SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
By Ryan Basen
• Age: 33
• Titles: CEO and founder
• Company: Under Armour
• Education: B.A., business, University of Maryland, 1996
• Family: Wife, D.J.; son, James, 2 1/2
• Career: Founded company at age 24
• Last vacation: Bethany Beach (Del.) in June
• Last book read: "First in Thirst" by Darren Rovell
• Last movies seen: "Walk the Line" and "Saw"
• Pet peeve: When people cannot follow through on what they promise to do
• Greatest achievement: Assembling my team at Under Armour
• Greatest disappointment: Having to kill our first women's line in 2001
• Fantasy job: I'm lucky enough to enjoy it.
• Executive most admired: ESPN's George Bodenheimer, because he understands people and a team is such an important component to him. Plus, he's humble.
• Business advice: Work hard and never take no for an answer. Believe in your own vision.
During a trip to Munich in early February, Kevin Plank had a professional epiphany while watching a German pro soccer match. About nine of every 10 players on the field that cool night were wearing, underneath their jerseys, turtlenecks made by Under Armour, the company Plank started.
Under Armour has come a long way since Plank launched it in 1996 from his grandmother's Washington, D.C., townhouse, increasing sales from $5 million to more than $200 million during a recent five-year stretch and building the business into a dominant sports performance apparel company.
During the last year, Plank has overseen new developments that he hopes will shift Under Armour from a niche company into a multifaceted global player.
"It's important we stay on our toes and keep pushing," he said. "I take great pride in the fact that we're the leading performance apparel manufacturing company in the U.S., and I look forward to taking that globally."
Baltimore-based Under Armour took a large step toward that goal in January, opening a European headquarters in Amsterdam. The company has conducted business in Europe for more than two years, doing deals with about a dozen European pro sports leagues, but Plank said opening the Amsterdam office will help Under Armor craft products unique to the tastes of European consumers.
Stateside, applying that same targeted strategy helped Plank get Under Armour's women's line moving. Annual sales increased by 80 percent in 2005 after he added sales and marketing staffs that focus exclusively on women's apparel.
Plank also has expanded the company by announcing it's moving into the cleated athletic footwear market with baseball and football cleats and cleat sponsorships; signing a tennis player, Robby Ginepri, 23, the No. 3 American in the world, to an endorsement deal; signing a deal to outfit teams at Auburn, its second agreement with a major university (Maryland, his alma mater, was the first); and announcing sponsorship of new All-American high school lacrosse games.
The company went public in November. Its stock surged in its debut but later settled down, when Wall Street was not impressed by fourth-quarter income or 2006 sales projections.
That doesn't bother Plank. He is focused on maintaining Under Armour's position as the most popular brand in the performance apparel industry even as it faces stiffer challenges from companies such as Adidas and Nike. The cry "Protect This House," Under Armour's advertising slogan, has become a metaphoric business strategy.
The house, Plank said, is well secured. Kids don't ask their parents for "compression gear," they ask for "Under Armour" — just as they asked for Nike's "Bo Jacksons" and not "cross-trainers" in the late 1980s.
"Our name defines the entire [performance apparel] category," Plank said. So, while women's apparel, cleats and the European market are on Under Armor's radar, Plank wants to continue to serve his original customer base well into adulthood. If he can do that, he'll be one step closer to his ultimate goal:
"To build Under Armour," he said, "into the world's No. 1 performance athletic brand."