Business Insider Edition

Nike's new CEO reveals how the company decides when to take a stand on social issues — and when to stay quiet

Shoshy Ciment , Business Insider US
 Feb 10, 2020, 02:46 PM
Donahoe became Nike's CEO on January 13.
  • Nike CEO John Donahoe has a strategy for how the leading sportswear company gets involved in social issues.
  • In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Donahoe explained the process behind brand-led campaigns - like Nike's infamous Colin Kaepernick ad - that involve speaking out on current issues.
  • "We will always lead with the athlete's voice," Donahoe explained in the interview.
  • Donahoe, formerly the president and CEO of eBay, took over the role of Nike's CEO in January, following Mark Parker's 13 years of tenure in that role.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

For better or worse, Nike is known for making statements when it comes to social issues.

The company debuted a 2018 ad campaign centered on Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player who publicly refused to stand for the national anthem before games in protest of racism and discrimination in America. In 2017, Nike released a campaign that highlighted racial equality in terms of sports and the world at large.

The company's decision to comment and engage with social issues isn't generally made on a whim. Nike's newly minted CEO John Donahoe said that there is a strategy behind choosing which issues to promote - and which issues to ignore entirely.

"We will always lead with the athlete's voice," Donahoe said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal when asked how he plans to decide to weigh on which social issues the company should support.

Donahoe, formerly the president and CEO of eBay, took over the role of Nike's CEO in January, following Mark Parker's 13 years of tenure in that role. Parker stepped down from his role following two major controversies at Nike including a gender discrimination lawsuit and allegations of abuse from a Nike runner Mary Cain.

"The simple mind-set I would have is to be guided by what is good for our consumer, good for our athletes, good for our company," Donahoe told the Wall Street Journal about how he will approach social activism through his brand. He offered the example of sustainability, explaining how global climate change, while an important issue for the world at large, is also directly impacting the athletic world.

"Our athletes care about that and some of the innovation around sustainability," Donahoe said.

When it comes to staying quiet on larger issues, Donahoe said that if matters don't relate to the company's core focus, it is unlikely that Nike will make a statement on it.

"Everyone is welcome to have their opinions on a variety of issues, including employees, consumers and others," Donahoe said. "But our job is to help make our mission come to life: making sport a daily habit."

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