HERZOGENAURACH, Germany — Founded in 1949, Adidas has grown from a small family run sports-shoemaker into one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. Today, the brand has expanded beyond footwear to become a leading player in the sports and activewear markets, while making significant inroads into the streetwear fashion market through collaborations with Alexander Wang, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Employing more than 57,000 people in over 160 countries, it produces more than 778 million product units every year and generated sales of €17 billion in 2015.
Driven by its constant focus on innovation, Adidas has made creative thinking the foundation of its commercial strategy and its company culture. Despite its size, the global company believes that everybody in its workforce should approach their role as “a creator.” From marketing to design, merchandising to logistics, Here, Arthur Hoeld, general manager Originals, reveals how the company enables its employees to meet business goals without pre-conceived ideas on how they should be achieved, and empowers them to approach their work with as much creativity as possible.
BoF: How would you define the DNA of Adidas’ company culture?
As a brand we put creativity at the heart of everything we do. It’s part of our DNA and something we're very proud of. We call ourselves “creators” and look to encourage and nurture creative people across our organisation. We believe creativity should not be limited only to traditionally creative functions. It's an attitude that can be applied throughout the business, from HR to operations. That belief is one of the key foundations of our success.
Working at Adidas is about wanting to do something differently. Wanting to go beyond what has come before and beyond the conventional approaches already existing in the marketplace, to create something innovative and unique. Our employees consistently prove to us that you can apply that mindset in every function with great success.
BoF: How do you encourage all of your employees to think and act as “Creators”?
One crucial component in our “Creator” culture is working cross-functionally. We encourage constant interaction between different teams. When we design a product or any major project we have six to seven people representing different functions of the business all sitting around a table. It is not just about what the product will look like — it's a viewpoint that goes way beyond the physical creation process. During those meetings we talk about the inspirations for the project, how we could take it to market, how we could sell it, production matters, promotion, everything. This enables us to source ideas from across the business.
We also have a number of special programmes that enable collaboration between functions and teams. Through the "Talent Carousel" initiative, selected individuals have the chance to work outside of their usual responsibilities and experience, participating in different projects and joining different teams in the business, experiencing different ways of working and approaches to concept and strategy.
BoF: How does Adidas enable its employees to collaborate with creatives from outside of the company?
The Adidas Group has a strong tradition of being very open-minded when it comes to working with partners, collaborators and influencers, including Alexander Wang, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. In 2015, the company made a commitment to “Open Source” collaboration, seeking to engage with consumers, athletes, retailers and partners more than ever before. We want to increasingly make our collaborators and consumers part of the Adidas Group’s brands to build brand advocacy.
Adidas will also open "Creative Farms" in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo as part of our wider “Cities” strategy. These creative farms enable us to be better able to source inspiration and input from creatives and consumers in the six most creative metropolitan environments the world has to offer. Every farm will have a different spin and the local influence will always be a key starting point. New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, etc. these are places that breed innovation and trends and we want to give people the chance to work and collaborate in those environments, working in very diverse teams that are not a defined for a specific period of six or twelve months for example, and instead have a lot of fluctuation.
You can come in and collaborate on the project for a few weeks or months and move to another job again. It's something we believe will be fundamental to idea creation and creativity in the future — bringing people from all sorts of different backgrounds together and giving them the chance to collaborate, from a conceptual perspective and also from a personal development perspective.
As a brand we put creativity at the heart of everything we do. It’s part of our DNA and something we're very proud of.
BoF: What opportunities for career development exist at Adidas?
I think what we're most proud of is that when you join Adidas, you join a brand that gives you the opportunity to develop your own skills in a very wide arena without having a very strict career path. Many people think you're only here to work on a specific sports product, but we are a much broader business and attract people from fashion, lifestyle and the streetwear industry as well.
Not only are the areas that employees can work on diverse in their nature, we encourage people to move around the business as part of their career development. We are also very, very global in our set-up as a business. We have headquarters and centres across the continents, where we encourage exchange between local market talent and global talent.
BoF: What characteristics do you look for in your employees?
We're looking for people that embrace the idea of the brand being both a sports brand and a creative brand, but we're also looking for personal traits. We call them the three C's, Creative, Confident and Collaborative. When we interview new people those are our first focus areas, but we do offer a development programme when employees join the company. We believe this is an organic and continuous process — you can’t tick all the boxes in the interview. Those personal traits need to be cultivated and every employee needs to feel that he or she is on this journey with us as well.
BoF: What are your specific talent requirements at the moment?
We are keen to get creative talent from diverse backgrounds: designers, pattern makers, developers and marketers, but we are seeking talent in all areas of the business. We are always on the search for talent that's unique and has the ambition. Talent that wants to become a part of what we believe in, and go on a very exiting journey. We see ourselves as a brand that is both influencing and to a certain extend is defining youth culture. As a result, any young or young-minded talent should look for an opportunity at Adidas.
There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. For more information about fashion industry roles at Adidas, visit BoF Careers.