Under Mark Parker, the iconic sneaker maker flexes technology as a performance edge. He thinks there's room to be even more aggressive.
It is a truism, and always has been, that every company is a technology company. Beyond the cliché of the assertion, every business that succeeds embraces the technology available to it. Leaders that embrace it better, more aggressively, and more creatively tend to be the winners. My own organization, for example, thrived when its co-founder, Henry Luce, prodded his printer to deploy the latest technology, heatset printing, so Time Inc. could publish a new, glossy magazine called Life. That was in the 1930s.
There are many reasons sneaker maker Nike NKE is one of the best companies in the world and also why Fortune has named Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker, its Businessperson of the Year. Nike’s use of technology is one of those reasons, and I describe how Nike embraces technology in a cover story in the new issue of Fortune.
Though it doesn’t disclose specific numbers, Nike spends heavily on technology. It noodles on ways to measure athletic performance, the use of lasers and additive manufacturing to make shoes, and completely new forms of fabric, like its lightweight Flyknit weave. Nike is opening an Advanced Product Creation Center on its Beaverton, Ore., campus, a building devoted to tinkering with new technologies.
It even is expanding the type of partners it works with. Nike recently partnered with Flex, the electronics contract manufacturer, in part to help its other partners learn new manufacturing techniques. Nike Chief Operating Officer Eric Sprunk told me Flex already has been collaborating with an existing Nike contract manufacturer in Southeast Asia. One goal: dramatically reduce waste in the manufacturing process.
For any company that sells anything, one big technology opportunity remains e-commerce. Nike recently forecasted that its “digital” sales should increase from $1 billion to $7 billion by 2020. I was surprised to learn Nike.com doesn’t operate in Canada yet but will soon. “We’re in the early stages of our dot-com geographical expansion,” CEO Parker told me during an interview in his art-strewn office. “I think as aggressive as we are, as we’ve talked about being in dot-com, there’s room to get even more aggressive.”
An even more aggressive Nike has to be a frightening prospect for its competitors.
This article first appeared in the daily Fortune newsletter Data Sheet. Subscribe here for a daily dose of analysis from Adam Lashinsky and a curation of the day’s technology news from Heather Clancy.