Endorsement and Investment: An ‘Under Armour’ approach to hiring

By Robin Chambers

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For those of you who have read some of my previous posts, you will have noticed that sport plays a major theme in forming some of the context of my musings. True to form, here comes another sport-themed post looking at the relationship between the growing sportswear giant Under Armour and their number one golfer, Jordan Speith.

Usually when a golfer signs a contract to be the face of a brand, they have already established themselves as a proven winner; the public already has an association and a link to that person, and because of these things they bring some commercial value – or ‘brand equity’ – to the table.

With this in mind, what prompted the sports clothing brand Under Armour to go into the American collegiate system and sign Jordan to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract at the age of 19? And what can the IT industry learn from this?

When Jordan Speith was first signed at age 19 to Under Armour, he was a two-time US Amateur Champion. He wasn’t exactly unknown, in all fairness, but those in the know said he could make it to the top of the game. The key word here is could. So why sign him?

In 2013, Under Armour were not big players in the market, but signing Jordan gave them the potential to be a success and grow their exposure alongside this rising star. Jordan has undoubted talent and it was a gamble signing someone out of college with no professional experience. What he did have though was great potential. He was a down to earth guy with bags of talent, and with no real threat to Under Armour’s brand as he has had no bad press or baggage behind him.

Now let’s fast forward to present day. Spieth has won two of the four golf majors in one year, winning a total of five times in 2015. So what does this mean for Under Armour? Well, it means their premier golfer has the attention of the golfing public during primetime TV slots whilst they are watching him going about his business on the course, dressed head-to-toe in Under Armour clothing and accessories – worth far more than spending millions on standard advertising.

Long story short signing Jordan has rocketed Under Armour’s appeal, brand and value.

What can the IT industry learn from this endorsement?

If companies are willing to take on interns, summer placements and so on, then they will have the opportunity to see the very best talent up close and how they work at a young age. Now, if those companies are then willing to spend the time and invest in these talented students, moulding their raw potential into their way of doing things, they could potentially save themselves a fortune when it comes to growing their teams down the line. They will have a workforce who are growing up with the company, bought into their direction, and will benefit from their mutual loyalty. Taking the gamble, for example, on a young gifted software developer that you see the potential in, could (there is that word again) save you time, money and heartache in the long-run.

Let’s have a look at how the development market could benefit from taking this type of approach. If we look at the skills that are in the shortest supply; Java, .NET and mobile developers to name a few. What could companies do differently? What can they learn from Under Armour?

If I recall correctly summer holidays from high school are roughly seven weeks long, and from University about three months. Why not set up programmes in partnership with local schools or universities? For those students who have a real interest in development, give them the opportunity to join for a month or two and work on a range of smaller development projects. Even ideas that are prototypes or completely left field, why would you not set a group of talented students to work on developing these? If they have a reasonable set of skills they will not require too much supervision, and potentially at the end of the programme companies could have identified a handful of gifted developers, who have been given a great opportunity to work on a project end-to-end. Afterwards, send them back to school to finish their education and make sure they know that if they come back down the line there will be a role for them. Businesses would have seen first-hand how they work, and the students will understand the business too.

In a market where skills are in short supply and where there are pools of potential, should more companies be taking an Under Armour approach? In my opinion, yes. They would have the opportunity to secure the very best talent before their talent is even known to the market. What this does of course require is a LOT of forward planning, and a lot of investment up-front. There are never any guarantees – you win some, you lose some – but if even half of the time the investment pays off then this approach is bound to be beneficial in the long-run. If anything, being recognised as a company that offers such a programme is bound to open doors in multiple areas.

If people are looked after and nurtured in an environment where they are able to grow and learn, even if they eventually move on to another company, their brand advocacy is likely to stick with them for a long time, which would in-turn hope to aid in the recruitment of future rising stars.

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