SBJ/20100308/Forty Under 40
Published March 8, 2010
Building an $850 million company in 14 years is noteworthy, but the most intriguing thing about Under Armour’s ascension is that it poached a lot of its business and some of its positioning from Nike, sport’s most indelible brand — keeping in mind, of course, that relative size is important. Nike is a $19.2 billion company; Under Armour’s 2009 revenues were $856.4 million.
For Under Armour to close that gap, it will have to maintain its brand equity of energy, authenticity and youthful enthusiasm, tempered by a cachet of cool. Normally, when you get close to a billion, it’s tough to be cool.
“Growth is not the risk,” said Steve Battista, keeper of the brand at Under Armour, hired in 2000 as employee No. 17 in what’s now a 3,000-person company.
“Our challenge is growing the business while keeping the brand premium, so the most important job I have is saying ‘no,’ because so many people want to work with us.”
Consequently, a company seeking to license the Under Armour name for winter canine couture got the cold shoulder.
Battista was trained as a writer and his first job at UA was writing copy. Maybe that’s why UA founder Kevin Plank likes to refer to Battista’s job as “writing chapters in a book.” When asked what he’s most often heard saying around the office, two of the responses played back to Battista by his co-workers are: “The brand is our sacred cow” and “No one person is bigger than the brand. No athlete, either.”
Staying close to your consumer isn’t easy once you start counting revenue in the billions. That’s one reason there’s a new emphasis on consumer insight at UA. Battista wants to be in the market watching how his consumers are styling the product. These days, he’s also often heard saying “Listen more than you talk.”
So while Nike is around 20 times bigger than UA in revenue, brandwise, the two are considerably closer.
“Our consumers always assumed we were much larger,” Battista said. “Once they do that, you have to support that notion on a level with every competitive brand. That’s a big challenge for us.”