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It is astonishing to see this shoe designer turned CEO in his natural habitat, surrounded by artwork he has commissioned or collected, mixed in with bits of Nike Air Max 90 history, such as the boots Michael Keaton wore in the 1989 hit Batman. Next to Keith Richards is a bas-relief by Missouri sculptor Kris Kuksi. Parker owns three of his pieces, one a blank-check commission. "He just said, 'Do something huge,' " says Kuksi, who met Parker at a gallery show in Philadelphia

Obsession comes naturally to Parker. As a champion teenage marathoner, he routinely modified his own running shoes in search of better performance. Now, the designs he once called his "delicate creations" are so deeply embedded in the success of the company that he lost track of the number of patents he holds. One is for Visible Air technology, which he created as a side project; it helped catapult Nike out of the doldrums in the mid 80s. John McEnroe, Kobe Bryant, Olympic athletes, and your high school cross country star he's shod them all. Bryant, fresh from the Lakers' play-off victory and his MVP award in June, describes meeting Parker, then Air Max 1, in 2003 and watching him whip out his notebook to sketch while they talked. "I knew right from that that we were on the same page," Bryant says. "He's not doing things just for innovation sake. He truly wants to optimize my performance."

Parker isn't an attention seeking sort of CEO, so until now it has been hard to get a sense of him. But the imprint he is making as CEO is turning out to be as meaningful as his design work. Putting his stamp on Air Max as forcefully as the much splashier cofounder Phil Knight did, Parker has reorganized the company into units based on particular sports, a conscious decision to sharpen each piece of the business so we re not some big fat dumb company, he says reshuffled its regions to put new emphasis on China and Japan; streamlined the reporting process and removed regional middle management handled a rare round of layoffs and weathered yet another scandal involving a high profile endorser. The company came out of the recent downturn with strong revenue numbers and earnings up 53% for the most recent quarter.

I met with Parker in Beaverton just a few weeks after he and his executive team impressed shareholders and analysts in their first public investor meeting in three years. Parker used some big talk -- "Nike's infinite marketplace" -- to set some big goals: increase sales by more than 40%, to $27 billion by 2015; meet a set of equally ambitious sustainability benchmarks; grow earnings 7% a year; and keep 33,000 employees thinking as nimbly as possible. "It's like a framework as opposed to a process. We need that organic-ness to be an innovative company that's continually challenging itself," he says. He characterizes his challenge as a struggle to mix his right- and left-brain strengths: "It's about balance."

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