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What would Geoff Do ?

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

This was the question I would ask myself with every decision that I would make during my final few years at Nike. I would describe this decision as not only liberating but set the stage for me to create IncubatorU helping bring Fearless Innovation Together and providing me the Permission to Dream!

Nike had just gone through a massive layoff in 2009 which I wrote about in my previous post last week.

Memo to Nike Leaders following the 2009 layoffs as a reminder of Nike's past and glimpse into the future
Phil Knight's " What if" Wisdom 5/12/2010

This is one of the iconic designs that Hollister finished in addition to the iconic Nike Windrunner
Starburst Swoosh Design by Hollister and Johnson

The emotional toll that the layoffs took on people in 2009 created disruption in the organization. This toll impacted those that were put in new roles around the company and were looking for answers on how to move forward......

From a business perspective it was the right move. There was definitely a leadership void for those employees left behind to pick up the pieces and start moving things forward.
Nike has always been about inspiring the permission to dream and work together to be inspired by the culture and the people that built the company.

One of those Dreamers was Geoff Hollister.

Geoff was a pioneer in the sport of Track and Field as the one of the original promo guys that built the company from the ground up. He worked with Jeff Johnson to design the starburst swoosh logo and designed the iconic Windrunner Jacket but most importantly was a connection from Nike's original track and field athletes as the trusted representative to getting them into the product at the right time. He bled Nike swooshes until the end.

He was competitive, humble, compassionate and loyal to everything Nike stood for and was not afraid to speak his mind if he felt the company was doing things that he thought were not aligned to foundation he put into place.

Geoff Hollister in his Morgan Motor Car

Geoff had recently retired due to his ongoing battle with cancer.

He happened to be in Beaverton shortly after the layoff's happened in 2009.

We met for lunch to catch up and the campus was eerily quiet.

We watched the Phil Bowerman Band (Nike Employee Band) while we grabbed lunch in the Mia Hamm Cafeteria.

The only people out in the courtyard were a few kids dancing around to the music of Tinker Hatfield Mark Smith and Wilson Smith trying to bring some normalcy to the campus.

Geoff was not happy that the remaining executives were not visibly present and empathetic during the aftermath of the layoff. He knew that they were in their executive offices in the John McEnroe Building when they should have been out with the employees to bring lead with confidence and build trust for the future.

Geoff shared with me as he observed that he was going to write Mark Parker and Phil Knight and let them know how he felt.

Be a leader!

Be present!

Bring Inspiration! your employees as they navigate these tricky waters.

Geoff left Beaverton and headed back up to his amazing home in Sequim Washington that he had just settled in with decades of Nike history lining every shelf and closet as he looked for ways to spend time on his beautiful boat.

He had just published his book and I shared with him that in this transition I adopted a new team overseeing the product creation in North America. This team was a combination of veterans and newer employees that had only heard of guys like Geoff.

We would love to have him meet with us to share his stories and excerpts from his book.

A week later he took me up on that offer and did an amazing reading from his book in the atrium of the Michael Jordan Building's 4th Floor which used to house all of Nike's Footwear Design.

To this day I can still see my team listening to Geoff read from his book realizing that during this upheaval and stormy time at Nike they were truly inspired by one of the legends that lived and breathed the culture and heritage at Nike.

Geoff drove down from Sequim Washington in his pride and joy

I had never seen him so happy arriving at Nike in this amazing Hand crafted innovative automobile.

I was still driving my 1995 Suburban and could only dream and listen to Geoff about what made this car so special.

Geoff would travel annually to the Morgan Automobile Gatherings in the UK to connect with those in the company but also other enthusiasts.

He shared with me that he thought Nike should be more like the Morgan Automobile Company that had generations of employees that passed the Tribal, Cultural and Industrial Knowledge down through the generations.

The craftsmanship had always been placed at the highest levels. The performance of the automobiles was best in class with some of the collaborations that they had and the innovation was always leading the industry.

This is what Geoff felt Nike could and should do with the hundreds of employees that helped build the company but also create a culture to not live in the past but honor and embrace the future.

Geoff Hollister getting ready to drive back home after reading excerpts from his book
Hollister departing the Nike parking lot in his Morgan

Geoff launched his worldwide book readings to nearly every office in the globe inspiring employees from all around the world. I truly think that these readings and his desire to share and engage and inspire a new generation kept him fighting his cancer for a few more years.

When he would come to Beaverton I took him around town to his appointments and meetings and just spent the time quietly listening and asking him questions and saw his passion for passing on his knowledge and commitment to the athletes and the product. and the culture.

When you take the time to ask questions and listen to someone that might not be in a position to make things happen in their near future.  I was honored to be with him the day he passed away at the request of his son and daughter and wife, Wendy.  It was hard to watch such a fighter finally give way to such a terrible disease. 

From that day forward I made a decision to ask myself at every decision point working with my team, other employees, the business, product and especially athletes:

What would Geoff do?

I made that commitment and I feel it was the most liberating decision I made in my 30 years at Nike because I knew it was guided by the right values that Geoff lived benefitting the athlete, the product and the overall integrity of the company.

At times it did not serve me well politically but I also knew that my time was coming to an end with my desire to go out on my own and continue to be fearless, teach others to do the same and give myself and others the permission to dream.

These signs are located on the campus reminding everyone the value of their work.
The most powerful of Nike's Values-Serve Athletes!

Next up....Some history on BRS Inc, how I got started at Nike and my continued inspiration in helping transform organizations by bringing fearless innovation together and the permission to dream. 

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