Rising stars make Adidas more American, less soccer-mad

Tue Nov 11, 2014 11:37am EST
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By Emma Thomasson

HERZOGENAURACH Germany (Reuters) - A new generation of more international Adidas executives is trying to loosen a hierarchical structure that has held back creativity at the venerable German sports brand as it tries to retaliate against Nike (NKE.N: Quote).

But that is a tall order for a company of 52,500 employees still based in the small Bavarian town where it was founded in 1949, now struggling to keep pace with the fast-changing whims of the urban teens who are its target clientele

"The whole organization is run so Germanically and is not fast and agile where everybody is empowered," said Erich Joachimsthaler, head of strategy consultants Vivendi Partners.

As disappointing performance, particularly in the U.S. market, has hammered the share price of late, long-serving Chief Executive Herbert Hainer, 60, has promoted a raft of younger managers ahead of his own expected retirement in 2017.

Leading the new guard are 47-year-old American Eric Liedtke, global brand chief since March, and Roland Auschel, the 51-year-old German named as sales chief a year ago.

Forced to ditch ambitious targets set for 2015, Liedtke and Auschel are working with Hainer on a new five-year strategy to be presented in March, but they are taking action already.

Adidas and smaller sportswear rival Puma are still based in sleepy Herzogenaurach, Germany, where they were founded by two brothers who fell out with each other after World War Two.

Liedtke has moved several executives to the firm's U.S. base in trendy Portland, home to Nike, as he seeks to reverse the brand's decline in the world's top sportswear market, important not only for sales but also for defining global cool.   Continued...

CEO of German sporting goods maker Adidas Herbert Hainer speaks during the company's annual news conference in the northern Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach March 7, 2012.      REUTERS/Michaela Rehle