5 corporate lessons to learn from 'Air'

“You are remembered for the rules you break” Or so says Phil Knight.

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Based on true events, the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck-starrer, Air follows the story of a Nike employee, Sonny Vaccaro (played by Damon), who seeks to strike a multi-million dollar business deal with Michael Jordan (who goes on to become an NBA legend). Despite multiple rejections, discouragements, and challenges, Vaccaro succeeds, backed by the unwavering faith and trust that Phil Knight (played by Affleck), CEO of the sports equipment giant. Jordan’s agreement with Nike and the creation of Air Jordans led to the brand earning $162 million in one year (exceeding Knight’s expectations by roughly $159 million).

How does a company do that? What does it take? The film—through its powerful dialogues and brilliantly etched-out characters—brings forth lessons to excel in the corporate world. It touches upon everything from how to be a great leader to the ingredients of a successful team and so on. Here are some lessons we have bookmarked for when creativity and inspiration run dry.


Know your competition inside out 
Sonny Vaccaro knew his competition. He knew what he was heading for and he knew it inside out. When Vaccaro goes with his proposal to Jordan’s mother, he describes exactly what would happen in the meetings with Adidas and Converse, and also guides her to ask the right questions. It was his knowledge, beyond the brand or Michael Jordan that convinced Jordan's mother to take up the meeting with Nike. It is important for every employee, manager, and even CEO to understand their competition, their strengths and weaknesses, and then strategically put their brand forward. 

Trust your employee 
Throughout the film we see Phil Knight hesitant, and sometimes wary about a lot of decisions that would heavily impact the firm. Yet, he portrayed ideal leadership skills when it came to delegation of tasks and showing confidence in the team—even when things didn’t work out as planned. When you trust your employee to deliver, they feel a sense of encouragement and support, which enables them to perform better. Knight trusted Vaccaro with the $250,000 dollars to be spent on one endorsement deal instead of three. “If this is the guy who you think he’s gonna be, he’ll be the best thing that ever happened to this company and he’ll be worth every penny,” he says.  

Don’t take no for an answer 


 “I don’t like to take no for an answer and I think your son should be endorsed by someone of the mindset,” Vaccaro says to Deloris Jordan. Sonny Vaccaro faced a ‘No’, nearly every step of the way—even within his organisation. It took endless research and an almost foolproof proposal to convince everyone from Howard White to Phil Knight himself. His relentless persistence and belief in his idea seemed more than enough for him to pursue the goal. And he saw it through—without giving up in the face of repeated rejections or discouragements. 

Think out of the box 
In what was a first attempt for Nike, the brand created a shoe that combined solid technology and the personality of basketball star, Michael Jordan. The team went beyond run-of-the-mill endorsement deals and sought to think of the long-term, bigger picture. Nike became one of the first sports-based companies to agree to share profits with Jordan—a path-breaking move within the sporting world. Vaccaro challenges the status quo with a firm belief in the power of doing something unconventional and disruptive. The truth is, it may not always turn out in your favour, but not thinking out of the box may be worse for your and your organisation's growth. 

Teamwork >> internal politics 

Some members of Nike do not want to sign Jordan because of the high risk involved. Internal politics can often be a major hindrance to achieving certain goals. Yet, the movie shows us how teamwork is inevitably the best solution. Vaccaro dedicates a lot of time to creating a competent and hardworking team that believes in his vision. Knight, Vaccaro, Strasser and others brought the ‘we all live or die together’, mindset to the table which led them to success. It was about the mission more than an individual. We’d recommend you to stay at an organisation that ingrains the core value of teamwork in you.