The athletic shoe business is not an easy one, ever for mega-brands like Nike and adidas. What will it be like for Under Armour? The track record of Kevin Plank’s massive brand has been strong with almost every expansion into new categories, and the footware division got a big lift with the rise to stardom of Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Behind the scenes UA also brought in another veteran to lead the division this past January, former Nike exec Peter Ruppe. Ruppe is now senior vice president of footwear, a role in which he will develop Under Armour’s footwear strategy and drive commercialization of the brand’s shoes. He most recently served as president of Alchemy Global, an online investment platform dedicated to sports and entertainment after a long stint in the Pacific Northwest with Nike, and working with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on several ventures as well.
We caught up with Ruppe to talk Curry, shoes, Under Armour and inspiring through “Win Forever.” (his bio follows)
You have spent a career in the sports business and apparel world, what drew you to this new challenge at Under Armour?
As I look at what I’ve mastered in my career with Nike, it was clear to me there was only one brand that has the potential to eclipse them. Under Armour is that brand. The founders and the leadership are led by great entrepreneurs who are also excellent people. They are competitive team sports athletes, which matches to me. They are humble and hungry. Our peak moments in this industry are less about what we do, and a lot about who we do it with. I feel that all my time in the industry has been in preparation for this moment and the opportunity to be involved in the continued emergence of the next great sports brand.
The brand has really had a meteoric rise to awareness in North America and now the world in apparel, where does the shoe strategy fit in?
We understand how vital footwear is to elevating an athlete’s experience. We want to bring our inventive spirit and fresh perspective into significantly improving this experience like we’ve done with apparel. We have not only made the experience better for athletes through apparel, but by doing so, we have made the entire industry better. That’s what leaders do. We know we can do the same with footwear and are drawn to the vision of making this happen. It has already begun, and we have the opportunity to accelerate from a small foundation.
How important is the balance Steph Curry has in persona and on court performance tied to his success as an ambassador for the shoe and the company?
Stephen’s journey couldn’t be more aligned to the Under Armour story. From Kevin’s humble beginning as a brand, this is an underdog story. Under Armour has consistently been under estimated as a brand. We have had to outwork and outsmart some great competitors in the markets we compete. We consistently outperform expectations. That is what a winning underdog does. We do this in ways that are unexpected, which enables us to have more and more people attracted to supporting us. When you look at Stephen’s story, he played at Davidson instead of Duke or North Carolina. Wasn’t he good enough? With the Warriors, he’s taken the team to incredible heights through his on-court leadership style and incredible skill. His faith-based humility is refreshing in the game of basketball. He stills plays with a school-yard innocence while being the best player in the game in this moment. That’s a winning underdog.
Is there a market that you will focus more on than others: basketball vs. soccer vs. running?
As we assess our brand’s capability versus the market opportunities in front of us in footwear, it is critical that we compete in the major segments and in those that originally defined our brand. We are making inroads in running with our introduction of the Speedform platform currently represented by the Speedform Gemini model that is getting great reviews for precision fit and feel. In basketball, the Steph Curry launch is our coming our party. The market deserves more choice than Nike and Jordan (95% market share) and we are bringing it. In the outdoor segment, we just earned Best of Show at Outdoor Retailer for our incredibly inventive Fat Tire trail running shoe that delivers in a few months. In the team-based field sports, we have the #1 product in football with the Highlight cleat. We are working hard to transition this success into success in global football, which is a must-win category as we become more global. Beyond these, we are focused on our brand DNA with a focus on the training offering for men, and, even more important, for women.
You have spent a good deal of time prior working with Alchemy Global looking at giving rising brands a lift to the next step, how did that partnership come about?
Toward the end of the time I was working with Pete Carroll on his Winforever platform, I was actively seeking funding for the venture. I was introduced to Andy Brusman during this time. Once we chose to park the Winforever effort due to Pete’s success in Seattle, Andy and I continued to explore the concept of creating a business serving early stage ventures with both advisory and investment banking services. We both saw that there were so many great people trying to bring a unique product or service to market. It has been a really rewarding experience forming the company and assisting these folks.
Which brands in your time there impressed you the most and why?
It is always about people first. Folks that you want to bet on. You are looking for entrepreneurs with a combination of passion and experience for what they are seeking to bring into the world. There is nothing more humbling and powerful than bringing something into being. The folks that win must be doing it as a passion. Andy Youngs and Frank Steed are two of my favorites. As long term creators and executives in the bag and luggage industry, they have birthed a great brand and product offering known as Apera. These are the fitness lifestyle bags we have all been seeking. Though many folks don’t see this as a sexy business, the truth is that a great bag is a hell of a companion on a fitness journey. People need to pay attention to them. Another is Claudio Storelli, the founder of Storelli Sports. He is doing performance products for soccer. There are many more, but these are two worth noting at this time.
Outside of the shoe and apparel space, what brands do you follow closely and why?
I am a student of great product and service execution. I am consistently amazed by the products that come to market from a variety of sources. I am deeply embedded in the whole Apple experience, and actually worked with them back in my Nike days, so I do always pay attention to what comes next from them, while also seeing how others compete with them. Not an easy task. As strange as this may seem, I like to see how different professional and collegiate teams build their offering. The work with Pete and how he’s taken that to Seattle is an example, but so is what the San Antonio Spurs consistently do. Beyond, these, I can speak to many technology apps, apparel companies and other tremendous products and experiences. The key is to stay in learning mode. The lessons of greatness are everywhere.
Who were some of the brands and business people who helped shape your career and why?
Straight from business school, I went directly into Nike. I was there for 27 years, so it is my foundation. I was a leader there both in terms of developing people, but also in terms of business/creative development. It forged who I am today. I was blessed to work with some great leaders there who came before me. I am forever grateful to those that saw potential in me, and gave me growth opportunities. I tend toward people and brands that demonstrate the deep love they have for what they do. It cannot be faked. Burton Snowboards, Porsche, Prada (1990s Prada), Elton John, Michael Jordan, you see.
For people looking to launch or grow a business in sports, what traits do you look to and what advice do you give them?
Don’t fake it. Be your authentic self, and, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”. Know yourself well enough to know WHY you are drawn to doing what you choose to do. From there, know that the journey will not in any way be what you expected it to be so you must remain open and strive for an innocence that will enable you to feel the positive energy that you can draw into your world. From this foundation, master the keys to success that are embedded in the journey. On the character side, this means being able to generate confidence, being resilient, having grit, learning from mistakes then letting them go, and being deeper connected to the moment you are creating. On the expertise side, master what it is that you are doing. What does it take to thrive in this business model and how will I quickly and effectively acquire these skills?
Peter Ruppe is a Creative, goal-oriented senior executive with wealth of experience in the sports, human performance, health and wellness, and technology industries. He is an expert in strategic planning, project management, sales/marketing, revenue generation, cost savings, and process improvement.
Most recently he spent two years as Chief Executive Officer for WinForever, a brand and business focused on helping people increase their competitive mindset and capacity to perform. He took the company from concept to its first commercial product, a digital learning app, which went to market in Spring 2013.
Peter had 20 years of Senior Executive experience developing and executing visionary strategies for Nike. His accomplishments at Nike included:
Led all aspects of the Nike Basketball business from product creation to advertising campaigns to athlete relationships at a time when the basketball category drove the Nike brand.
Quadrupled Nike Equipment business revenue to $1B over a five-year period, by optimizing all eight business units, all with different operating models.
Pioneered ground-breaking concepts such as the Nike+iPod Sports Kit for runners and the Nike SPARQ Training program, taking these products from concept to market.
Restructured Nike’s footwear category, transforming it from a U.S. to a global-based business.
Developed and brought new products to market from South Korean sourcing hub, negotiating prices with tens of factories covering 80 percent of Nike’s revenue during this critical growth period for the company.
He is recognized for leadership, economic value-creation, on time execution, and problem solving with a rare ability to function effectively on a strategic and tactical level simultaneously; results in a global vision while applying meticulous attention to detail.
Peter holds an MBA from Arizona State University. He has two children in college. Being physically active and very health conscious, he participates in cycling and board sports. He has been a board president for a youth football program, a youth sports coach, and is currently an active board member for the Multnomah Athletic Foundation which funds youth sports grants and scholarships for at-risk and disadvantaged youth.