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VIP: Conversation with Nike’s head of Global Women’s Fitness, Heidi O’Neill

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Friday, June 01, 2007
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PHOTO BY ADAM BACHER

ViP

Heidi O’Neill

Head of Nike’s Global Women’s Fitness

Heidi O’Neill built her career by avoiding the shrink-and-pink approach to women’s athletics.

Shrink and pink is industry-speak for taking a men’s product, changing the size and color palette and marketing it to women. O’Neill prefers products designed to meet a woman’s needs, from extra shock absorbers in shoes to sports bras for active moms.

As head of Nike’s Global Women’s Fitness category, O’Neill leads a team focused exclusively on active females. Developing products tailored for the consumer seems deceptively simple; O’Neill and her team talk to women about their workouts and the importance of sports in their life. They take that information back to Nike’s lab, where researchers examine products from every angle.

“The fact that my team and I get to spend all day, every day thinking just about women is empowering,” she says. Nike’s role as an athletic wear juggernaut attracted her to Beaverton in 1998. “It’s an incredibly inspirational environment,” says O’Neill.

After working her way up to vice president of U.S. apparel, O’Neill, who is 42, was promoted to lead Global Women’s Fitness in January. The division conceives, designs and markets everything women need for running, yoga class or the dance studio.

O’Neill plans to use her new position to further connect with Nike’s consumers, even if it means following them into the gym. 

“I’ve been preparing for this job since I was 5,” O’Neill says. Growing up in northern Michigan, she skied, played tennis and swam competitively throughout her childhood. She also learned the retail business while working at Portside Sports, her parents’ sporting goods store.

Of course, walking past a perfectly groomed soccer field on the way to a meeting, planning a trip to Casablanca to oversee a women’s marathon or meeting some of the biggest names in sports — ever heard of Maria Sharapova? — are worlds away from stringing tennis rackets in the back of your parents’ store.

O’Neill sums it up: “I have the best job on the planet.”

— Colleen Moran


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