Succeeding in today’s increasingly topsy-turvy business environment is no certain thing. But for more than 20 years, Craig Williams ’01 MBA has led global teams at iconic consumer brands to achieve winning results amid an ever-shifting commercial and cultural environment. Now the president of the Jordan Brand at Nike, Williams credits his time at the Kellogg School of Management with helping him foster both the creative and strategic skills needed to consistently thrive in a rapidly changing business world.
“My experience with Kellogg Leaders is that they’re very balanced people. Both left and right brain, head and heart,” he said. “In short, someone who’s committed to the success of an enterprise by way of their team. The way I think about it, it’s not about personal accolades but rather collective success — a feeling of we did this, versus I did this.”
That commitment to collaboration helped Williams as he rose to take leadership of the Jordan Brand in 2019. He previously served as a senior vice president at iconic soda brand Coca-Cola, where he led the company’s partnership with McDonald’s; before that, he held marketing-focused roles at contact lens maker CIBA Vision and food giant Kraft. “One of the things that I learned very quickly at Kellogg was how to thrive in a team environment, versus having a perspective that I was the center of the wheel,” Williams explained. “It also gave me the tools — both leadership skills and analytical skills — that ensured a successful transition to general management.”
An Executive MBA graduate, Williams explained that his most formative Kellogg experience was bonding with his study group, nicknamed Group Bravo. “I was just amazed at how effective and smart these folks were, but also how approachable each was as well. They made teaming up easy and fun,” he chuckled. Spanning a wide range of professional backgrounds, those classmates included a chief technology officer, a sales officer, a legal counsel and a bond trader. Group members remain in touch to this day, supporting one another through career and life changes. And Williams hasn’t forgotten those early lessons.
“We were working on one of our first projects, and I found that I learned more from each of my teammates than I ever did from a book or class alone,” he remembered. “It helped me recognize what each teammate brought to the table and how each brought different perspectives and approaches to the choices that we were making.”
It’s a way of thinking that has carried over to his work at Nike today. “We have so many strategies that we want to accomplish and so many things that we want to make real over the next three to five years, and everything should be embraced with as much excitement and enthusiasm as possible,” he said. Stepping into his leadership role, he found that company veterans who had been with Jordan for decades often had innovative, creative ideas that could take the brand to the next level. “They have these insights and more. And I just found that if I paused long enough, asked good questions and helped folks embrace the objective, there is a wealth of knowledge and therefore respect that should be paid to every team member regardless of tenure or background.”
“I still approach the business and my job in this fashion today,” Williams said. “And again, I credit it to my first project with that study group, where I was just blown away at how uniquely capable each person was.”