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In choosing Mike Byrne as Anomaly’s new partner and creative chief last week, agency co-founder Carl Johnson cited the Wieden + Kennedy creative director’s talent, smarts, personality and ambition. But the conversation starter was Nike, a brand that Byrne worked on for six years, first as a copywriter and most recently as co-cd.

Indeed, without the platform of Nike and award-winning spots such as 2001’s “Tag,” for which Byrne shared a Cannes Grand Prix for film, Byrne would not have been on Johnson’s radar screen. “What I like about Nike is the relentless requirement of excellence,” said Johnson. “What that does is it keeps you driving, it keeps you reaching, it keeps you learning.”

Byrne, 36, is expected to join his new shop, whose clients include Coca-Cola, The New York Times and Virgin America, next month. He’ll be filling the vacancy left by the January exit of Ernest Lupinacci, and in addition to leading creative efforts, he’ll take a stake in the New York independent. Byrne, by stepping into a broader role, albeit at a one-office independent of 60 people, joins a long list of top creatives on Nike at Wieden who have parlayed the experience into bigger jobs: TBWA\Chiat\Day North American cd Chuck McBride, a former co-cd on Nike; Jamie Barrett, a partner and cd at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and ex-cd on the brand; Publicis Seattle co-president and ecd Bob Moore, also once a co-cd on Nike; and MMB co-cd Jerry Cronin, who made his name as a copywriter and cd on the business in the 1990s, producing work such as “Meat,” which in ’99 won a Gold Lion at Cannes.

Having Nike and Wieden on your résumé “is like saying you went to Harvard or MIT, or that you were a Navy Seal,” said Cronin, who spent 10 years on the brand. “They have such a cachet. It gives you instant credibility.”

Contributing to such a successful global brand with a history of prize-winning work can’t help but raise a creative’s profile, which inevitably triggers offers, said McBride. “You get visibility, and if you do it right, you get a lot of visibility,” he said. “You can’t get much of a better client. They have money. They want to win and [say], ‘Let’s go.”

“Nike,” McBride added, “is one of those few clients that are very gifted at seeing good ideas and realizing good ideas.” So much so, he joked, that “probably you get delusions of grandeur!”

Byrne, whose Nike reel includes last year’s “Kid Tiger” and 2004’s “What if?” effort, which features famous athletes performing outside their chosen sports, readily acknowledged that Nike, and Wieden as well, pushed him to greater heights as a writer and cd.

“The pressure of that—what’s been established and working under that—it’s great training,” said Byrne, who spent 10 years at Wieden, including four years in the shop’s New York office, working on ESPN. “Everyone pushes each other, so there’s a good energy there.”

Not withstanding the big stage that Nike provides, those who excel on the brand inevitably face the reality that they can only rise so high at Wieden, where co-founder and president Dan Wieden remains in charge. As one source put it, “You know, there’s a ceiling at Wieden.”

Hence, top creatives either accept the limitation or look elsewhere for a management role. If they move on, often it’s with confidence, as managing the Nike creative group is akin to running a small firm; roughly 12 teams work on Nike in Portland, Ore., today.

“Becoming the creative chief of an office was a logical next step,” said Barrett, who logged eight years on Nike before becoming ecd of Fallon’s New York office in 1998. That job, in turn, triggered an offer from Goodby in 2001. “One of the beauties of Wieden is you spent 99 percent of your time creative-directing work. In my role at Fallon, that percentage went down dramatically. I became a partner in a business. My job expanded.”

Still, the Nike experience gave him “credibility and confidence” to tackle something new. “If you’ve done the Nike-Wieden thing, you’ve played in the World Series,” Barrett said.

Wieden, who told staffers about Byrne’s exit on Thursday, now faces the difficult but familiar challenge of filling a top slot on Nike. On Friday, he said he would consider both internal and external candidates. Meanwhile, Steve Luker, the other cd on the $200 mil. U.S. account, will absorb Bryne’s duties. As for Byrne, Wieden said: “We watched him develop into a one-of-a-kind talent. We will miss him. Badly.”