Adidas poaches Puma boss to get out of the slump

Bjoern Gulden, February 19, 2020 in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria (AFP / Christof STACHE)

The sports equipment manufacturer Adidas offers itself a choice decision by appointing Norwegian Bjørn Gulden, CEO of Puma, the long-time rival, responsible for restoring the performance of the three-stripe brand.

Bjørn Gulden will become president of Adidas from January 1, 2023, the Bavarian firm announced on Tuesday, which is counting on its new recruit to open “a new era of strength”. His contract is for 5 years, a spokesperson told AFP.

The current boss of the brand with the three stripes, Kasper Rorsted, whose departure was announced this summer, will leave the company this week. The interim will be provided until the end of December by finance director Harm Ohlmeyer.

Bjørn Gulden, 57, had led Puma since 2013, in bad shape when he arrived.

He made the cougar brand rebound, then turned towards lifestyle, by opting for a return to sporting origins and by communicating forcefully on the sponsorship of world stars like the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

The Norwegian, a former professional footballer at German second division club FC Nürnberg, has also increased Puma’s presence in football, Adidas’ king sport, notably by equipping the English first-tier club Manchester City.

At the Qatar World Cup which opens at the end of November, six national teams will wear the Puma label, against one more for Adidas.

– Fratricidal rivalries –

Kasper Rorsted, in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, March 13, 2019 (dpa/Daniel Karmann)

Kasper Rorsted, in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, March 13, 2019 (dpa/Daniel Karmann)

Adidas, Puma: the roots of these companies are in the same town in northern Bavaria, Herzogenaurach, where they were founded after the Second World War by two enemy brothers, Rudof and Adolf, pioneers in their industry.

When the shoe factory Gebrüder Dassler (“Dassler Brothers”) imploded in 1948, Rudolf left with 13 employees to found the company Puma. Adolf retains about forty employees, as well as the machines, and mixes his nickname “Adi” with his surname to launch Adidas.

The rest is punctuated by betrayals and low blows. At the Mexico Olympics in 1968, Adidas blocked Puma shoes at customs. In the 60s and 70s, the “pumeraner” employees and their rivals, the “adidasslers”, each had their own bakery in town and never met in restaurants.

“These quarrels are now largely outdated: in couples, siblings we work in each of the two companies”, relativizes a source at Puma.

These rivalries are hardly noticeable except in the two amateur football clubs in the city, each clinging to its brand.

Competition remains fierce between these two companies now listed on the Dax, the cream of German stocks. Adidas climbed 4% by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, having already rebounded as soon as talks with Mr. Gulden were announced. On the other hand, Puma lost 1.80%.

– Difficult task –

Mr. Gulden returns to the company which employed him from 1992 to 1999 as vice president in the clothing and accessories branch.

At the headquarters of the Adidas group in Herzogenaurach, April 21, 2022 (AFP / Christof STACHE)

At the headquarters of the Adidas group in Herzogenaurach, April 21, 2022 (AFP / Christof STACHE)

He will find a group in financial difficulties which had to cut this fall in its results forecasts for 2022. The reason lies mainly in the fall in its sales in China, where dozens of cities are undergoing health restrictions linked to Covid-19, and the slowdown in its European markets.

Adidas must also digest the brutal end of its very lucrative collaboration with Kanye West after remarks of an anti-Semitic nature made by the American rapper.

Mr. Gulden has earned the trust of Adidas’ supervisory board by bringing “nearly 30 years of experience in the sporting goods and footwear industry”, its chairman Thomas Rabe said in the statement.

Also, “the risk of a longer non-competition clause at Puma”, which could have delayed the arrival of Mr. Gulden at Adidas, “could be ruled out”, write analysts from Deutsche Bank.

The task awaiting the new recruit “is not easy, but the Adidas brand has an important catalog of designs and franchises”, they add.

With the coming momentum from new management “a resurgence of the brand over the next three years is possible.”

Adidas poaches Puma boss to get out of the slump