Why the U.S. Head of Adidas Believes Employees Are in Charge

As president of Adidas North America, Mark King heads a company of thousands. But he wants the team underneath him to really lead the athletic giant here in the states.

“The command-and-control model, of leading from the top, is the reason businesses will fail,” he said this morning at the Footwear News CEO Summit, held in Miami. “You have to distribute the leadership.”

adidas
Adidas North America president Mark King at the FN CEO Summit.
CREDIT: Patrick MacLeod

Part of that, he said, is encouraging each employee to take part in creating the company’s future.

King, who spends about 80 percent of his time defining corporate culture, said effective leaders don’t have to have all the big ideas.

“It’s not our jobs to do that,” he said. “It’s our job to help others find the ideas.”

Under King’s leadership, Adidas has done just that.

When he took over the helm three years ago, the Portland, Oregon-based firm trailed other athletic brands in the market, holding a small share of the space. Since then it’s doubled, thanks to better products, edgier marketing and knowing the brand’s target customer.

According to King, the sports-focused company has also rallied around five key pillars: aspiration, innovation, experimentation, consumers and corporate organization.

“Do you have an aspiration that’s bigger than simply making money and product?” he asked the room. “Creativity lies in the middle of aspiration and resources.”

King said that when companies let the gap shrink between the two, that’s when they are in danger.

“As leaders, we need to move forward in an unpredictable world. The world is changing,” he said. “You need to be in pursuit of your own disruption. Chase what obsoletes your business today. The way we operate today will not ensure success in the future.”

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