In Fortune's Businessperson of the Year list, the magazine looks for a CEO whose company is "firing on all cylinders" and whose leadership is "unique and distinct," comments Fortune assistant managing editor Adam Lashinsky. Nike (NYSE:NKE) CEO Mark Parker fits the bill: This year he is honored as the magazine's top Businessperson of the Year. The CEO's top ranking sheds light on the excellent job Parker is doing managing the retail giant.
The ambition of Nike's lifer
Parker has been working at Nike since 1979, which easily qualifies him as a lifer at the company. He rose from the company's core, working in key roles in design, global expansion, and brand.
Fortune asserts Parker is an introvert. But just as it was the case with Nike's co-founder, former CEO, and chairman of the board Phil Knight, who also identifies as an introvert, investors shouldn't overlook his reserved manner -- because Parker is crushing it.
The company's revenue has more than doubled since Parker was appointed CEO in 2006, rising from $15 billion to $31 billion. EPS has soared, growing from $1.32 in 2006 to $3.96 in the trailing 12 months. And, importantly for investors, the stock has appreciated from around $20 per share to about $125, handily outperforming the S&P 500.
Under Parker, Nike has wielded remarkable prowess in marketing, inventory management, and distribution. Exceptional execution has helped the company achieve fatter margins, extend its leadership in key product segments, and expand to more markets.
Going forward, Parker's ambitions aren't moderating. The CEO has recently pledged to grow sales at a rate of 10% annually between 2015 and 2020, up from prior annualized revenue growth of 8.5%.
Parker's tenure as Nike's CEO, along with his ambitious outlook for further growth, highlights the company's competitive advantages. Thanks to Nike's established scale, brand and pricing power, and a proven ability to consistently grow its product lines, investors can actually believe Parker when he outlines bold plans for the future.
A different game
Notably, however, there is one major difference between the company's planned path to growth over the next five years and the last five. This time around, two of Nike's young competitors are much larger and established, particularly Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) and lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU).
Five years ago, Under Armour and Lululemon generated $1.1 billion and 450 million, respectively. These days, the two athletic apparel and accessory companies are much larger, boasting $3.7 billion and $1.9 billion in sales, respectively. Not to mention these smaller companies are now sporting higher gross profit margins than Nike -- Under Armour at about 47.5% and Lululemon at 48.5%, ahead of Nike's gross margin of 46.2%. So, not only are these companies much bigger than they were, they are also growing more rapidly and maintaining a higher level of profitability than Nike.
Still, Nike's scale will undoubtedly continue to work in its favor, even with larger and more established competition from younger, hotter brands. Thanks to Nike's much larger revenue base, the company can and likely will continue to easily outspend Under Armour and Lululemon on marketing.
Accounting for increasing competition from these brands, it's easy to see why investors were impressed with Parker's promise to accelerate sales growth over the next five years. It's a downright ambitious goal, but it highlights the CEO's confidence in his executive team and the underlying business.
If there's anyone who is going to deliver on such a bold promise for Nike during this important period, it's going to be the lifer profiled by Fortune, Mark Parker.
Daniel Sparks has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Lululemon Athletica, Nike, and Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.