Sneakers are not exactly sexy, but Nike has built its reputation on turning the workhorses of the sports world into status symbols. That tradition, begun by founder Phil Knight, continues with Mark Parker, 51, the company's third ceo, whose Nike indoctrination started not in the boardroom but in the design trenches. He played an integral part in the birth of the Nike Air series, a line of athletic shoes that secured Nike's place in the industry and continues to define the company. That success inspired him to establish the company's first R&D labs, now legendary for marrying the latest in technological innovation with the gotta-have-it styles and trends dominating pop culture.
Last year Parker launched Nike+, an innovative line of running shoes that synchs with the iPod to log data on time, distance and calories burned with every workoutnot to mention motivational messages from the likes of Lance Armstrong.
Retaining the edgy attitude that set the company apart gets harder each year, but Parker, a product geek, makes sure he and his staff tap into all possible sources of inspiration and innovation. During his travels, Parker is as likely to engage graffiti artists as he is engineers, all of whom he believes qualify as the "influencers of the influencers" of today's consumer. To promote such out-of-the-box mingling back at Nike's Beaverton, Ore., headquarters, he created Explore, the company's version of a think tank. Explore is charged with the long-range mission of finding new waysand new placesto affix the familiar Swoosh. For now, the company is expanding its women's fitness lines and eyeing the burgeoning markets in China and India. Daunting challenges, yes, but Parker's philosophy, not surprisingly, is, Just Do It.
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