By Jay Kernis
Kevin Plank began his athletic T-shirt company in 1996 and it made $17,000 in revenue that year.
In 2012, Under Armour revenue was nearly $2 billion.
Plank’s company now has more than 5,000 employees. Those who work at company headquarters overlooking the Baltimore Harbor have use of a state-of-the-art health club, a basketball court right in the middle of their offices and an enviable cafeteria with signs that urge staff to eat more of the healthful offerings and back away from foods that add fat in the wrong places.
“Something like 80 percent of the people who work in our company played some version of high school sports. We have more than 50 percent of our employee base played some version of sport in college as well,” Plank says.
As a college football player at the University of Maryland, Plank remembers a day on the field when his teammates were in trouble. He told NBC News’ Harry Smith, “We had a bunch of guys go down with heat exhaustion.”
Thirteen players were hospitalized.
“A cotton T-shirt weighs six ounces. Once it’s saturated, could weigh somewhere between two and a half and three pounds,” Plank explained. “I set out to build the world’s greatest T-shirt for football players to wear under their pads.”
With no experience in or knowledge of clothing manufacturing, he purchased some women’s lingerie fabric, took it to a local tailor, asked him to sew some shirts and then tested and re-tested his prototypes on his athletic buddies.
Today, it’s difficult to work out at a gym or bike on a trail without seeing the Under Armour logo on men’s and women’s shirts, shorts, jackets and shoes.
The company is as much a technology company as it is a clothing company.
“Imagine a day when you will be able to adjust your body temperature by a thermostat on your sleeve,” Plank says. “I imagine a day when you’re reading your bio-metric data not from a bug or a strap, but it’s a chip that’s in your shirt. And you can actually see a screen that pops up on your garment.”
This kind of visionary thinking has made Plank a very wealthy man. His personal worth is estimated at more than $1 billion dollars.
But he has no plans to slow down. He’s only 40 years old, and published on the walls around headquarters is the quote: “We haven’t made our defining product yet.”
Plank truly believes his company is yet to make the one product that everyone wants, that will change the culture.
But he’s working on it.
Editor's Note: Harry Smith's full report airs Friday, March 8 at 10pm/9c on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.