A day after Business Insider broke the news that highly visible Nike CIO Anthony Watson left the company, we’ve uncovered more details as to what happened and why.
The gossip from one source was that Watson was let go for pushing too hard and too fast for change within Nike.
But that gossip is not true, a source close to the situation told us.
Watson resigned on good terms with Nike and left for a simpler more “boring” reason: he didn’t like living in the Portland area.
Watson, a British native, had moved from London to join Nike, which is based in the sleepy town of Beaverton, Ore., just outside of Portland. It was a culture shock for him. He “loved working for Nike,” our source said, and had he been able to do while living in a bigger city, he would not have resigned. (We’ve reached out to Watson for comment.)
That’s a little surprising, as the Nike CIO role is a dream job for many an IT professional. We don’t know what Nike paid Watson, but the median salary for a CIO is $US246,000, according to Salary.com, with CIOs at the biggest corporations (like Nike) easily earning upwards of $US300,000. A good job.
In his 10 months there, Watson had been a highly visible CIO for several reasons. He was a role model for openly gay execs in the corporate world and a board member for the gay advocacy group GLAAD. In October, the Financial Times named him the world’s fourth most influential LGBT leader.
But it’s also true that in the short time Watson was there, he had instituted a lot of change.
Watson had put together a five-year plan to transform Nike’s approach to tech, starting with upgrading the corporate network, signing a key deal with Juniper Networks for that.
He was bringing in big data technology and was in the process of renegotiating contracts with many of Nike’s long-term outsourcing vendors such as Xerox, multiple sources told us.
He caused ripples right away. Shortly after he arrived, he helped convince Nike to stop making fitness band hardware and focus on software instead. About 55 people from the roughly 70-person hardware team were let go, CNet reported at the time. This was out of a larger Digital Sport division that employed about 200, according to CNet.
Sources tell us that Nike remains on board with Watson’s general tech plan as it searches for a replacement.
Here is the internal email from Nike COO Eric Sprunk sent to employees that says as much:
I would like to share an important change on the Global Operations leadership team.
Anthony Watson is leaving Nike for personal reasons. During his time at Nike, Anthony worked on a vision and five-year strategy to reset Technology as a critical platform for Nike’s growth. I’d like to personally thank Anthony for his contributions.
The Tech vision and strategy will be essential to developing and supporting global business needs in many areas. Our commitment to creating this infrastructure remains steadfast, and we will continue to invest in our IT teams and business.
While we work to identify Anthony’s replacement, I will step in immediately to lead the Tech organisation. I am confident we will continue to deliver high impact results and appreciate your support during this transition.
Chief Operating Officer