RBR Interview: 13 Questions with Phil McCartney, Global Running Product Director, Nike, by Larry Eder


Updated, 9:44 A.M. March 3, 2010


Phil McCartney, Nike Lunar Glide launch, April 2009, photo courtesy of Larry Eder's I-phone.

Phil McCartney is a native of Newcastle, England. Starting life as a footballer, he found a proper sport-athletics, early in life, and developed into quite the runner, running 14:00 for 5k on the roads. As he developed into a runner, he also developed a love for tinkering on running footwear. For someone like McCartney, who loves running, his job, as the Global Running Product Director at Nike, is the dream.

Phil McCartney is constantly reminded of the reality of his world. Managing the running product line for a twenty billion dollar company requires several skill sets. McCartney knows his product, is good at interviews, comfortable in press conferences, and proud of his team.

One final observation: The men and women who manage footwear and apparel are a rare breed. They love the good fight, and love to make great product. They also love to spar (you will understand that after reading this interview). I feel honored to know most of them, and am fascinated with how they respond to the interview process. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much I have enjoyed editing it!

RBR, 1:How did you get involved in the sport of running?

Phil McCartney: Like everyone in Newcastle I wanted to be a footballer so started playing young and played on the wing. After a few games for the school team, my old man (who was a talented miler when he was younger) suggested I should try running. I think it was his gentle way of telling me I was a rubbish footballer!

After a few minor wins at a local level my first real race was over 800m at Gateshead stadium. I was dead last but hooked. Running has subsequent opened up a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise have had. From racing in Europe for GB when I was a junior right up to what I do for a living now. I was never the most talented but worked and raced hard!

It’s strange to think now but one of the lads I first met back at our first club (Wallsend Harriers) when we were 9-10 years old is still my best mate. I think running has that effect.


Lunar Glide +, Spring 2010

RBR, 2: How did you get involved in developing running shoes?

Phil McCartney: I suppose my obsession with running footwear started when one of the older lads at the club gave me his old Nike “Flame” spikes to race in when I was about 10-11 years old. I took the pins out and slept in them the night before I raced, I loved those spikes and I really believed they made me faster! I started to get really into running shoes and spikes around then.

I then started working in a running store in Newcastle when I was 15. One of my jobs was to get info from all the tech reps from the brands and do demos for runners in the store (I used to drop eggs onto ASICS gel pads and bounce on big airsoles).

I studied sports science at uni and worked in a running store just off campus. I then took a job with Nike back in the UK after I finished my studies. My first job was to service all the running stores in the UK. I was given a bag of shoes and a car and told to "sort it out". A true baptism of fire, but my accounts were great and helped me learn the ropes.

From there, I ended up working more on the product side in the UK office, then in the European HQ in Holland. I moved to the US 4.5 years ago (Fritz Taylor gave me the chance).

I suppose it all goes back to those Flame spikes. I also only ever wanted to work for Nike (it’s a cliché, but in my case, really true!)


Lunar Elite +, Mens, Spring 2010

RBR, 3:Tell us about your team at Nike running?

Phil McCartney: I’m lucky that I get to work with a really talented group who also happen to be really nice people:

On my team there’s Kristie (Medak) who looks after what we call the Sport runners shoes. Kristie joined the group about 6 months ago and has an immediate impact. Look out for the work she’s doing on Shox for Fall 2011!

Then, there is Ernest (Kim), who looks after what we call the Active runner shoes-an example would be the Lunar Glide. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and comes up with really interesting ideas.

Next is Johnny (Truax), who looks after what we call the core runner shoes, such as the Pegasus and Structure Triax. No one knows running like Johnny, he’s is so connected and real, he’s always a good gut check on direction for the team.


Sanya Richard's Pegasus+26, (Nikeid.com)

There's Robin (Green), who looks after our competition shoes. Robin is also relatively new to the team and just like Kristie, has been a breathe of fresh air. Her ideas for our London line are outstanding and I’m excited about what those ideas can do for her line and category in general.

My boss is Bruce Connelly, who is really passionate about the Category and does a great job of moving everything out of the way so we can focus on making great shoes.

There’s a real spirit to the team and we all have a real focus on making sure everything we do is infused with the voice if the runner.

It’s a great mix and a great team. I really enjoy being around them all.

There is also a wider team that is to big to mention by name but we have folks like Dennis Haddad, "Frenchy" Phillipe Blanchard, Bret Schoolmeester, Brett Holts, Kevin Paulk, Cesar Garcia, Chris Cook, and Tom Redding, to name a few who are all involved in some way shape or form in making Nike Running as good as it can be. I’m sure I’m missing a few, but you get the idea. Lots of runners trying to be the best Nike Running can be.

RBR, 4: I watched Redding and your new track designer out a the BIG meet, checking out athletes and shoes, tell me about that?

Phil McCartney: It’s a key part of what we do, get out and talk (and more importantly, listen) to what runners are saying. Red is another one who does a ton with the local running community, which goes way over his job. He’s just really passionate about the sport as well as being really good at what he does (He’s in the process of setting up a club to compliment the Bowerman athletic club, which he set up, I think he’s calling it GHAC).

That runner’s voice is what we use as our inspiration for all of our shoes. As an example, in the next 6 weeks, we have all of the team going to meet with runners, both here in the USA and also in Europe. We’ll also be at both the Boston and London marathons collecting thoughts and feedback. That’s on top of the local races/events we get to. After the travel, we’ll get together and work out which insights we can use. We then get with the design, development and engineering teams to get started on the work. We’re using this next round to fine tune our thoughts on the Structure 15 and the Lunar Glide 3.

video of Nike Lunar Elite, October 2009, Nike Pr Summit, Phil McCartney speaks...

RBR, 5: Nike has gotten a lot of of resonance out of the Bowerman line, where is that going?

Phil McCartney: The Bowerman plan (which Tommy Carleo started, and Kevin Paulk drove, more recently) was really important to get us back in the game. It’s given us a really good platform from which to build with shoes like the Glide and Lunar Racer. The goal is for runners to be able to trust all the shoes in our line. I think we’re making really good progress to get there. We’ll maintain our focus on getting our core shoes to even better. (Like I say, we’re investing a lot of time and resources into the next Structure. We’re fired up about what that shoe is going to be!) We will, as well as, develop new elements of our line which we believe will be really trusted "go to" shoes in the future (Like the Glide and the Eclipse, to name two). Bottom line, we want to make really good shoes. We’ll use runner insights to do that.

On top of that, we want to make sure that we stay true to who we are as a running brand.

RBR, 6: The Lunar Glide, and now the Lunar Eclipse have been well received, tell us about those shoes?

Phil McCartney: Both of these shoes fall into the second zone of product mentioned above. They are both relatively new to our line. Both came from exhaustive global research trips focused on runners. Both are delivering new insights for runners, which we think are really relevant. Both have also been really well received by the industry. In both cases, we did a lot of engineering and testing. When we got the data, we knew we had something really exciting. As you know, the Lunar Glide was the first shoe to include Dynamic Support (a system that delivers the runner, run and foot specific support) and that idea is something we’ll continue to build on.

Both shoes also allowed us to think about what runners wanted rather than what the competition were doing.

It seems like all runners want to be inspired and motivated and are looking for relevant innovation. That meshes really well with us as a brand, generally and specifically, within our running category. Like I say, we’re really excited about the product we have loaded up.

RBR, 7. The Vomero is almost cult status with some of your users, why?

Phil McCartney: I know it is with you! The V5 is in the post! I think it’s based on the feel of the shoe. It’s really plush and surprisingly responsive (based on some very complex chemistry that I’d need Chris Cook to explain to you!), I ran in the V5 this morning and I think it’s our best yet.

RBR, 8: In an atmosphere where running biz is at its most competitive, how do you encourage your team
and keep them motivated?

Phil McCartney: I think the fact the business is so competitive is motivation enough. I think we all know that we have some really good competition out there, (Carleo and Josh Rowe at NB are a great team that will do really good things, Fritz Taylor over at Mizuno has a great product brain...), so we need to be on our toes all the time. I also know that as a team, we feel really lucky to be working in the category and in running generally.

I also think we’re lucky to work in an industry where typically, most people are good fun and don’t take themselves too seriously (there are some exceptions to this, of course!). The sport is fun and I think that makes the business fun.


Lunar Racer +, Womens, Spring 2010

RBR, 9:At the Running Event, the IRSA folks gave Nike its best vendor award. Tell us about that transformation? Four years ago, Nike was not exactly welcomed to the Running Event.

Phil McCartney: I think some of that is product related. But, most of it is relationship related. For that, I’d have to say our rep team and pacer team deserve a ton of credit. They are working their arses off to service this critical channel.

I also have to mention the contribution that KP (Kevin Paulk) makes. He has worked hard to maintain and build trust with our running stores. We talk a lot about how we support each other and it seems to be working well at the minute.

RBR, 10: How does a $20 billion company like Nike, justify the focus on performance running, when much of the three billion U.S. dollars in running shoe biz Nike does is for non-runners?

Phil McCartney: I’d disagree that most of our shoes are sold to non-runners. I think, as a brand, we have a wider reach and not all of our shoes are sold to hard-core runners. This non hard core runner is the runner who’s fueling the growth in the sport.

That’s why we started the Active segment of our line. That has helped us connect with lots of these runners on their own terms. Like every brand, we sell shoes to some people who don’t run. But, we focus on those who do run when we engineer running shoes.

The area that we want to get better in, as I mentioned at the top, is the sport product. As we know, this is a gateway (as Kristie calls it) into Nike running, so we want to ensure those shoes perform.

RBR, 11: You have run a few marathons, tell us about them?

Phil McCartney: I’ve done 5. The best one was NYC, with my wife, Lyndsey, in 2006. We ended up running 3:50 and I loved every minute.

RBR, 12: Do you have a favorite track athlete? road runner?

Phil McCartney:Steve Ovett (he was also the first Olympic Games track gold for Nike). Today I really like Paula’s attitude, she’s really good to work with.

RBR, 13: Okay, I know you like that football stuff (soccer), so, who is your favorite team?

Phil McCartney: Newcastle, it’s a not a choice. If you’re born in the city, they are your team. I’ll be going to a game with some mates and my brothers when I’m back in Newcastle in a few weeks.

Final comments: Phil & his wife, Lyndsey, recently had a baby girl, Katie. I texted Phil the other night, to find out out his marathon pb. He could not recall that, but told me his most enjoyable marathon was running one with his wife, Lyndsey, in 2006. I liked that.

(His pb for the marathon, is 2:27.16, B of A Chicago, October 12, 2008, where he finished 22nd of 31,344).

A special thanks to Phil McCartney, who answered my queries in the spirit that they were asked! Thanks to KP for proper spelling of team member names!

All running footwear photos courtesy of Nike communications, special thanks to Megan Saalfeld, Nike PR.

Special thanks to Chuck Bartlett, for resizing photos, and video management.

For more on Nike, please click on nike.com

For more on the sport of running, please click on http://www.runningnetwork.com

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