Aaron Heiser '98: World Traveling Nike Executive Says Cornell Provides Perfect Balance
When he was an undergrad, a Cornell alum offered Aaron Heiser an internship under one condition.
“He told me that he was more than happy to help me out, as long as I promised I would do the same for other students in the future,” Heiser said. “I thought that was awesome. I saw that those are the types of alums that Cornell has - willing to help and provide connections.”
Heiser has followed through on that promise, interacting with and advising many Cornellians since - and he has quite a bit of experience to share.
The Oregon native has been in various leadership positions with Nike around the world, currently serving as the Global Vice President of Apparel and Accessories.
Heiser graduated from the School of Hotel Administration in 1998, and knew he wanted to move into brand management or product development.
He had an on-campus interview at Cornell with Federated Merchandising Group and began his career in product merchandising, moving on to the Gap and then Giorgio Armani.
And then Nike called.
Heiser said he never thought he’d move back to Oregon, where Nike is headquartered, but he stayed for two and a half years, working in the direct-to-consumer business. Then, he and his wife and child left for Amsterdam, where Heiser had General Manager responsibilities for the 100 plus Nike stores in Western Europe.
It was then on to Shanghai for four years, where Heiser was the Nike Vice President for Greater China Retail. About seven years ago, the Heiser clan returned to Oregon and Heiser took over responsibilities for Apparel and Accessories worldwide.
“We’ve had so many international experiences - my third child was born in China,” Heiser said. “Before I was 18, I hadn’t really traveled internationally. My kids have 40 countries in their passports. I’m grateful. It’s been a huge blessing and a ton of fun.”
Heiser used the same phrase “ton of fun” to describe his wrestling days in Ithaca where he took that mat at 134, 142, and 150 pounds, although his competition time was limited, due partially to concussions.
“I really loved the team,” he said. “It was such an awesome environment. We lived together, trained together. Even though I didn’t compete much in my last few years, I was able to help out my roommate and Eastern runner up Nate Rupp. If he needed to cut weight, train, whatever, I did it with him.”
The bonds Heiser formed with his teammates have remained strong.
“I talk to the guys all the time, even though we live all over the country,” Heiser said. “It’s absolutely awesome. We go to Nationals and sit together. The last time I was looking around and thinking - wow. Doctors, lawyers, successful business executives. I probably wouldn’t have guessed it while we were in college, but the levels the guys have achieved professionally are amazing.”
Heiser believes the Cornell wrestling experience has a lot to do with that.
“Wrestling is tough and it takes the fear out of a lot of other things,” he said. “When you’re on the mat, you win or lose all by yourself. You have to figure out what to do, physically and mentally. It’s a perfect training situation for the corporate world. You decide what to do, you correct your mistakes, you outwork everybody. And I find that people are slightly afraid of wrestlers - thinking we have kind of an edge every time we walk into the room.”
For those that came out of the Cornell wrestling room, Heiser believes there’s more than just a slight edge.
“Cornell wrestling is incredible,” he said. “Not only the quality and depth of the wrestlers these days, but the academic performance, the quality of the people, and what they achieve after graduation. I’m blown away by it. To me, career development is about capabilities and experiences and I think Cornell wrestling provides the perfect capability-experience balance. In the room, you’re taught incredible technique and great work ethic and have a ton of fun doing it. On the school side, you learn the foundations for your future and you create connections that last a lifetime. There’s no other school that has awesome wrestling and awesome academics at the same level. None.”