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Under Armour's Kevin Plank Is The Billionaire Underdog

Forbes

For the second straight year, Under Armour founder and chief executive, Kevin Plank, is on the Forbes Billionaire list. It’s a good bet he’s there to stay. Plank, according to our experts, is now worth $1.2 billion. Most of that net worth is tied up in stock in his own company.

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CEO Kevin Plank sees Under Armour as a long shot to beat Nike. (Forbes.com)

You probably know the Plank story well by now: the middle class upbringing who walked-on to the University of Maryland football team then came up with idea for sweat-wicking performance shirt and started Under Armour in the basement of his grandmother’s old house. UA had revenues of $17,000 in 1996. In 2012, those revenues will reach $1.8 billion. Just anecdotally, one can see that Under Armour has arrived. Look around the gym, the mall and the airport and see how many folks—especially younger men—wear Under Armour these days. It’s pretty astounding.

Since last year’s Billionaire list, Plank and UA have launched a host of new products, outfitted Tottenham Hotspur (currently in third in the English Premier League standings and the team of the new global soccer star, Gareth Bale), watched the Baltimore Ravens (with whom they have 20 player-endorsers) win the Super Bowl and filed a loud trademark lawsuit against Nike.

I profiled Plank last September, spending some time with him at his office and at his horse farm, Sagamore. A few things became very clear during our interview: Plank still has the same energy he had for his company back in 1996. Outside of business and his family, his horse farm is his abiding passion. And – despite the fact that he is now a billionaire – he really does still see himself and Under Armour as underdogs. The big target is not talked about as much anymore within the UA office walls, but it remains the same: Nike.

I found this little exchange, excerpted from my September profile, to be illuminating:

Since the beginning, Plank says, the goal for Under Armour has been to “compete with the best,” which is, of course, Nike. Early on, Plank used to send a Christmas card every year to Nike founder Phil Knight that read: “You will hear about us one day.” Nike, at least publicly, seemed to pay little attention to the upstart company. Over time, that’s changed. Plank and Knight had a memorable exchange in 2009, at a football game between the University of Utah (an Under Armour school) and the University of Oregon (a Nike school and Knight’s alma mater) in Eugene, Oregon, Nike’s backyard. Plank spotted Knight on the rainy field before the game and said hello.

“Sorry about the weather,” Knight said.

“We’ll be ready because we’re Under Armour,” Plank replied.

Knight then started to walk away when Plank asked, “Want to make a bet on the game?”

Plank says Knight turned and smiled and then said, “I think we already have.” (Knight remembers the exchange the same way.)

Plank has his work cut out for him there. Nike’s revenues are $24 billion, 12 times those of Under Armour. And, just for the record, Nike founder, Phil Knight’s net worth is $14.4 billion. But one gets the feeling that Plank truly enjoys his current role, the perpetual underdog.

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