When a Step Back Is Actually a Step Forward

J.L. Greene Finance, Issue 10 - March/April 2014 Leave a Comment

For Under Armour CFO Brad Dickerson, an uncertain career move turned out to be the perfect fit.


“PNC has enjoyed serving Under Armour and in particular working closely with Brad Dickerson, during the company’s past several years of dynamic growth. Brad possesses the ideal blend of creativity, focus and vision required to attract and lead the great team if talented professionals at Under Armour. Together, they support the company’s phenomenal success through disciplined financial management. His steady hand at the financial helm is one of the great drivers behind the success of Under Armour’s business strategy.”
-John E. Hehir, Senior Vice President, Corporate Banking -PNC Bank

By J.L Greene

Back in 2004, Brad Dickerson believed joining Under Armour would be a step back for his career. In fact, he turned down two interviews before finally relenting. Having worked in the Finance field as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for companies such as Macquarie Aviation North America and Network Building and Consulting, why would he switch to an accounting position for a company, at the time, he knew little if nothing about?

With an MBA and ample experience, the position and opportunity seemed to be a mismatch with Dickerson’s recent experience. But when a persistent friend refused to let him pass the opportunity by, Dickerson agreed to an interview. And it is one of the best career decisions he has ever made.

Dickerson was hooked the moment he stepped into the Under Armour office. “I remember saying that I didn’t care what my title was going to be,” he said. “The title didn’t matter at all because I realized that just being part of the company was going to be a tremendous opportunity to experience something that not many people in any title are able to experience in their career.”

And so, catching the company’s vision, energy and culture, Dickerson set aside his recent career path and entered a job some then would consider the wrong move for him. Had it not been for that intuitive step, however, Dickerson would never have become CFO for a multibillion-dollar company which happens to be one of the biggest names in the sports world.

‘Earn It’ Culture

For a self-proclaimed overachiever, Dickerson thrives in Under Armour’s “Earn It” culture, where executives and employees alike work hard to prove their worth. While the company respects the background, successes, education and experience of new employees, it takes a certain type of person to join the team; even the previously successful do not necessarily carry an advantage.

“At Under Armour, it’s what you bring to the table everyday that matters more than anything,” Dickerson said. “I think that’s why I’ve done well here, because that’s been my mentality all along in my career.”

In 2008, four years into his career with the company, he became CFO. In this role he oversees Finance, Accounting, Human Resources and Campus Real Estate.

dickerson_quoteAlign, Cultivate & Overachieve

Dickerson believes maintaining executive alignment across the leadership board is essential. Leaders set the tone for the rest of the company, and an aligned vision trickles down to every area. The cohesion between the Under Armour teams and leadership allows a thriving, growing company to focus on its goals and avoid distraction.

Additionally, Dickerson prioritizes cultivating talent, rewarding hard work and opening doors for employees who show the initiative and drive. He searches eagerly for people from diverse backgrounds to hone their strengths and build a stronger company. Such principles stem from Under Amour’s Earn It cultural foundation. Anyone can rise to the top, and Under Armour emphasizes providing the tools for employees to grow and succeed.

By sticking his nose to the grindstone, working resolutely in his duties and leaping at opportunities when they arise, Dickerson has succeeded magnificently. “My motto and philosophy is to work really hard, align with my cohorts and team, overachieve and understand that I need to earn it before it comes to me,” he said. “My feeling all along has been go out there, grab opportunity, do a good job, and understand that all good things have to be earned and, more importantly, take some time to be earned. If it comes too quickly, it’s probably going to be too good of a thing.”

It is a motto that has proved so priceless that Dickerson has never had to ask for additional opportunities and compensation: They have followed naturally from his achievements.

Be Patient & Own It

One of Dickerson’s favorite pieces of advice to young professional is a virtue often forgotten in today’s fast-paced society: patience. In the end, he says, nothing replaces learning from mistakes and gaining experience.

Over the course of his career, Dickerson has seen countless individuals limit their potential because they focus on expediting their career without gaining the necessary foundation to hold their too-quickly-earned leadership roles. In the spirit of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” he has observed that those who patiently work ahead ultimately succeed beyond the career sprinters, becoming successful for the long term because they have invested time and gained the proper tools.

So what else does Dickerson’s advise to young professionals eager to rise to similar high-ranking positions? Own your role in the company. Get involved in the business.

“Feel like an owner,” Dickerson said. “Feel like what you’re doing is important and the decisions you make are important. Care about the organization you work with. Whether you’re going to be with them your entire career or not, you can only benefit from what comes from caring about what you’re doing and the organization you’re doing it for.”

In the end, Dickerson is a classic example that patience and hard work will reward you. When he joined Under Armour, Dickerson redefined his opinion of what success and failure looked like. Though seemingly a questionable career choice at the time, he knew this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would prove to be invaluable for his future.

Plant seeds, work hard, seize opportunity and invest yourself in your position. Chances are, like Dickerson, you will not be disappointed.

J.L. Greene is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Like any good coach, Brad Dickerson wants you to succeed. Bursting with encouragement, here are a few additional areas (and supporting pointers) essential for success:


Get BackUp

“You’re going to have failures. Movement is life, and sometimes with movement you’re going to do stuff that in retrospect you would’ve done differently. When something goes wrong, pick yourself up another day and keep winning. Sometimes the failures and mistakes are a little more visible to people, but that shouldn’t stop you from going out the next day.”

Be Self-Aware

“Don’t be afraid to be very, very self-aware of your strengths and the things that you’re not good at or the things you don’t like to do. It’s not a weakness to understand your weakness: It’s very much a strength. And when you become a manager or a leader down the road, you will be much better at understanding the balance of what you need around you because of your self-awareness than you would otherwise be.”

Diversity Brings Balance

“Balance as a team is critically important. If you have everybody on the team that comes from the exact same background and is good at the exact same thing, you’re going to have gaping weaknesses in your team. If you understand this and are self-aware and you hire self-aware people, that just cascades all the way down through the organization. You are able to accomplish a lot more, deal with challenges earlier and be able to deal with adversity better because of your varying backgrounds and diversity of thought.”

Brad’s Key Partners: PNC Bank (Lead Arranger/Credit facility Management) | JP Morgan (Corporate Banking) | Wells Fargo Bank N.A (Credit, FX, Deposit Services)

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