When Adidas calls the boss of its enemy brother Puma to the rescue


Björn Gulden, ex-CEO of Puma, in Herzogenaurach (Germany), February 14, 2020.

Herzogenaurach, a small town in northern Bavaria, cultivates one of those family stories that German capitalism loves. One hundred years ago, Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, two brothers, natives of this town of 22,000 inhabitants, launched into the manufacture of articles with a great future: spiked shoes. As football became a popular passion in Europe, business flourished until the Second World War. At this moment an argument breaks out between the two brothers who will remain angry until their death. They separate: Adolf Dassler, or “Adi”, founded Adidas. Rudolf himself founded Puma.

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From the ruthless competition between the two brothers were born two of the greatest sports equipment manufacturers in the world, which race for influence in the biggest sports tournaments, behind the number one, the American Nike. Both still remain loyal to the town of Herzogenaurach, despite the fact that many international managers who work there find it so provincial and so far from the major urban centers from which the brands are supposed to draw inspiration. Over the years, a clear winner has emerged in the match between the two enemy brothers: Adidas, with 21 billion euros in turnover, is two and a half times bigger than Puma.

But in business as in sport, no one is immune to a turnaround. In Herzogenaurach, the 1er January 2023, it is the leader of Puma since 2013, the Norwegian Björn Gulden, who has been called to the rescue to straighten the brand with three branches shaken by a series of crises. Dane Kasper Rorsted, who had led Adidas since 2016, was ousted in the fall as the price fell. Since the summer of 2021, the title has lost more than 50% of its stock market value.

Strategic errors

In addition to the shock linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, the disruptions in China and record inflation, the giant Adidas suffered from costly strategic and management errors, which weighed on the company. Its image is weakened, its sales at half mast, despite the success at the FIFA World Cup of the Argentina team, which bears the brand with the three stripes. The annual results, published on March 8, confirm that the equipment manufacturer is floundering, while three warnings on declining results have been announced in a few months.

Philipp (first name has been changed) is one of many senior managers at the German outfitter to have been sacked at great expense by Kasper Rorsted, some three years after the Dane took over as head of Adidas. “With Kasper, we had a fundamental divergence on the strategy to follow for the brand. However, Kasper Rorsted does not support confrontation well… that is an understatement”he tells the Worldin a story that confirms the analyzes published in the German and Anglo-Saxon press in recent months. “For me, the current crises are nothing surprising,” he decides.

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