Nike’s Angela Dong on Shanghai’s Lockdown & How Generation Alpha Is Taking Sport in China to a Whole New Level 

In our May “Women in Power” issue, six of Nike’s trailblazing execs at the center of the brand’s ambitious strategy sat down with FN for exclusive interviews to discuss their unique career paths, Nike’s 50th anniversary and lighting the path for the next generation. 

To understand Nike’s potential in China, Angela Dong offers this astounding stat: More than 200 million members of Generation Alpha — that is, kids who have been born since 2010 — participate in sports on a daily basis in the massive market.

“Young people are more active than ever,” said the VP/GM of Greater China. “More and more of them are embracing sports as a lifestyle. We’re really excited to see large momentum around health and fitness, especially after the pandemic outbreak. Greater China has a significant runway.”

The executive is firmly focused on the future, even as lockdowns in Shanghai and other key areas once again put the country at the center of COVID challenges.

Nike has acknowledged that its business forecast for fiscal Q4 continues to be dynamic. A small number of stores in Shanghai, Suzhou and Xi’an remain closed — and across the rest of China, the company is focusing on driving conversion rather than traffic in-store.

Online, the team is fueling activity through experiences, content and livestreams on its e-commerce platforms — all elements of its 2020 pandemic playbook for the entire company.

For Dong, the biggest priority is her team. “We’re putting our employees at the center of everything we do, just like we did in 2020,” she said.  During a time when most activity in Shanghai has come to a halt, Nike has delivered three care packages to each employee based in Shanghai — including office and retail staff — since the new lockdowns were implemented. “That shows the power of our logistics and operations, and demonstrated how much we are committed to caring for our teams,” said Dong, who got her start at Procter & Gamble before arriving at Nike in 2005.

Of her early career, Dong recalled, “It was an incredible learning experience at the top multinational company. In that role, I grew from a student to a professional manager. It not only provided me with a global perspective and holistic view of business, but also helped me to learn how to work and collaborate with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds.”

Like Proctor & Gamble, Nike has a long history in the market. And China is critical to the long-term growth strategy.

But it hasn’t been an easy road: In addition to pandemic-related challenges and supply chain woes, Nike (and several other major brands, from H&M to Adidas) faced backlash in China last year over their stance against using Xinjiang cotton due to alleged forced labor in the region.

Still, the market is showing signs of recovery: Greater China delivered $2 billion in revenue in Q3 alone. Though that was an 8% decrease from year-ago results on a currency-neutral basis, it was better than analysts predicted and gave them confidence that the tide has started to turn.

Through all the ups and downs, Dong has been a consistent innovator.

“Since we opened in 1981, our relationship with our communities has been unbreakable. But we’re not taking that for granted. We know we need a more disruptive set of strategies,” she said.

That starts with forging strong ties with the youth population that will be key to Nike’s future success.  “I personally always feel inspired working with Gen Z and younger people. They cherish diversity and inclusiveness. They pride themselves on being their authentic selves. They’re bold, they’re eager to do more and they always want to try something new,” Dong said.

Case in point: Street dance is the fastest-growing sport for Gen Z, according to Dong. There are now 10,000 registered street dance studios in greater China, and 20 billion people watched Season 3 of the reality show “Street Dance of China” in October 2020. “This generation will continuously expand the definition of sport,” she said.

With that in mind, the executive said that delivering locally relevant product is a key way to reach younger generations. “They are global citizens, but they are also proud of their heritage and communities,” Dong said. Nike also is connecting with its Chinese consumers through its Nike Membership Program on Alibaba’s Tmall platform. For example, during the Singles Day shopping period last November, Nike added 13 million new members, and was once again the top sports brand on the platform.

Outside of that powerful partnership, the team also is fueling growth through the Nike app and SNKRS. “Our consumers are engaged through social platforms, livestreams, e-commerce and digitally-enabled stores,” Dong said. “They demand the connected experience.”

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