collaborations are all topics of discussion. Listening attentively, he takes out his Moleskine notebook. According to The Wall Street Journal, the notebook is always with him, even at the dinner table when he and his wife are out to eat. A businessman, it is easy to assume he’s recording notes, jotting down profit margins and planning out new ideas. In many ways, that is true, but the pages aren’t written on. Instead of meeting minutes, travel plans and/or mental reminders, they’re made up of doodles, sketches and shoe drawings because this is what is always on his mind. Though odd, it makes perfect sense considering he’s the CEO of Nike. Despite having never attended art school, 60 year old Mark Parker is a visionary both inside and outside the pages of his Moleskine notebook.
At its core, Parker’s journey to Nike began with a dream. Perhaps daydream is better fitting. While studying Political Science at Penn State University, Parker ran cross country and track. Competitive and a visionary, Parker became obsessed with creating the perfect running shoe. As his passion for design grew, he started experimenting with various rubbers and waffle patterns. In addition to drawing, he glued the materials on the bottoms of his Asics shoes hoping for faster times on his marathon runs. Never giving up hope for designing the perfect running shoe, Parker started sketching various designs on graph paper, a tradition he maintains today. Not long after graduation, he joined Nike as a footwear designer in the research and design center located in Exeter, New Hampshire. Less than 10 years later, he became the Division Vice President, eventually going on to become the General Manager, Vice President of Global Footwear and finally, CEO in 2006. In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, since Parker became CEO, Nike’s annual revenue is up 60 percent, profits have increased more than 50 percent and the brand’s market cap has more than doubled. It’s no wonder Parker was named Fortune’s 2015 Businessperson of the year. Ironically, he’s still into design just like he was during his college days, personally overseeing the brand’s emergence into the fashion industry, resulting in a larger range of high quality shoes.
Beyond his love for designing shoes, Parker is quite the art fanatic. His office, located in Beaverton, Oregon at the Nike headquarters looks and feels like an art gallery. In fact, there are more than 1,000 pieces of art in Parker’s office. The various collections, including everything from Murakami and Warhol to a framed insect collection to canvas art to Japanese robots to individual portraits of the avengers superheros to a painted cartoon of Abraham Lincoln by Mark Ryden. Having discovered his love for collecting art from childhood excursions with his grandmother, Parker loves being surrounded by large amounts of art as it provokes creativity.
“Being open and curious to the world through collaboration is a way to nourish and inspire our own creative culture,” he told Hypebeast, an online entertainment magazine. Admitting that he listens and perceives information better visually, Parker has as many art friends as he does athletes. “I’ve sketched since a young age,” he tells Designboom, a digital magazine for design and architecture. “…So there’s always been an artistic side, a visual side to my personality.” This is more than evident for anyone that’s visited or seen the CEO’s office eclectic office which has living goldfish built into a table showcasing more art, Parker’s sketches and photographs with friends and colleagues.
Part executive, part sports fanatic, part art collector and part designer, Mark Parker’s success is a result of a healthy balance between vision and collaboration. From the doodles in his notebook to his hour long discussions with athletes, Parker turns visions into products, designs into dollars and dreams into realities. Acknowledging the fickle changes that come along with sportswear, Parker focuses on the bigger picture and the larger vision. “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,” he tells The Wall Street Journal. This same tension occurs between his doodles (often done in financial meetings) and the return in dollars. Beyond the tension though, are visions after visions brought to light and shared with the world. And anyone familiar with the Nike brand knows, the products are visions that the world loves.