Adidas Boasts Youthful Workforce

Herbert Hainer’s favorite part of being the CEO of Adidas Group isn’t the paycheck or having access to the world’s greatest athletes and sporting events. What he said he enjoys most is the atmosphere at the office — one he’s worked hard to cultivate.

“[My favorite thing is] to work with young, passionate people,” Hainer said. “I go to Stripes, which is our restaurant, and I always have the feeling that I’m going to the restaurant of a university. Our average age [at our headquarters] in Herzogenaurach, Germany, is 30 years, and it’s very international.”

The Adidas Group prides itself on being a youthful and diverse company, with nearly 47,000 employees around the world and 50 different nationalities represented at the World of Sports facility in Herzogenaurach.

And that’s very much on purpose, brand executives told Footwear News. Creating a vibrant employee base and culture is key to the company’s efforts to entice young consumers with new and interesting product, they said. It also will help keep sports-passionate buyers around the world engaged with the brand.

In the U.S. business, for example, Adidas has made no secret of the fact that its target consumer is the high-school athlete, and its marketing is all directed at reaching that base. That also holds true across the world, said Jan Runau, head of corporate communications for Adidas.

That focus necessitates a workforce that is in touch with youth culture, which is what Hainer has developed across brands, according to Reebok President Uli Becker.

“You turn 49, you’re close to retirement — at least if you are in that mindset,” said Becker, who has worked in various roles for the Adidas Group for more than 20 years.

During that time, he said, there has been a sea change in the growing global perspective of the brand. “When I joined in 1990, people weren’t even just speaking German,” he said. “They were speaking Franconian German, the local dialect.”

But Hainer noted that the push to move Adidas from being a German company serving the German community to a multinational, English-speaking global player didn’t originate with him. That was a mandate initiated under Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the French financier who was brought in to run a struggling Adidas in 1994.

“Before Robert Louis-Dreyfus and Christian Tourres came in, we definitely were a German company. The whole board was German people, and Germany was the biggest subsidiary for Adidas. Today, we only do 5 percent of our revenues in Germany, with 95 percent outside,” Hainer said.

Patrik Nilsson, president of Adidas America, joined the Adidas family in the early 1990s, and worked in the Nordic group’s Stockholm offices before moving to Herzogenaurach, then back to Stockholm, and later to Portland, Ore.

He remembered that during his time under Louis-Dreyfus at the head office, he was one of many brought in to add their voices to the product line.

“It was an approach of trying to get many different parts of the world to show their passion for sport and their willingness to change the game and the culture. And it really started back then and has continued to escalate and grow,” he said.

That effort has intensified under Hainer.

In fact, to drive efficiency and profits under Hainer’s “Route 2015” plan, the company will cut the product line by 25 percent to 38,000 items from 46,000, putting a focus on making a cohesive line with more styles that resonate in more places around the world.

And that’s where the painstakingly cultivated international employee base is an advantage.

“We have so many different nationalities in Herzogenaurach [that] we get an international feel and we get an international approach to the collections and the products we are building,” Hainer said.

Becker noted he’s taken that lesson to heart while building Reebok.

“When I came over, I had a bunch of Brits running the British business and a bunch of Americans running the American business, so we also imported other nationalities,” he said.

“When you make decisions for the world, you need a lot of global know-how,” Becker said. “It’s part of the formula for being a globally successful brand.”

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