Entrepreneurial Spirit / June 16, 2022

Kevin Plank ’96 Shares Entrepreneurial Lessons at EnTERPreneur Conference

Want to know how to nurture entrepreneurial spirit at a young age? A little bit of encouragement goes a long way.

Maryland Smith alum Kevin Plank ’96, speaking with University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines during a keynote chat at the third annual EnTERPreneurship Conference on June 9, urged members of the audience to support and acknowledge entrepreneurial hustle whenever they are able to – including something as simple as stopping at a children’s lemonade stand.

“Take five minutes and stop and buy a cup of lemonade,” said Plank, founder, executive and brand chief of sports apparel maker Under Armour. “Help encourage them on their journey, too. It’s the greatest gift that we have.”

The event, hosted by the University of Maryland Alumni Association and held at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center, convened over 250 attendees who heard from other Terp entrepreneurs during panel discussions, a networking lunch and a resource fair featuring local organizations that provided business and legal advice, financing options and mentorship.

Also in attendance was another Smith alum, David C. Quattrone, MBA ’05, co-founder and chief technology officer for Cvent, who was among the UMD alumni presented with an EnTERPreneur award during the event.

As for Plank’s journey as a Terp entrepreneur, he reflected on the time between Under Armour’s origins in his grandmother’s basement back in 1996 to its current status as a multibillion-dollar company.

Here are some of the lessons he’s learned along the way:

Learn the systems. One of Plank’s best experiences at the University of Maryland was seeing how to interact “with a large system,” he said. That means understanding how you fit within a bureaucracy and structure and taking what you can from each opportunity there.

“There’s lessons in everything. It’s going to an orientation and not just sitting in the crowd, but it’s thinking about, ‘I’m going to stay behind and shake this person’s hand.’ It is those little things of making those connections.”

Match insight with passion. Plank despised how his cotton shirts felt during football practices and games. “We would go in at halftime and the team would spend five, 10 minutes pulling shoulder pads off, swapping out T-shirts just to get them dry and thinking, ‘This is crazy’ and ‘How come nobody has a better alternative?’” he said.

Plank found one with his innovative shirts, saying, “I was lucky to be able to have an insight that matched my passion, that I could then apply into a job—more importantly, a calling or a mission that allowed me to chase and build something.”

Adapt to change. The internet and e-commerce—let alone the creation of “influencers” who help mold consumer behavior through social media—has been a sea change since Under Armour’s beginning, Plank said.

“The way that we talk to the consumer is so different today,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a 60-second commercial, in general. It’s figuring out how we can do the snackable bites in seven seconds that will intrigue you on an Instagram story.”

“This is metabolism,” he said. “We all remain students.”

Connect with customers. Data and algorithms can have great predictive powers about what customers want, Plank said, and brands need to dictate “the tempo of what’s cool.” At the same time, however, lasting loyalty for a brand like his comes only from an inviting and inspiring image that can make a little kid more confident when exercising or trying out for a team.

“It’s our job to make sure there is a superpower,” he said. “That’s when we’ve really won. And it’s not just some marketing story that you are making up, but it really is affecting us.”

Be present. Despite the increase in complexity and demand at a large public company since the days of selling T-shirts out of the trunk of his car, Plank said that the temptation to romanticize the old days is a waste of time—“All I can do is think about living right now,” he said.

“Being present is the most important advice I can give anybody,” he said. “Wherever you are, be there. That’s great advice for a parent, that’s great advice for a boss. And build that person, build that organization that you always wanted.”

Find hundreds of Terp businesses in the Alumni Association’s new Terp Referral Exchange Business Directory.

–This article is adapted from Maryland Today’s “Kevin Plank: Be Present and Buy the Lemonade.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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