Adam Steffen – Brand fanatic, strategic thinker, scotch aficionado

Adam was born and raised in the great state of Montana by two busy executives. He lived in great American cities throughout Montana such as Chinook, Great Falls, Whitefish — and last but certainly not least — Missoula. He graduated from The University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in business with a double emphasis in marketing and management. Although Missoula is where he still calls home and visits whenever possible, he currently resides in Portland, Ore. working for one of the most recognized brands in the world — Nike.
Before working at the Beaverton-based company, Adam held many glamorous positions that paved the way to where he is today — such as the two-year stint as a butcher at the local grocery store in high school, a relatively successful career as a disc jockey on four radio stations throughout high school and part of college, a firefighter for the U.S. Forest service, and of course the position that truly launched his career — a bouncer/bartender at Red’s Bar in Missoula.
Adam frequently mentors UM students as well as gives guest lectures at his alma mater. When not working you can generally find him with friends, hiking, camping, cooking or contemplating the finer parts of life and business over a martini or a fine 18-year-old scotch.

What are you working on right now?

Currently one of the projects I’m working on at a macro level is trying to help evolve how we work in our new category offense. While I’m pretty far down the totem pole, I’m still using the opportunity to lead what I feel is the essence of the category offense — from how we plan our business from a financial standpoint to what we consider to be the new measurements for success. When a brand decides to change an industry it’s a high-risk high-reward proposition. I believe we will be very successful. We are leading the industry with this new strategy and we are already seeing dividends paid on it. The future is looking very bright for us, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Speed, which is a little vague, I know. If you look at the speed at which we communicate and interact it is light years ahead of where we were even at the beginning of our generation (also known as the 80’s). I’m almost curious to see if the “Great Recession” we’re in will end dramatically faster than the Great Depression did because of how fast we can communicate and maneuver through issues. For example, look at how newspapers are a dying product. Most people get their news either on the Web or on their phone. I recently purchased an iPhone and rarely buy The New York Times in print anymore since I can get it on my phone and read it when it’s convenient for me. It’s also a little scary at the same time, because it’s allowing consumers to be pickier than ever and they vote fast. If they’re not voting for you or your brand, you won’t be around very long. Of course being an optimist myself, I see it as an opportunity to leverage a brand — to separate it from the pack and move it into elite status.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life through my passion and perseverance. I find that when people really believe in something if they come up with a quick strategy, use some common sense and stay motivated it makes it easier to succeed. However, it would be foolish to not say that sometimes when you fail you learn more than if you would have succeeded. You can’t be afraid to fail, but you always must be aware of the ramifications of failure. I find that in doing so you’re much more likely to not stray from your strategy, which will ultimately lead to success.

From a personal standpoint, what motivates you?

I always love asking people this, because generally people say they know what motivates them, but when challenged a little bit, they tend to not have a focused answer. For me success is what motivates me. Whether that success is in business and seeing a new product or project come to life, or coaching youth sports and mentoring young people or fly-fishing, it motivates me. I find a lot of people attach success to money, which for some people is true. For others success could be being the best teacher in the world and having a positive impact on students’ lives. I feel tangible assets are a byproduct of success.

What are you reading right now?

As bad as it is, I haven’t had much time to read books lately. I tend to go in cycles where I’ll read two or three books at a time and then stop for a while. Currently I’m in the down part of that cycle. I regularly read the Harvard Business Review as well as The New York Times — which is like a drug to me. Of everything I read throughout the week, the business section of The New York Times’ weekly column titled “Corner Office” by Adam Bryant, is my favorite. The articles profile senior level executives in various industries and discuss leadership with them in a style not too different from Idea Mench. I have two favorite books. “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” by John Wood shows you how to bring an idea to life and discusses what happens when you harness passion and perseverance. This is the book to read. It’s not only motivating, but very grounding as well. The other, and it’s a little cliché, is Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. When I need a reminder of what the core values of leadership are, I thumb through it for a quick refresher.

How do you feel someone can effectively manage a brand?

Most people associate brands with large companies, such as Nike. That’s one of the best examples of a brand. It is recognized all over the globe. But someone should look no further than the most important brand — yourself. You are the most important brand you’ll ever manage. People often don’t look at themselves as a brand, but rather how people perceive you are a brand. So, it’s crucial to make sure the first brand you manage is your own. That will take you very far.

So … you ran a marathon?

I did. It’s hard to believe something so big could go so far. It was a great experience, and I look forward to the next one — kind of. The actual race itself was tough, obviously. But I will never forget the feeling I got when I saw mile marker 26. I started to hyperventilate. I couldn’t believe I was about to finish one of the most physically and mentally challenging tasks in a matter of minutes. It really was a great feeling crossing the finish line and being the only person in my family to ever accomplish something like that. Who knows, maybe I’ll try a triathlon one of these days.