New Adidas Group North America president charts course, touts optimism

New Adidas Group North America president charts course, touts optimism

July 18–Mark King thought he’d be a golf pro.

He played the sport on athletic scholarships at Northern Illinois and then University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Toward the end of his collegiate playing days, though, King began working for a Green Bay golf retailer. His employer, Eddie Langert, launched TaylorMade Golf in the late 1970s with a partner, Gary Adams. They invited King to join the operation as a salesman in December 1981.

“I packed up, moved to San Diego, been there ever since,” King said Thursday. “‘Til now.”

In late May, King arrived in Portland to take over as president of Adidas Group North America. Most recently, he had been chief executive of TaylorMade-Adidas Golf.

Under more than a decade of his leadership as chief executive, from 2003 through this spring, TaylorMade-Adidas Golf became the leading and most profitable golf company in the world. Sales more than doubled from $862 million in 2003 to $1.74 billion in 2013.

King, 54, left what had essentially been his work home of the past three decades for a new city and a new job with more responsibility, leading one of the top two geographic regions for the world’s second-largest sports footwear and apparel company. He is keenly aware that Nike, his company’s chief rival, is now a half-hour drive from his office on North Greeley Avenue.

King knows, too, that Nike continues to grow its footprint worldwide, in Adidas’ home territory of Western Europe as well as North America.

But on Thursday, a jovial King did not appear fazed by the thought of the head-to-head competition.

“I’m kind of an optimist,” King said. “I just believe good things can happen. If you’re a leader and you don’t believe good things can happen it’s pretty hard to inspire others.”

Around the time of King’s hiring in mid-April, it may have been challenging to be an optimist around Adidas.

The company reported a decline in first-quarter earnings, citing slumping revenue at TaylorMade Golf as well as a poor euro exchange rate, among other things. At the same time, one of Adidas’ biggest investors griped publicly about Nike’s growing market shares in Western Europe and its inroads in soccer.

On top of that, first-quarter revenues in North America declined about 23 percent from about $1.2 billion in the first quarter of 2013 to $920 million this year. Nike’s North American revenue has consistently gained in the past four years and, in the Oregon company’s most recent quarter, totaled about $3.3 billion — 10 percent higher than the same period last year.

King said he’s undaunted.

“We have more assets than we know what to do with,” he said, referring in part to the company’s stable of endorsed athletes. “Do the guys across town have more than we do? Sure they do. But we have enough.”

In his new role, King has management authority of not only Adidas brand operations in Portland but also the Adidas Group’s Reebok North American operations based in Canton, Mass., along with the Adidas Group in Canada, which includes Adidas, Reebok, TaylorMade-Adidas Golf and Reebok-CCM Hockey. The expanded role was added for the Portland-based leadership post last October when it was held by Patrik Nilsson, who announced in April he was leaving to take a job with a clothing brand in his native Sweden.

King was reluctant Thursday to discuss specific aspects of the Adidas strategy in North America, citing his brief time on the job.

But he did say the company’s North American operations were likely to be cut back somewhat in the future.

“We have so many categories and we do almost everything and we do it broadly and about this deep,” King said, holding his hands closely together. “I’d like to focus in on a few things and spend more money on a few things rather than less money on a lot of things.”

King said the company hadn’t decided which areas would be de-emphasized but said soccer would not be one of them.

“It’s who we are,” said King, “it’s the soul of the company. It’s what drives the economic engine globally.”

On top of that, Adidas’ success in the just-ended World Cup — with two of its sponsored teams competing in the final and Germany, from the company’s home country, emerging as the winner — “has energized the company,” King said.

“The World Cup this time around resonated more with America than it did four years ago,” he said. “People are talking about it more, people who weren’t watching it are watching it, the ratings were higher.

“So the (Adidas) people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, the thing we do better than anything else now maybe will catch on a little bit,'” in the United States, he said. “So now there’s a little bit of genuine belief that we could awaken four years from now and soccer will have a bigger place in America than it has in the past.”

King, as well as soccer officials within Adidas America, have been in frequent talks with Major League Soccer officials regarding the league’s Aug. 6 All-Star Game in Portland. The game will feature Bayern Munich, a powerhouse partly owned by Adidas that plays in the top German professional league, playing the MLS All-Stars. Adidas is the official outfitter of all MLS teams, too. And Herbert Hainer, Adidas chief executive, serves as the head of Bayern’s supervisory board.

King said he will travel to New York City soon to meet with representatives of several other professional sports leagues. A separate meeting is planned Sept. 5 with the National Hockey League, for which Reebok is the uniform supplier.

That contract extends through the 2017-18 season. Last season, Adidas was rumored to be planning to replace Reebok as the logo on NHL jerseys. King said that decision remains in the air until the company is certain of its direction with the NHL after the current contract expires.

King said he didn’t give the Adidas brand much thought as a high school athlete at Green Bay (Wis.) West High School.

He remembers, though, that he wore high-top Adidas cleats as the long-snapper on the football team. (He also played basketball, golf and baseball.)

And on Thursday, he wore a pair of Adidas Energy Boost running shoes.

“Don’t ask me what other kinds,” of Adidas shoes he owned, he said, laughing. “I’m having enough trouble at this point remembering everybody’s names let alone the names of our shoes.”

— Allan Brettman

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