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Leadership During Crises by Nike’s CEO John Donahoe

In this episode of the Masters of Scale: Rapid Response, host Bob Sapien, former editor of Fast Company and founder of The Flux Group talks about wartime leadership with guest John Donahoe, the president and CEO of Nike, and former chairman of The Business Council US.

John explains his journey as CEO that began almost just as the pandemic did and how he has navigated that and the different duties of being a CEO and how the company evolved through this challenging time. He narrates how when he became the CEO, his first plan was to learn more and more about the brand and to understand and listen to its people. So, with the purpose of consumer behavior research, he went to China. But a lockdown situation was soon implemented and consequently people started working from home. He explained that initially it felt like the problem existed only in China and not in other places but then the situation grew more grave and countries around the world were being affected like Europe, then America, followed by Asia, Latin America and slowly the whole world was affected. It was a pandemic.

During such a challenging time, the usual methods and the usual mindset failed. It was soon understood that there was a need for change. A change in the mindset to shift from peacetime mentality to wartime mentality. And wartime leadership understands that, it is absolutely necessary to be equipped for the worst possible situation. Besides, the closure of the retail market led to a drastic increase in online shopping. Donahoe explains how a new need arose, to create a new kind of shopping experience that was almost solely online. The CEO applauds the Nike team saying they did a phenomenal job and kept the momentum going despite facing the toughest of challenges amid the ravaging pandemic.

He considers the Nike website, mobile application and activity apps like Nike Training Club and Nike Run Club to be responsible for the overall digital growth rate of 80% during the last year. He spoke about how Nike continued to pay their retail store warriors for three months when stores were closed, took care of their safety as they came back to work and in return the store athletes demonstrated amazing work, flexibility and resilience. The duo further talk about Nike’s Consumer Direct Offense (CDO) strategy – how they provide direct retail experience, end-to-end digital experience, and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs coming out of the pandemic. They also discuss leadership challenges and what the role of a CEO should be in crisis times like the current, apart from running an enterprise. Donahhoe also talks about Nike’s powerful purposes, focused on equity equality, racial justice and social justice and how their elite athletes, employees and consumers are committed to, and continue to care for the same during the pandemic.

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