SBJ/November 21-27, 2011/Idea Innovators

Kevin Haley, Under Armour

Haley works with a member of the innovation team.
Photo by: STACY ZARIN-GOLDBERG

Define innovation: It has to be about speed and the freedom to experiment to solve problems for athletes. In a way, our goal is to fail early and often, because the faster we can do that, the more and better results will come out of it.

What’s the innovation you’re most proud of? There are two: 1) The E39, the ultimate extension of our original tight-fitting, moisture-wicking T-shirt, which now incorporates sensors measuring the wearer’s heart rate and breathing. 2) Cam Newton is wearing our Highlight cleats, light and flexible and built with a foam sock liner to replace all the tape and tape-over ankle braces we’d been seeing athletes resort to for years in search of extra support.

What’s the future of your industry? The innovative will survive and thrive and those with commodities will die.

What inspires you? Serving the need of athletes. The challenge of solving a problem for an athlete to make him perform better is real, and you don’t have to look very far here to find inspiration in a guy like Kevin [Plank, Under Armour founder]. That’s how the company was founded and it is still our mission.


Kevin Haley

Senior Vice President, Innovation
Under Armour

Anyone heading a skunkworks is under pressure to deliver something on the cutting edge, but perhaps nowhere is that more true than at Under Armour, a company founded on the moisture-wicking compression T-shirt that is now a $3 billion category by itself.

So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Kevin Haley, who held such critical positions as general counsel and senior vice president of sports marketing for Under Armour, is now senior vice president of innovation.

“We all know innovation is in the roots of our company and is a critical strand in our DNA,” said Haley, a Securities and Exchange Commission attorney before joining Under Armour in 2005. “We realized that innovation was something that needed to be staffed and funded separately.”

Consequently, UA opened an innovations lab earlier this year at its Baltimore headquarters, complete with motion-capture cameras, an environmental chamber and a materials testing lab. Haley says not having to wait for materials and testing to be shipped back and forth from Asia, where they are manufactured, is key.

“Ultimately, we innovate by making something and breaking it again and again,” he said. “That cycle of ‘make it, break it, make it, break it,’ can be awfully slow if you are waiting six weeks each time.”

Now that Under Armour is a billion-dollar company, is innovation more difficult?
“To innovate, you need to be able to take some risk,” Haley said. “We’re still well-suited to doing that, and we’re getting better.”


— Terry Lefton

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