RBR Interview: Amy White, VP of U.S. Running, Nike by Larry Eder


I met Amy White at the NXN Championships on December 6. We got to check in for a few moments, talk about the event and her new job. While most of the time spent were pleasantries, I liked her enthusiasm. I sent the questions out a few days later. Amy replied by email just before I left for vacation. Here are her responses....

Amy White, U.S. vice president of Nike Running

RBR: What is your first running memory?

Amy White: I grew up less than two miles from where the Boston Marathon ran through the heart of Wellesley. This was back before Gatorade and Runner’s stations, so when we were young, my mom used to fill our wagon with KoolAid and orange slices and we would wheel it down to the race and hand it out to the grateful runners. I remember being so excited to see the leaders heading toward us, and so inspired by the hundreds that followed them with no less determination whether they were going strong or struggling to keep going.

RBR: Tell us about yourself at Nike.

Amy White:I’ve been with Nike for more than 12 years, and have been fortunate to work in several different areas of the business, both in the U.S. and globally, that have allowed me to learn the business from many perspectives. I’ve worked in finance, supply chain, strategic planning, footwear and now the Running in the U.S. Prior to my current position, I was responsible for the core performance footwear division, where we focused on value and core footwear product marketing, design, development and manufacturing for the sport performance categories of running, basketball, athletic training, women’s training and tennis. I really loved working on product. It was a great opportunity to work with athletes, technology and innovation. There is no better feeling than to get a focus group of teens jumping out of their seats when you pull a new shoe out of your bag to show them.

RBR: How do you juggle life?

Amy White:My job is definitely fast-paced and high-energy, but when you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel as much like “work.” I’m lucky to work alongside the best and brightest in the industry, and it certainly makes my job easier being part of a team of people that share a passion for running and are so dedicated to this business. Running for me is a great way to stay balanced, and having running partners who are not just friends but also sounding boards for ideas makes a big difference. I’m also blessed with my husband of 18 years, Chris, who is an architect. I honestly think that balancing two busy careers help us stay organized, keep up our communication, and value our family time with our three sons even more.

RBR: What message do you want to tell retailers during this trying time?

Amy White: Nike is on the offense, always. We are not taking our eye off of being the undisputed leader in Running and have no intention of losing focus. Our goal remains to ensure that our customers and consumers have exceptional products, world-class service, and inspirational events and experiences with Nike athletes to keep them committed to their run. I’d also remind them that no other brand puts more effort into research, innovation and testing of their running product, and this is something we will never compromise. In 2008, the Nike Air Zoom Vomero+ 2 was recognized by Consumer Reports as the best running shoes in their ratings and the Nike Zoom Equalon+ 3 received the Runner’s World Best Update award in December 2008. We know that in this economy, retailers will be even more cautious about their inventories and will want to ensure they invest in proven products they know their customers will love. We believe our product has the momentum to carry them through.

RBR: What message do you want to tell runners during this time?

Amy White:Runners aren’t immune to the woes of this economy either, but they have a leg up on keeping things in perspective and managing stress. If I had one message for runners during this time, it would be to, “Keep it up, and recruit your friends to run, too!”

RBR: Does apparel help women’s running sales?

Amy White:The right performance apparel is incredibly important to all runners, especially women runners, who we’ve learned are the most discerning when it comes to running apparel. We ensure that every aspect of our apparel is specifically engineered to the unique needs and preferences of women runners. We don’t just pay attention to eliminating distractions and improving fit and comfort, we also know that when you look good you feel more motivated to run, so we ensure our apparel looks great with fresh designs and flattering colors.

RBR: Running is part of Nike's DNA, you said that. Explain in 5,000 words or less.

Amy White:Nike has been a running company since day one. We have spent more than 30 years studying runners and digging for every insight that can help us improve a runner’s performance, fit, comfort, injury prevention – you name it; and then doing the hard work to find solutions that make them better. We call it the quest for the ultimate ride. We are runners serving runners, and we have lasting, credible relationships with elite runners and every other type of runner, from the kid who runs to train for their sport to the competitive youth runner, and from the sometimes runner to the hard core runner who can’t imagine getting through a day without a run. We offer a broad range of running products because there is a broad range of running consumers, but at the end of the day, they all have to perform.

RBR:How do you see Under Armour coming into running?

Amy White:We are proud of our legacy and confident in our future. At Nike, we’re athletes, so competition isn’t scary, it’s what makes winning so satisfying. Nike has the most innovative products in the market. We are the most connected brand for youth. Our focus will always be helping athletes realize their highest potential.

Editor's Note:

In my mind, the battle lines are set. Nike is on one side, and Under Armour is on the other. It will be the battle of the marketing dollars over the next several months, and who will have the upper hand is anyone's guess.

This is the global chess game in running. Lots of brands will win. The great shoes will make it in this market. At this time, about thirty brands are part of the global food chain-fifteen or sixteen are making great shoes, and nearly a dozen make excellent shoes. The key is finding the right shoe for the individual consumer.

In re-reading the interview with Amy White, one is sure that the Nike folks know about the Under Armour folks and vice versa. What it also tells me is that both brands can be side swiped by smart focused performance brands, who remember that shoes are sold one pair at a time.

A recent article in Sports Business suggested that the goal of Under Armour was to equate Nike for teenagers with their parent's Oldsmobile....outmarketing Nike will be fascinating to watch! As Nike knows, perception is reality, so the battle lines are clear.

Specialty retailers are very vulnerable right now. They are not going to take a lot of chances. They want great product, great design, great marketing support and their name everywhere. Retailers still think that manufacturers are responsible for pushing traffic into their stores. Some see the growth on the web, many do not. They just see the web as another place to steal a pair of shoe sales from their store.

In 2009, Specialty running footwear sales should be up. My belief is that accessories will take a strong hit if they do not promote themselves and use this time as a time to invest and build their brand name and market share.

Amy White is relatively new to Nike running. She is a twelve year vet of the Berm. She moved into running in October 2008. This is the modus operandi at Nike, and has been for over three decades. Nike management moves talent around. To outsiders, it seems that just when one is getting some understanding of the business, it is time to move.

Too early to see what her influence will be on the team, but early indications are positive. She has support from some of the key players and champions of the
running mission at Nike. Amy White is coming into Nike running at a critical
juncture, that is not opinion, it is just the fact. 2009 will be a year of surprises
for all of us.

Nike running has come a long way over the past three years. It will be interesting to see how Nike and other brands view the next couple of years-either as an opportunity to gain market share or a nightmare to survive.

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