Nike. The swoosh. The brand. The company. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be there this summer. So what was it like to intern at one of the best brands on the planet?
The IGNITE team (Nike’s collegiate recruiters) did a fantastic job in curating the internship experience. We had it all: an executive speaker series (including the CEO, Mark Parker!), lunch and learns, MBA executive speakers, and fun stuff like whitewater rafting and a Portland Timbers game. However, if you wanted to learn more about a particular part of the company, it was easy to meet with just about anyone. People there are really generous with their time and love to help out interns.
I worked as a Manufacturing Equipment Intern in the Procurement department, which helps Nike deliver better sourced products. It was really fulfilling to know that my projects had a significant impact on Nike: I helped influence the way that Nike’s factory partners make footwear, while reducing costs and growing capacity. I had to apply a lot of my new-found business knowledge, analytical skills, and time management skills in this role. Definitely thankful for our first year of the MBA.
I also had a cross-functional intern project with both graduate and undergraduate interns. I was lucky to have a fantastic team that was highly motivated and worked well together. We were tasked to come up with a global product strategy recommendation, and we ended up also designing and developing actual product samples to showcase to senior leaders!
I got a chance to work with a lot of remarkable, brilliant, and motivated people from all over Nike. What attracts such talent to come work in Beaverton? I think that’s where their culture comes in.
In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins wrote that visionary companies have “cult-like cultures” focused around a very strong core ideology outside of maximizing profit. This summer, I got to see the power of culture first-hand.
Nike’s mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” (And if you have a body, you’re an athlete). From the outside, you can see how this mission underpins Nike’s inspirational messaging and honoring of athletes through TV ads, YouTube videos, and so on. From the inside, you can see how Nike’s values and mission are designed into the very fabric of the company: from the way the way the campus is designed, the branding on internal company presentations, and even the words that people use in casual conversation.
Innovation is also baked into the culture here. The company still feels very young and full of potential, despite its size. They revere stories of its founders, who started the company on a handshake. They celebrate entrepreneurial employees like Sam McCracken, who saw an opportunity to help his native community reduce obesity and diabetes by giving them access to sports. As a young warehouse clerk at a Nike distribution center, he proposed the idea of the N7 product line, which devotes all of its proceeds to inspire native youth and help them get access to sports. His story is truly amazing, and I encourage you to read more about him!
I saw Sam McCracken tell his story first-hand during the second week of the internship. That experience blew my mind, and made me realize the importance of storytelling. At Nike, most briefs and presentations resemble TED talks — no podiums, but lots of polish. Storytelling is essential to how Nike communicates its message both internally and externally, and you can really learn from the best at this company.
Storytelling is critical to success within Nike. The company is relatively flat and heavily matrixed, so it relies on teamwork and collaboration to get things done. If you have a strong vision and can communicate that vision effectively, you can bring together a lot of different people and achieve great things. Sam McCracken’s work has changed entire communities and improved people’s lives. He has dozens of volunteers who work for him, not because they are getting paid, but because they want to be part of that story.
The Veteran Connection
I can hardly believe that it’s been almost 10 years since my last non-military job. Like other career changers, I found it challenging to translate my past experience into a new career and new industry. It’s like people on the ‘outside world’ are speaking a completely different language. I was also worried that the skills that I developed in my ‘past life’ were useless. It turns out that these fears were unfounded. Thanks to a great manager and some fellow veterans, I soon realized just how much my ‘past life’ was applicable to working at Nike.
The Nike Military Veteran network was instrumental to this transition. They provided mentors for each of the veteran interns over the summer, and made sure that the interns felt included in the community. I met with my mentor every other week to work through the transition together, and he really helped me learn how to translate my past experience for different audiences.
Nike’s internship experience did not disappoint. It helped me gauge my progress after one year in the MBA and it tested my newfound knowledge and skill set. I connected with a lot of amazing people from all over the world, and I helped the team make an impact in just 10 weeks. Most importantly, it helped validate my decision to leave the Air Force and get my MBA. To anyone looking to make the leap:
Just do it!
About the Author
Nelson Tang, Class of 2016, is an 8-year Air Force Veteran who is focusing on marketing and brand/product management. Find out more about Nelson at www.nelsontang.com.