Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Huntsman MBA Association and Marketing Association Host Charlie Denson, Former Nike Brand President

By Mike Tolman

Huntsman School of Business students had the rare opportunity to talk with former Nike Brand president, Charlie Denson recently. Mr. Denson candidly answered questions about the early days of Nike and his career path after leaving Utah State with his bachelor’s degree in marketing.

In 1979, when Mr. Denson started at Nike, he said it was “just a bunch of jocks selling sneakers out of their cars.” It wasn’t the company it is today. He called his choice to join the company in its early days “a big mistake . . . but one of the better mistakes I’ve made.” He went on to explain that he initially decided to work at Nike just “until he got a real job.”

Looking at Nike’s development over the past 35 years, it appears as though he made the right decision. He went on to advise students to find something that they are really passionate about.

Charlie Denson
“If you’re not passionate about something,” he said, “you’ll never be the best at it.”

Mr. Denson talked about monthly, quarterly, and yearly strategies that Nike would prepare each year. “In all my time at Nike, not one year went as planned,” he said. He went on to speak about the importance of not only planning and being prepared, but to also being able “learn on the fly” and improvise when things change.

Mr. Denson also reflected on the valuable lessons he learned at Utah State, the top two being able to organize his time and his thoughts. He described his feelings when he graduated, saying he was anxious to go to work and get started. “I was competitive and I wanted to go and do something,” he said.

Throughout his career, Mr. Denson sought out opportunities to grow and to learn more about what he loved.

­­­­“I’ll never regret anything I’ve done,” he said, “but I don’t want to be in a position where I have to regret something I didn’t do.”

He reminisced on some of his favorite successful marketing campaigns, mentioning the “Let Me Play” campaign that sparked a national movement championing the cause of women’s athletics throughout the nation and world.

As the evening concluded, Mr. Denson urged students to not get discouraged by mistakes.

“Sometimes, the hard and bumpy roads get you were you want to go faster,” he said. While there is no way to plan for every contingency, Mr. Denson told students, “It’s okay to make a mistake, so long as you make it at full speed.”

As I have spent some time at the Huntsman School of Business, I am proud I will soon be counted among distinguished alumni, like Mr. Charlie Denson. He, like many other successful Aggies, exemplifies so well the core values of Utah State University. That said, whatever distinction any graduate of the Huntsman School may gain professionally, it would be wise to remember Mr. Denson’s advice: “The best ones still listen, they still learn.”

To watch an interview with Charlie Denson click here.

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