The new movie Air, the Hollywood account of the Michael Jordan endorsement deal that rocketed Nike to fame, holds some valuable lessons for business leaders today.
- In one scene of Air, Ben Affleck’s character Phil Knight asks Matt Damon’s character Sonny Vaccaro what the new line of sneakers endorsed by Jordan will be called. When Vaccaro answers, “Air Jordan,” Knight is less than impressed but responds, “I don’t know. Maybe it’ll grow on me.”
- Knight’s business strategy is pretty well captured through a fictional scene in the line, “I don’t know. Maybe it’ll grow on me.”
- Knight was often unsure about creative decisions at Nike. However, because he listened to and trusted those around him, many of those creative decisions—like the Nike swoosh and Air Jordan—are now iconic, The Wall Street Journal reports.
- The brief scene in the movie highlights a valuable lesson for leaders: hire competent employees and trust them to do their job well.
Why it’s news
Understanding how and when to delegate tasks and decisions is an important skill any leader should develop. Knowing that a team is capable and skilled enough to accomplish the company can make that process a little easier, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Knight’s philosophy not only carried Nike to success but was also the source of success for other well-known companies. The breakfast favorite, the Egg McMuffin, is one such example. McDonald’s then-CEO Ray Kroc was skeptical when a franchise owner suggested it. However, it is now one of the most popular breakfast items on the menu.
However, the willingness to trust a team can often be scarce among CEOs. Company leaders are chosen to implement a vision for a company, and allowing another concept to interrupt the executive’s can be next to impossible if a CEO’s ego gets in the way.
That tendency to singularly pursue one vision is what makes Knight’s decision to trust his team so valuable. His philosophy of letting something “grow on” him was far from a one-time decision. The famous Nike swoosh was well-liked by the board, but Knight did not understand what he was looking at. Knight agreed to Nike when renaming the company but still did not care for the name, The Wall Street Journal reports.
He told a colleague, “Maybe it’ll grow on us.”
Backing up a bit
Rather than focusing on the basketball star Michael Jordan, the upcoming movie Air tells the story of the Nike employees behind the famous sneaker deal.
Nike has not always been the household name it is today, and it owes much of its success to an endorsement deal with rookie Michael Jordan. Originally, Nike offered Jordan $250,000 upfront, along with his own line of sneakers. Nike’s initial projects estimated that the company would sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans in four years. In the first year, it sold $126 million.
However, the new movie Air, directed by Ben Affleck, does not focus on the athletic superstar or Nike’s CEO, but rather on the Nike employees who showed real grit to make the deal possible, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The film also features Viola Davis playing Jordan’s mother, who did much of the negotiating on her son’s behalf.