Nike chief executive officer Mark Parker isn’t going anywhere just yet, but an April shakeup in the executive ranks has set off speculation that an internal battle is brewing for the opportunity to succeed him.
The payoff: a chance to lead an iconic company whose sales are expected to grow to $50bn (€44.9bn) by 2020 from $30bn last year.
Michael Spillane proved to be the big winner in the management reshuffling.
He was promoted to president of product and merchandising, continuing his rapid rise.
It has placed him smack in the middle of the race to replace Mr Parker —alongside chief operating officer Eric Sprunk and Nike brand president Trevor Edwards, who is seen as the leading candidate.
Investors will be watching how the three executives perform. Mr Spillane joined Nike in 2007 at its Converse brand after holding CEO jobs at fabric makers Polartec and Malden Mills.
Less than two years later, he was handed a struggling Umbro brand, which Nike had acquired three years earlier. He polished it up, and within 18 months Nike sold it for $225m in cash.
Mr Spillane, 56, put out another fire in May 2013 when he took over the foundering China business. China is Nike’s second-largest market after the US and was one of its fastest-growing segments.
But that all faltered when a glut of inventory sank orders and Nike’s revenue.
A year after Mr Spillane’s arrival, China began growing again, with annual sales up 5%.
In the company’s most recently reported quarter, China’s sales growth accelerated to 23%.
The division also became more profitable, with earnings before interest and taxes up 43% to $358m, good for 31% of Nike’s total.
Mr Spillane spent less than two years in China before Mr Parker promoted him in March 2015 to head global footwear, where Nike generates 60% of its revenue.
In April, Mr Parker promoted Mr Spillane for a fifth time by naming him to lead all product and merchandising. He now reports directly to Mr Parker, just like Mr Edwards and Mr Sprunk.