Adidas’ Turnaround Under CEO Bjørn Gulden: A Story of Transparency and Agility



After a tough time following the pandemic, Adidas started to turn things around with their new CEO, Bjørn Gulden, taking the helm. This change is happening while the company faces big money problems and after a well-known partnership ended badly, which shook things up.

Challenges and New Leadership

  • Post-Pandemic Challenges: The company found it tough to find its feet after COVID-19 and took a substantial loss of $794 million in the fourth quarter of 2022.
  • Split with Kanye West: Parting ways with the musician Ye, previously known as Kanye West, caused additional issues for the firm.
  • New Boss at the Helm: In response to these troubles. Adidas brought in former Puma leader Bjørn Gulden as the new CEO beginning in January 2023. After announcing this, their shares jumped an impressive 30%.

Gulden’s Unconventional Approach

  • Direct Employee Engagement: In an unprecedented move, Gulden shared his personal phone number with all 60,000 employees during his first town hall meeting at Adidas.
  • Open Communication: Emphasizing the need for leadership accessibility, he encouraged employees to reach out directly with their concerns and ideas.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Gulden’s approach is a prime example of emotionally intelligent leadership, focusing on earning respect and building trust through active listening and direct communication.

Strategic Changes and Cultural Shift

  • Overcoming Inertia: Gulden noted a previous culture at Adidas of finding reasons not to act, which he aimed to change.
  • Operational Streamlining: He made swift changes, including cutting down on consultants, reintroducing sports like cricket in specific markets like India, and streamlining communication within the company.
  • Employee Feedback: Responding to around 200 employee messages weekly, Gulden utilized this feedback to address issues in monthly town halls and make informed decisions.

Impactful Decisions and Future Outlook

  • Redefining Business Practices: Gulden moved away from cumbersome evaluation practices and implemented a more agile, decentralized organizational structure.
  • Focus on Profitability: Under his guidance, Adidas is on track to return to profitability, addressing previous financial setbacks.
  • Competitive Scene: Nike’s had a few bumps lately, like breaking ties with Tiger Woods and planning to cut jobs to save $2 billion. Even so, Adidas is getting ready to up its game in the market

Lessons in Leadership and Business Resilience

  • Understanding the Worth of Being Open: Gulden shows that being clear and straight-talking is key for leaders.
  • Listening to the Team: Gulden puts a premium on what employees have to say, creating an atmosphere where they feel their contributions matter, which boosts their happiness and dedication.
  • Embracing New Ways: He serves as a prime example that being flexible and quick to respond is critical in our swiftly changing world of business.

Embracing Challenges as Opportunities

  • Dealing with Disputes: Adidas’ split with Ye over his shocking comments was tough but also a chance for the company to show what it stands for.
  • Market Positioning: Despite Nike’s dominant position in the market, Adidas’ strategic shifts under Gulden’s leadership indicate a strong potential for gaining ground.

Innovations and Market Adaptation

  • Expanding Product Line: Adidas is now adding cricket gear and paying special attention to particular markets. This expands their offerings and meets the needs of important, specialized groups of customers.
  • Faster Choices: With Gulden’s push for a simpler company hierarchy, the team can now make decisions faster, which is vital in the fast-paced world of business today.

The Importance of Employee Empowerment

  • Building a Trusting Environment: By encouraging open communication, Gulden has created an environment where employees feel empowered and valued, leading to increased innovation and commitment.
  • Impact on Company Morale: This strategy has also positively impacted the overall morale within Adidas, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose among employees.

Key Takeaway

Bjørn Gulden’s tenure at Adidas showcases a remarkable turnaround strategy grounded in emotional intelligence, transparent communication, and swift operational changes. This approach not only aims to revive Adidas financially but also transforms its corporate culture, setting a new standard for leadership in the business world. For more details, you can read the full report on this topic here.

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