Under Armour isn’t dwelling in the past. Founder and CEO Kevin Plank made this clear in a recent interview with LinkedIn editor-in-chief Daniel Roth, discussing the company’s “rebound year” following 2017’s layoffs, sluggish growth and missteps in the face of competition from heavyweights like Adidas and Nike. “That’s the good news about business — we’re living life in the windshield,” said Plank. “The rearview mirror is for everybody else.” To that end, he shed some light on how the company is learning from past mistakes and what it’s doing to improve for the road ahead.
1. Fix processes and structure without losing its entrepreneurial spark
Plank pointed to Under Armour’s rapid growth from a small, scrappy organization to a corporation with more than 15,000 employees as one cause of its recent struggles. He compared the company to “a small, family-owned pizzeria” that woke up one day as Domino’s. “People don’t really love Domino’s,” said Plank. “It’s Domino’s job to make you love them, and they have to work that much harder by implementing the upgrades and making sure that the stores are fresh and the drivers are there.” For Under Armour, that has meant reorganizing its leadership, upgrading systems and aligning calendars across the organization, while still keeping the spirit of the brand intact.
2. Redefine what it means to win
Plank has a motivational mantra on a whiteboard in his office that says, “I don’t have to be right, I just want to win.” But in the past, he said, “I think we allowed other people to define that.” Going forward, “we’re saying: We’re going to make the best company. We want to be a company that truly takes care of our consumer — that inspires little girls and little boys. That makes them feel like they can do anything.”
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3. Do well to do good
“Every brand is going to be defined beyond what they do for their shareholders and what they do in their product,” said Plank. “I think it’ll extend into what is the brand — particularly consumer-facing brands — what are you doing for your community?” Giving back to local neighborhoods in Baltimore, Md., is a key initiative for the company, though he added that “the best thing Under Armour can do for Baltimore is to stay in business,” expand the local tax base and attract talent to the city. Ultimately, he said, he hopes the brand will be Baltimore’s first Fortune 500 company.
4. Know the consumer
Under Armour calls its customer the “focus performer,” which Plank says isn’t “a demo or an age or a gender; it’s a mindset.” For 2018 and beyond, the company plans to renew its focus on this consumer, looking globally to markets like China and leveraging data to deliver the best product. “Our competition is really good, but we’re really good, too,” he said. “And we just need to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to demonstrate our best selves in the marketplace.”