Tom Trudeau ’09: Just did it: My summer with Nike

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

“You look like an 80’s rapper.” Those were the first words my older brother and Brown legend, Ross Trudeau ’06, said to me upon my return from three months in Portland, Ore. I wanted to protest, but my multicolored Nike 6.0 Dunks, bright shirt and backwards purple Air-Jordan hat made any comeback attempt impossible.

In addition to turning me into a shoe slut and a color-coordinating poser, my internship with Nike opened me up to the possibilities of how fun the corporate world can be. I had a feeling that Nike was no ordinary super-company as soon as I saw its World Headquarters (WHQ), which is appropriately referred to as “Campus.” It did have all the familiar features of a college campus. There was a perfect blend of youthful exuberance and veteran expertise. There were statues, athletic fields, trees, plenty of grass (not that grass) and buildings named after past greats. And then there were the people.

Everyone dressed much more like the peers I walk to class with every day at Brown than the employees of a company with tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

I spent my first afternoon on Campus enjoying a wave of inspirational videos and speeches from Nike executives, who treated all the interns as if we were valuable assets rather than wide-eyed kids. I spent my second day in my own room at a five-star hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., where the Paul Pierce Skills Academy is held. In the morning I interviewed NBA coaches, top prep athletes and former NBA Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy.

On my first Thursday I attended Nike’s weekly “Thirst Thursday” Campus party, where a dozen of Nike’s top BMX riders were performing tricks for hundreds of beer-drinking employees. It might have seemed over the top, except that it paled in comparison to the 600,000 pounds of snow that Nike had shipped to WHQ to set the stage for Nike-endorsed snowboarders who put on a three-hour show doing jumps into the lake that same day.

The next Thursday, Nike built a temporary basketball court for LeBron James to play “PIG” against employees. My buddy got ‘Bron to P-I before losing on an off-the-backboard reverse dunk. One hour later, King James was on the drums playing Rock Band with interns. Even at the time I couldn’t help but laugh at how unusual work days at Nike were. Fridays were often equally unproductive because every Nike employee (except for me and my boss, apparently) enjoys summer hours, and Campus becomes a ghost town at noon.

Yes, the corporate world includes meetings with VPs – some of the most successful and influential men and women in sports – while wearing flip flops, basketball shorts and a Kobe Bryant shirt. As a company, Nike is a rare mix of a “type A” personality, perfectionists with the drive to always be the absolute best, with simultaneous endorsement of a laid back attitude, allowing for creative freedom and innovative thinking.

Perhaps more relevant to the other young adults at Brown who are worried about the implications of pursuing careers in big corporations, Nike is evidence that the corporate world doesn’t have to involve a suit and boring, dreary work. I know, because I just did it. Swoosh.

Tom Trudeau ’09 would like to apologize for the last line of this column, but not for cheering when Brady’s ACL died.

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