The ideal career path may be: reaching the top of the corporate world, then taking time off for family when your kids need you most, and then jumping back into a primo job at a top-tier global company.
Impossible in this dreadful economy? Here's someone who's done it. Remember Jeanne Jackson? At Gap (GPS) in the 90s, she built Banana Republic and then went to help Wal-Mart (WMT) take Walmart.com from start-up stage. But after leaving Wal-Mart seven years ago, Jackson was out of the big game, except for board gigs at McDonald's (MCD), Nordstrom (JWN), and Nike (NKE).
She's back. Actually, I follow these Most Powerful Women (and Jackson was one, on our annual list a decade ago), but the announcement four months ago that she landed at Nike--as President, Direct to Consumer, reporting to the CEO--was so low-key that I'd missed it. A few days ago, I spotted Jackson's name and Nike title on the participant list for our upcoming Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. I popped her an email. We talked yesterday.
"I made a commitment to my family," Jackson, 57, told me, explaining why she had dropped out for so long. Since 2001, when she joined the Nike board, Jackson actually had talked on and off with chairman Phil Knight and CEO Mark Parker about joining the company. But not until this year, when her son graduated from high school and her daughter accepted an internship in London, at Burberry, did she decide to jump.
She didn't think the jump would be to Nike first thing. "I thought I'd do something related to private equity," says Jackson, who has been quietly running her own private equity/consulting business, MSP Capital, out of Newport Beach, California for the past several years. She expected one of the companies she backed "would speak to me." But nothing did. (Along with "some spectacular failures," she says, she scored a couple of hits, including Pure Digital, which sells the Flip camera and recently was acquired by Cisco.)
As the global economy tanked, she felt ever more drawn to the thing that she has focused on throughout her career: strong brands. Says Jackson, who was at Disney (DIS) and Victoria's Secret early on: "In this economy, consumers default to strong brands." Now, in this new role that Nike CEO Parker created for her, she oversees the company's global retail holdings. That includes some 3,500 franchised Nike stores, more than 600 wholly-owned Nike and Cole Haan stores, and five e-commerce sites. Some $3 billion in revenues annually travels through these "direct to consumer" channels.
And despite the global meltdown, Nike is performing well. Revenues reached $19.2 billion in the year ended May 31. Profits fell 21% after five years of 20%+ annual growth, but investors have stayed with the stock: It's up nearly 40% in five years, while the S&P has dropped 20%. The world's largest athletic shoe and apparel marketer, Nike has smartly reduced spending and layers of management, while selectively adding key talent like Jackson.
Of course, she's contending with the retail slowdown--Nike too has cut new-store expansion. But in some ways, Jackson is returning to the sort of thing she did inside Gap and Wal-Mart: playing entrepreneur inside a corporation. Last week, she opened the first Hurley/Converse/Nike store, in Orange County, California. The Hurley brand is for surfers and skateboarders and other cool kids. Converse, she says, has particularly broad appeal--from high school kids to musicians to "my mother-in-law, who is 87 years old and wears Converse."
The family dynamic--usually a complication when executives, especially women, return to big jobs--is alright for Jackson. At least until her son heads off to SMU this fall, she's commuting from California to Oregon, where Nike is based. Husband Doug, a retired airline pilot, is flexible and always has been. "I could take any job and he would just relocate," Jackson says. (He has his own passion: cars. He owns the Batmobile--one of four built in 1966 for Batman on TV.)
Jackson, meanwhile, has simplified her business extracurriculars. She quit the boards of Nordstrom and Harrah's Entertainment, as well as Nike. The one board she's staying on: McDonald's. After all, you can never get enough lessons in smart retailing.
"Is it authentic? Money is not the issue...I don't want to do it if it doesn't feel authentic."
-- NBA star LeBron James in a 2007 Fortune cover story. Last night, James became the fastest player in NBA history to score 12,000 career points--at the ripe age of 24 years and 35 days. He eclipsed Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who held the record at 25 years and 220 days. MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Feb 4, 2009 6:53 PM ET
This year started off with a bang - at least in terms of coming and goings of powerful people. Which Postcards is largely about.
This week, I told you about Liz Dolan, once Nike's (NKE) global marketing boss, joining Oprah Winfrey to be CMO of her new venture, the OWN cable network. And yesterday, my colleague Jessica Shambora wrote about Ellen Kullman, No. 15 on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 9, 2009 2:56 PM ET
These days, it seems harder than ever to get back in the game. You know, you take a time-out from corporate America--to spend time with your family (really!) or simply to reinvigorate--and what do you get when you try to return? Serious skepticism about your experience and relevance because (hey, haven't you noticed?) the world changed radically while you were out.
So, it's interesting that Liz Dolan, Nike's (NKE) long-ago marketing MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 7, 2009 2:22 PM ET
Long live Oprah Winfrey. Her TV syndication contract expires in 2011, but that doesn't mean she'll go off the air then. Oprah is right now busy preparing to launch her own TV network -- one of the more anticipated media projects of the year. (It's supposed to launch in late '09 or early next year.)
It's also one of the more secretive. But watch this space, and you'll learn a bit MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 5, 2009 1:38 PM ET
Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain compares this economic crisis to the one that triggered the Great Depression: Look back to the 1929 period "to see the kind of slowdown we're experiencing now," said Thain -- who sold his firm to Bank of America (BAC) -- at a conference yesterday. Thain's outlook is scary--and marketers are getting his message. Have you noticed how some of the big-brand companies are adjusting to MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 12, 2008 3:20 PM ET
"If I wanted to make money, I would do something easier. Maybe women are prone to take crazy risks."
-- Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of consumer DNA startup 23andMe. The company's gene-testing service was named "Invention of the Year" in the new issue of Time. 23andMe beat runners-up such as the Tesla Roadster at No. 2, the Chevy Volt (GM) at No. 7, the Speedo (WRC) LZR Racer (No. 26), high-tech running MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 3, 2008 6:38 PM ET
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