When you think about sports companies, which come to mind? Adidas, right? It was founded in 1949. And how about Nike, circa 1969? For sure. But when the data was crunched for LinkedIn’s U.S. list of Top Attractors, the companies where people want to work now, only one showed up: Under Armour, founded by Kevin Plank a scant ten years ago. (For the record, both Adidas and Nike showed up on the global list of Top Attractors.) But there can be no doubt, Under Armour is the powerful new kid on the block. At its launch, the sole workers were Plank, then a recent college grad, and his girlfriend at the time (and now wife) answering the phone. “The phone would ring in the middle of the night and we would be writing orders from California half asleep at 4 a.m.,” Plank told me. Now he’s got about 14,000 employees, but it appears his dedication (and from the sound of it, his hours) have not waned. I talked to him about what he thinks makes his company such a hot place for jobseekers.
Suzy: Busy times for Under Armour. And you’ve just had your 24th consecutive quarter of 20% -plus top line growth.
Kevin: Very busy. But hearing about being on the Top Attractors list was a huge honor for us too, because there’s nothing more gratifying than hearing that people want to be part of what you’re doing. I firmly believe that people don’t work for companies, they work for people. And being on this list is affirmation that our people are on fire. We’re winning, and they’re feeling loved and cared for, and they’re loving and caring for each other.
SW: Less than three minutes in, and you’re mentioning love?
KP: You have to love the brand. You have to really love it, what it stands for, what the company values, the way it does things. We have that. Our teammates — we never use the word “employee” — love our brand and our products. And then, as an individual, you have to feel loved. So, yes, it sort of starts and ends with love. But there’s the critical dynamic of winning. People like being on winning teams. It’s that simple. When you’re winning, you’re creating a dynasty. If we weren’t winning, it wouldn’t be as exciting to work here.
SW: Talk about why you think you’re winning.
KP: We have a culture of people who feel like they own the company, whether they have equity or not. When they leave at night, they turn the lights off. Not because it’s a rule, but because they want to. They feel like this is their company. And we’ve got a company that understands that perfection is the enemy of innovation. We have great competitors in our space with much more resources. We can’t be intimidated. I don’t want our people working harder. They have to work smarter. People get that – and it inspires them. They understand that our job is to see around corners and think about what’s next. We used to have 20 engineers. Today we have 300. And all of us have to be asking, “What if Amazon and Apple get into the shirt and shoe business?”
SW: I’ve heard you say you run the company with three questions. What are they?
KP: More like three statements after every conversation or meeting. “This is what I heard.” “This is what I think.” And, “This is what we’re going to do.” I encourage all our managers to use that approach. It’s about making sure people’s voices are heard. Did I hear you? Did I understand your meaning? And then, clarity. My view on your opinion is the following, and therefore my actions will be the following. Everyone must have a voice, and everyone deserves clarity. Those things increase performance, satisfaction, and speed.
SW: You celebrate a lot around Under Armour. Why?
KP: We have a lot to celebrate! But it’s more than that. It’s a way to spread the culture and to get cohesive around our future. We just hosted Armour Day, it’s like our MAC week. We have 14,000 teammates, 6,000 of us in Baltimore. We opened up our warehouse and had an epic rally. Jordan Spieth showed up and gave away a set of clubs to a young fan; Tom Brady and Lindsey Vonn took the stage; the choir from the local Baptist church brought down the house, and we closed the show with Kid Rock. That’s a pretty good party. And it’s a party with a purpose. We’re building corporate citizens here. It’s all part of the excitement about now and the future, and making sure Under Armour is the best place to work in the world, period.
SW: Can you keep up that kind of intensity?
KP: Absolutely. Which isn’t to say it’s always going to be growth upon growth.
We make big bets. Sometimes we’ll win, sometimes we trip a little bit. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to give it all we’ve got. Like I was telling the team the other day, “I don’t have to be right. I just want to win.” It doesn’t have to be my idea. I just want the best idea. And then the team will bring it to life.