Employing Your Sonny Vaccaro: 10 Crucial Lessons in Choosing the Right Operations Manager

Employing Your Sonny Vaccaro: 10 Crucial Lessons in Choosing the Right Operations Manager

In the intricate world of business, choosing the right Operations Manager is crucial. ÅThey play a significant role in ensuring that your enterprise runs smoothly and achieves its strategic objectives.

They are the “Make Things Happen Leader” — a concept that is akin to Sonny Vaccaro’s role in Phil Knight’s Nike.

As the mastermind behind Nike’s ascension to global recognition, Vaccaro offers valuable lessons on what to look for in your Operations Manager. Using this framework, coupled with insights from Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog” and the insightful 2023 film “Air”, let’s explore 10  critical lessons about selecting your Sonny Vaccaro.

1. The Need for Vision Alignment

A key characteristic that set Sonny Vaccaro apart was his ability to fully align himself with Phil Knight’s vision for Nike. Your Operations Manager should not only understand your vision but be able to live it, breathe it, and embed it into every operational aspect of your enterprise.

Knight and Vaccaro did not see eye to eye, all the time, but a well-articulated case got Knight fully backing Vaccaro’s way of doing things.

2. Unwavering Resilience

Throughout his tenure at Nike, Vaccaro showcased immense resilience. Whether it was battling competitor brands or dealing with internal crises, his grit was instrumental in navigating tough terrains.

The “Air” principle reminds us of the importance of resilience, particularly when faced with high-pressure, make-or-break scenarios.

3. Risk-Taking and Innovation

Sonny Vaccaro wasn’t afraid to take risks. His idea to sponsor college sports – a gamble at the time – paid off massively and set a precedent in sports marketing.

Your Operations Manager should embrace calculated risks and foster a culture of innovation to keep your business at the forefront of your industry.

4. Versatility and Adaptability

As shown in “Air”, versatility and adaptability can be the difference between success and failure. Similarly, Vaccaro demonstrated these traits by seamlessly navigating through various roles at Nike. A competent Operations Manager should exhibit the same flexibility, adjusting to changes in the business environment and leading your team effectively through them.

Choosing the right Operations Manager for your business is an investment in its future. Ask yourself: “Who is my Sonny Vaccaro?” Reflect on your ideal candidate’s attributes and how they can enhance your business’s overall performance.

Remember, your Operations Manager is more than just a cog in the wheel. They are the driving force propelling your business toward its strategic goals.

Investing the time and resources in selecting the right “Make Things Happen Leader” might just be the game-changer your enterprise needs to scale new heights.

In this quest, let the lessons from Sonny Vaccaro guide your path. Vision alignment, resilience, relationship-building, risk-taking, and versatility – these attributes are integral in the journey towards business success.

5. Intuition and Instincts

One of Sonny Vaccaro’s defining attributes was his sharp instinct. He had an intuitive understanding of the market and the courage to act on his instincts, leading to game-changing strategies for Nike.

An effective Operations Manager should have a similar ability to anticipate market trends and make strategic decisions based on their instincts and analytical insights.

6. Expertise and Knowledge

Vaccaro brought an extensive knowledge of sports marketing to Nike, transforming the way the company engaged with its audience.

Your Operations Manager should possess (over time)  a deep understanding of your industry, continuously updating their knowledge to implement strategies that keep your business competitive.

7. Strong Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of all successful business operations. Vaccaro was known for his persuasive communication skills, which helped him secure important deals and negotiate successful partnerships.

Your Operations Manager needs to be an excellent communicator to successfully liaise between different departments, stakeholders, and external partners.

8. Results-Driven Approach

As an integral part of Nike’s growth, Vaccaro demonstrated a relentless focus on achieving results. He was instrumental in turning Knight’s vision into measurable outcomes.

In the same way, your Operations Manager should be results-oriented, setting clear performance indicators and continuously striving to meet or exceed them.

9. Ethical Leadership

Despite the cutthroat competition in the sports industry, Vaccaro was known for his principled approach to doing business.

This commitment to ethical leadership is essential in an Operations Manager, who should uphold the highest standards of integrity and inspire the same in your team.

10. Embracing and Driving Change

One of the most significant aspects of Sonny Vaccaro’s leadership was his willingness to drive change. He was not content with the status quo and always looked for ways to disrupt and innovate. In a rapidly evolving business environment, an Operations Manager should be capable of not just adapting to change, but also driving it.

They should have the foresight to see the necessity for change, the courage to implement it, and the skills to manage it effectively, ensuring the organization’s continued growth and success.


The role of an Operations Manager is multifaceted and requires a unique blend of skills, competencies, and personal attributes. By learning from the career of Sonny Vaccaro, we can gain insights into the qualities that define a successful “Make Things Happen Leader”.

These lessons can guide us in selecting the right Operations Manager – a pivotal decision that could significantly impact the trajectory of your business.

Oh…I suggest you watch Air starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. It’s a great film about Nike changing the way sports stars are remunerated for endorsing a brand, pioneered by Nike’s partnership with Michael Jordan. MJ  is a billionaire, in large part due to his royalties from Nike.

Are you ready to grow and scale your business?

Need help attracting and retaining top talent?

Greg Weiss

Book a Free Initial Consultation on Sourcing Operational Leaders from One of Australia’s Most Respected HR and Recruitment Consultants

At Soulidify, we are a highly regarded retained recruitment firm, that specialises in Operations Manager recruitment and General Manager recruitment. It’s our mission to find a visionary’s perfect Operational half-match, so any business can experience disciplined scaling and growth. It can truly be magic.

We are also a member of NPAworldwide which means we can help you with your recruitment needs anywhere on any continent.

Call us today for a free consultation.


Greg authored 3 practical Career Books, and 1 Book helping Visionary leaders scale their businesses. He is one of Australia’s most experienced HR consultants and leading career coaches. He is the founder and owner of Soulidify and Career365. As an entrepreneur/business owner, Greg has experienced first-hand the joys and frustrations of starting and growing one’s own business.

You can find him on LinkedIn or Linktree.

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