Throughout Eric Sprunk’s 27-year tenure at Nike, he held roles spanning general management, operations, product, and finance. Most recently, he served as COO where he was tasked with accelerating the company’s digital transformation. Now he’s an active investor and sits on several boards, including General Mills and Bombardier.
Sprunk spoke to the Round community on lessons learned through Nike, including the difference between management and leadership, the importance of setting guardrails and learning to say no, and using constraints to get more creative.
While management and leadership are often used interchangeably, Sprunk stressed that being a good manager doesn’t make you a good leader. Being a good manager includes having an open door, giving real time feedback, developing your team, and providing the tools to do their job well. A leader, on the other hand, is responsible for establishing an environment where people can be their authentic self and do their best work consistent with the company’s purpose, mission, and direction. Holding people accountable for this is what drives culture – perhaps a leader’s biggest responsibility.
Becoming a leader is hard, but important work. Knowing the difference and ensuring a company has both is key to any successful organization.
“Not all growth is good growth, not all growth is long term growth, and not all growth is brand right.” Just because something can be solved or executed doesn’t mean it’s worth doing. Sprunk explains that “a solution in search of a business problem is not a good use of resources.” Saying no to revenue can be hard, but Sprunk points out that sticking to a company’s mission creates guardrails, and guardrails are crucial to long-term success. Plus having the discipline to say no early on keeps a company from having to clean up a mess later.
Sprunk’s response to the adage that “hardware is hard” is to get creative. Using sneakers as an example, Sprunk shared how the product team gets creative with testing and iterating, leveraging digital tools to move fast and smart. While production of sneakers for Nike has an 18-month lead time, meaning they are designing the next LeBron James sneaker before he has even worn the last one, the team iterates and responds to data collected from a variety of sources including the launch of limited releases, and their customization website. This allows teams to incorporate real time insights to build better products. Leveraging constraints as a catalyst for creativity is crucial for staying competitive and continued growth.
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