Puma lost its CEO to compete with Adidas, or did Adidas just steal it?

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Key points to remember

  • Adidas has hired former Puma CEO Bjørn Gulden as its new chief executive.
  • Adidas shares soared more than 20% after rumors and eventual confirmation of the hiring.
  • Gulden faces challenges including a costly split from Kanye West and the fallout from a Chinese boycott of the brand.

On November 9, Adidas announced that it would replace its CEO Kasper Rørsted with Bjørn Gulden, with the change taking effect January 1, 2023. Gulden recently left as CEO of Puma, a major competitor to Adidas. At Puma, Gulden helped strengthen the company’s sports focus and improve both profitability and reputation.

How will this change impact investors?

Information about Adidas and Puma

Adidas is a German multinational that holds the title of the largest sportswear company in Europe and the second largest in the world behind Nike. The company started in 1924 when brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler started making spiked running shoes.

Puma is also based in Germany and is the world’s third largest sportswear manufacturer. The business started in 1948 when Rudolf Dassler parted ways with his brother Adolf due to heightened tensions during World War II and differing opinions on how the business should be run.

As you would expect from two siblings running businesses in the same industry, Adidas and Puma have had a fierce and bitter rivalry. The companies’ headquarters in their home town of Herzogenaurach are separated by the Aurach River, with Adidas to the north and Puma to the south.

The rivalry transcends business and continues to this day. For example, Herzogenaurach has two football teams: 1.FC Herzogenaurach is historically sponsored by Puma, while ASV Herzogenaurach is historically sponsored by Adidas. Some families in the municipality remain loyal to one or other of the companies thanks to generational employment. There are very few families that share loyalty between brands.

Despite the intense rivalry, Adidas has long been the larger and more successful company of the two. Its net sales roughly double that of Puma and its market capitalization is larger.

Who is Bjorn Gulden?

Bjørn Gulden is a former Norwegian professional footballer. He spent his last years working as CEO of Puma. Within the company, he used his sports and business networks to refocus the company on sportswear and improve Puma’s reputation.

This is Gulden’s second tour with Adidas. He already worked in the company in the 1990s. Between that time and his time at Puma, he was also CEO of the jewelry brand Pandora, managing director of Deichmann SE, a shoe retailer, and held several positions. executive at clothing manufacturer Helly Hansen.

With significant industry experience and experience as a professional football player, Gulden is seen as closer to Adidas-made products than outgoing chief executive Rorsted. Rorsted is seen as a more finance-focused executive and was responsible for dramatically expanding Adidas’ online presence and sales. Despite this, revenue growth lagged that of Nike and Puma under his tenure.

What is Gulden facing at Adidas?

Gulden joins Adidas at a somewhat difficult time for the company. Although it hasn’t performed poorly in recent years, it has significant challenges ahead in both the immediate and mid-term future.

The company’s Chinese boycott is an immediate concern due to Adidas’ participation in a brand consortium that has raised concerns over allegations of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.

This boycott caused the company’s revenue to drop by 16% in the second quarter of 2021 and by 15% in the third quarter of 2021. This gave Chinese sportswear companies an opportunity to increase their market share in the most largest market in the world. Adidas will have to work to restore its brand strength in China.

Adidas has also faced a major financial blow due to its partnership with Kanye West. Adidas ended the partnership in October after a series of controversies, including anti-Semitic posts on Twitter. Prior to the split, Adidas produced the popular Yeezy sneaker line. The company says this could reduce its net profit by 250 million euros this year.

In the less immediate future, Gulden faces growing fears of a recession, as well as lingering inflation and supply chain issues caused by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

How it affects investors

The market seems excited about the prospect of Adidas being taken over by Gulden. When news first broke that Adidas was talking with Gulden about taking over the company, shares soared 20%. Shares rose further when the news became official.

On the other hand, Puma shares did not see any significant movement in either direction with the announcement of the departure of its CEO.

Adidas remains a much bigger brand than Puma, achieving 6.4 billion euros in sales in the third quarter of 2022 compared to 2.35 billion euros in sales for Puma. Gulden will be tasked with making sure Puma doesn’t gain ground.

Investors who are confident that Gulden will be able to fix Adidas’ problems with its celebrity partnerships and restore its brand reputation in China may be interested in investing in the company. Less confident investors may want to look elsewhere or consider investing in a competitor.

There’s also the question of whether Gulden’s work already counts. Adidas stock jumped more than 20% between when rumors of talks between Adidas and Gulden surfaced and when he joined the company. He may have to exceed his lofty expectations to have an additional upside impact on the company’s stock.

Conclusion

Bjørn Gulden is an experienced executive who also has a professional football background, making him an ideal candidate. The fact that Adidas hijacked it from a major competitor is another win for the company. Although he faces significant challenges, the market appears to believe in his leadership and ability to help Adidas navigate the next few years.

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