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Innovation Gets a Front Man at Under Armour

Posted on March 15th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications


By TeroVesalainen [CC0 Public Domain], via pixabay

If one of your company’s key differentiators is “innovation”, can your executive team be without a Chief Innovation Officer? Evidently, Under Armour doesn’t think so.

While innovation is not prerequisite to a successful product or company, it has become the mantra for many – particularly those marketing to consumers. Whether a testament to its innovation commitment or an effort to stem its sinking market position, Under Armour announced this week the appointment of Clay Dean to the role. As the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) – note the extra consonant differentiating it from the traditional Chief Information Officer (CIO) acronym – Mr. Dean will be responsible for the Company’s vision and strategy for innovation, and will collaborate with the existing Design, Marketing, Product, and Category Management teams.

After reading the news and looking at the company’s recent performance, a few interesting questions crossed my mind. Foremost, for an athletic apparel company whose go to market is heavily dependent on product innovation, how effective will Mr. Dean be as an influencer to that organization? His charter suggests a dotted line role and Kip Fulks holds the role of Chief Product Officer.

I was also curious about Mr. Dean’s background in the automotive industry and whether that could have relevance in his new market? The press release describes his experience at General Motors – particularly pointing out his role in producing the HUMMER H2, H2 SUT and H3 programs. At last check, the HUMMER line didn’t successfully make the leap to the consumer market and couldn’t even find a suitor when GM decided to cut its losses. While hard learned lessons in innovation can come from failures, perhaps another illustrative example would have been better for the announcement?

Regardless of whether a company invests in a “C-level” role, innovation is about thinking creatively and unconventionally about all aspects of your products and go to market. A fresh perspective can often unearth opportunities you wouldn’t normally consider. Noted Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, Vijay Govindarajan describes the concept as “reverse innovation” in the following video from TEDx:

Creating the CINO role certainly demonstrates Under Armour’s commitment to innovation and recognition of its importance to customers. Time will tell how effective Mr. Dean will be at applying his experience in the automotive world to athletic apparel. As a longtime user of Under Armour running gear, I hope the outcome for Mr. Dean “up armoring” his new company is more successful than “down armoring” a military vehicle.

Does your company have a CINO and/or who’s responsible for innovation at your company? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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