“Air”: Soaring Beyond Basketball And Into Culture

A single basketball player in mid-air, about the throw the ball

A lesson in culture from Nike

As we gather back in the office for the start of the new year, we’ve been comparing the films that we watched over the festive break. There are, unsurprisingly, a few classic Christmas films on the list as well as a few others that may be a little more surprising.

One of the films that prompted discussion over lunch this week was ‘Air’, starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, which tells the story of Nike at the time that the company was not doing so well against their competitors, yet set their sights on a partnership with Michael Jordan. It is a fascinating story about the start of one of the biggest partnerships in sports history, but even more so it is a fantastic example of company culture and values and that is what we are diving into today.

Innovation and Creativity

At the core of Nike’s company culture is a commitment to innovation and creativity, although when hard times hit them, it was easy for executives to forget this. “Air” chronicles how the Air Jordan line revolutionised basketball footwear, introducing the world to innovative design elements and not including the ‘required’ amount of white on the shoe. The film illustrates how the CEO was not initially comfortable with such a level of innovation (and potential cost), because his chief concern was finances and the Board’s reaction.

Risk-Taking and Ambition

The partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan was not without its risks. The film showcases how both parties were willing to take bold risks (even if the CEO did have to be reminded of the value of this!), signing a rookie player to a ground-breaking deal and defying the conventional norms of athlete endorsements (never before had a percentage of revenue been given to an athlete). This commitment to ambition and risk-taking is a testament to the company culture that encourages bold decisions, even when the outcome is uncertain.

Authenticity and Personal Branding:

“Air” delves into Michael Jordan’s journey as not just an athlete but a global brand. The film highlights the authenticity of Jordan’s persona and how Nike capitalised on his individuality to create a personal brand that resonated with fans worldwide. The Air Jordan’s are still flying off the shelf many years later! This emphasis on personal branding aligns with Nike’s company culture, emphasising the importance of staying true to oneself and one’s values in the pursuit of success.

Excellence and Performance:

Nike’s company culture is synonymous with the pursuit of excellence, and “Air” reflects this commitment by showcasing Michael Jordan’s relentless pursuit of greatness on the basketball court. The film underscores how both Nike and Michael Jordan shared a common commitment to pushing boundaries and striving for unparalleled performance, a value deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA.

Cultural Impact and Social Responsibility:

Beyond the realm of sports, “Air” also touches on the cultural impact of the Air Jordan brand and Nike’s broader influence. The film highlights how the collaboration has transcended athletic footwear, becoming a cultural phenomenon. Nike’s commitment to social responsibility and community engagement is evident in the film, emphasising the importance of aligning corporate values with positive societal impact.

All organisations experience challenges and detractors, and it would be remiss of us to ignore the headlines from more recent years about Nike’s process ethics and the production of their footwear and clothing. These have come to light since the Michael Jordan partnership was first conceived and whilst we do not support such practices, we do acknowledge that the film is an excellent example of when culture and values feed into action.

“Air” is far more than a documentary about footwear; it is a testament to the enduring success that results from a strong company culture and the embodiment of core values. Nike and Michael Jordan’s partnership exemplifies the power of innovation, risk-taking, authenticity, excellence, and social responsibility. As companies strive to build a lasting legacy, the lessons from “Air” serve as a playbook for creating a company culture that not only withstands the test of time but also elevates the brand to new heights.

If you are interested in fine-tuning your company culture, please get in touch!

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