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“The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.â€ Chuck Taylors. Dr. J. When I think of the Converse brand, all those iconic images from my childhood dribble up and down the court in my mind. According to the company’s history, it was one of the first brands that embraced basketball as well as actively courted its largely African American fan base. That early brand licensing strategy arguably paved the way for the historic athletic endorsement deals we are so familiar with today. Throughout the years, the brand has evolved and now touches all of the “Unique Ones.â€ “The Individuals.â€ Currently, Converse is one of the few brands that can seamlessly adorn the feet of an 8-year-old, a rocked-out band leader, and, yes, the first lady—all on the same day!
When I recently spoke with Rodney Pratt, the new vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at Converse, it’s apparent that he too shares an appreciation and affinity for the history of the brand and its commitment to its customers. Pratt was assistant general counsel with Nike since 2011 before he received his current position with Converse in July of this year. At the ripe old age of 38, he has learned a great deal about brand management and corporate governance. In this interview, Pratt shares his career journey and sage advice for the small business owner from the board room of the legendary brand.
BlackEnterprise.com: How did you first come to get your position with the Nike/Converse family?
Rodney Pratt: I’ve always been attracted to Nike and Converse growing up. They were two of the brands that I identified with most as a young kid. I got to a point professionally where I wanted to practice law in a setting that would inspire me and where I could share something with my children. It’s hard to do that in a law firm. I’ve always tried to be focused on working with innovators. And Nike is definitely at the top of the industry when it comes to innovation. Not just in products but in its approach to the business. And Converse is also innovative, but in a different way from Nike. Converse’s innovation is all about creativity.
It’s thrilling, especially at this stage in my career, to work in such a company that places a premium on independent thought and unleashing ideas that will change the world. [Finally] prior to joining Nike, I focused on getting fit and started high intensity fitness training, so I was naturally drawn to work with Nike because of that passion. And that’s what got me started in the footwear industry and paved my way to my journey to Converse.
What do you think is behind the power and longevity of the Converse brand?
I think the power and longevity of the brand can be attributed to its commitment to unleashing the creative spirit of its consumers. The brand is extremely focused on the wants and needs of the consumer, and there aren’t too many brands out there, with the exception of Nike, that takes that same approach. We obsess over our consumers and generally believe in giving back to our consumers, and I think that’s why the brand’s been so successful.
My focus at Black Enterprise is on small businesses and finding unique stories about growth strategies for our readers. What are some of the best growth strategies that you can give young businesses or small businesses on strengthening their brand?
I started my career as a legal fellow at George Washington Law School of Small Business [Clinic], so I can appreciate that question. One thing I’ve learned from Converse is every strong brand is about having a clear vision, a mission statement, and focus. New businesses should definitely take the time and energy to identify their mission statement and use that to guide them to form their strategy. I think a mistake that many companies make is trying to develop a “win nowâ€ strategy when they need to focus on developing a “win from now onâ€ strategy, and that perspective enables you to look not just at the short term but also the long term on how you develop a brand.
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