Senior Director Future Engineering
Mark Henderson has worked in engineering and innovation with adidas for 17 years. He is currently a Senior Engineering Director for the Future Team, where he leads a team of talented engineers working 3-7 years out on game changing ideas. Topics range from high performance product and athlete experiences to the future of manufacturing and sustainability. He has worked on or directed the engineering of several successful adidas technologies including: adidas 1, the world’s first intelligent shoe; adidas prime SP, the lightest sprint spike ever, and most recently the industry changing Futurecraft 4D, a high performance 3d printed running shoe. Mark is originally from Tauranga, New Zealand and completed his honors degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury.
Where are you from?
Tauranga, New Zealand.
Where did you go to uni?
I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury.
What is your role at adidas?
Senior Engineering Director for the Future Team.
What is the Future Team?
We work on game changing ideas for 3-7 years from now.
How long have you worked at adidas?
Almost 17 years!
What has your most important lesson in business been?
Collaboration is key. Listening and working with others to build meaningful relationships is so important. There is something really special about bringing together a cross functional team that is ‘buzzing’ on a project, once you have that energy the magic will happen.
What are the most important attributes for an aspiring innovator?
Be curious. Ask questions, move away from the obvious and what’s existing, what does the athlete truly need? what are they not telling us?
Experiment. This should be fun! Try ideas, learn and then try again. When we created a 99-gram sprint shoe, we didn’t get it right on the first go, there was plenty of broken plastic and negative feedback along the way, but that iteration and learning from the prototypes was what made it a great shoe.
Be determined. If it’s a truly innovative idea, you will be told it’s not possible, it’s not the right time, it’s too expensive, this means you’re on the right track! Stick at it.
How do you encourage creativity and innovation?
Show interest and get involved. New ideas can be delicate, they need support and candid feedback to grow. On a larger scale you need diversity of thought and this can only come from creating a safe environment where experts from different backgrounds want to come together and experiment without judgement. A joint love of sport is always a great starting point!
What small change has had a big impact on your career?
Staying active. I ride my bike to work, swing kettle bells a couple of times a week and surf when there are waves. If I can do these things and stay healthy, I’m on top of my game at work too.
What do you wish you had known 20 years ago?
The best basketball players in the world take the most shots, even if they miss they adjust and then keep shooting. I would tell 24-year-old Mark to take more shots, don’t stress the ones that miss and truly enjoy the ones that go in!
Who do you most admire and why?
Successful sports people who are great role models both on and off the field. I am so proud to come from New Zealand and I have always admired the way our top athletes carry themselves on the world stage.
Why are you excited about Groundswell Festival of Innovation?
I built my whole career on ‘kiwi ingenuity’ so I’m excited to come home and share what I know and see what else I can learn. I think New Zealand is a thriving hotbed for creativity and innovation and i can’t wait to take part in the festival!
What are your long-term goals?
I have been working in innovation and sports for almost 20 years. We continue to create the new and bring joy to people through sports however the impact that our products have on the environment can’t be ignored. There is positive change happening in this area and I would like to play a leading role in creating solutions that clean up our planet.
What are some of the projects you’ve been involved in?
adidas 1, the world’s first intelligent shoe; adidas prime SP, the lightest sprint spike ever, and most recently the industry changing Futurecraft 4D, a high performance 3d printed running shoe.
What’s your favourite sport?
It’s still Rugby!
Describe in three words what it’s like to work in your current role.
Not a job.
Who do you most admire and why?
My close friends and family who act selflessly with care and compassion for those around them.
Tell us about your favourite innovation of all time.
The bicycle is incredible in its simplicity and utility. It has also stood the test of time, creating its own unique space. I would have loved to build and ride the first pedal bike!
What do you do in your free time?
Not counting family time, it’s surfing, mountain biking and building things.
What’s the best thing about working at adidas?
I am lucky enough to work with a group of incredibly talented people who have a joint desire to make great sports products and have fun doing it!