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Jobs Watch: Nike boots, scores

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Ben Jacklet
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nike is hiring again in Beaverton after a turbulent recessionary run punctuated by a 5% downsizing last May. The company has posted openings in information technology, operations, human resources, communications and the House of Hoops, has just hired a new Chief Learning Officer and is sprinting into a new fiscal year with momentum and focus.

Nike's interactive ad on a 30-story building in Johannesburg allows fans to submit personal messages to their favorite World Cup players.

The Nike effect in Oregon starts with jobs but it reaches far beyond that. With more than $19 billion in annual global revenues, deep connections to the state’s creative services, financial and legal sectors and a steady churn of departing executives seeking their fortunes through creative start-ups (not to mention the vast philanthropic efforts of Phil Knight), Nike is probably Oregon’s most important business. So it was refreshing to hear CEO Mark Parker piling on the inspirational sports clichés about competitive fire and thriving on strong competition during yesterday’s fiscal year 2010 earnings call.

“Our business is accelerating while our competitors weaken,” Parker told analysts with typical bravado.

Sports clichés do not generally serve corporate leaders well, especially the proverbial boast that this or that initiative is "game changing." But if anyone has a right to sound like a high school coach when addressing Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, it's Parker. He is, after all, running the largest sports business in the world. Since taking over for the underwhelming William Perez in 2006, Parker has reinvigorated the Nike brand and led the company deep into under-tapped markets, first China and now Mexico and Brazil. Just prior to yesterday’s earnings call, he was in South Africa for the World Cup, and he pointedly referred to the world’s most popular sport as football, not soccer. He also pointed out that Nike, once an also-ran in non-American football, has become a dominant force, with revenues in that business up 35% before the World Cup kicked into gear with the jaw-dropping Nike ad produced by Wieden+Kennedy that has generated 16 million-plus online hits.

Other promising trends for Nike:

  • Future orders in China are up 19% and projected to exceed $1.7 billion over the coming year. Phil Knight first ventured to China in 1980, 21 years before the country was allowed into the World Trade Organization.
  • Orders in emerging markets led by Brazil are up 30%.
  • Online sales topped $260 million, up 27%, including $100 million for the Nike id app.

Perhaps most importantly, Charlie Denson, president of the Nike brand, said yesterday, “We enter the new fiscal year with clean inventories.” That means the discounts and sales are over, and Nike’s heading back to the prices that have built it into a $19 billion company.

“We’re stronger financially than we’ve ever been,” Parker said.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Nike’s strengthened position will lead to more hiring in Oregon. The company has a long ways to go to replace the jobs eliminated in 2009. But it is hiring, and that is good news for the state.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor for Oregon Business.

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