In April 2014, adidas CEO Herbert Hainer asked Mark King to be the new head of adidas America. King knew the job involved big challenges and big expectations. The US market accounts for more than a third of the global athletic footwear and apparel market. Excited about being part of something that’s extraordinary, King accepted and took over as President in June of 2014. He succeeded Patrik Nilsson who had served in the role for seven years. Nilsson returned to his home country of Sweden to become the CEO of Gant. According to a statement by Herbert Hainer, “Mark King’s appointment underlines our clear commitment to the North American marketplace… Mark has a proven track record of success and leadership excellence.”
Mark King grew up in Wisconsin. He joined Taylor Made after finishing college at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay in 1981. Over the next 17 years he ascended through the sales ranks at the golf company. In 1998, King left the company to join next door Carlsbad neighbor and rival Callaway Golf. Soon after landing at Callaway as VP of golf ball sales, King felt out of place at the industry leader. A scratch golfer who like to talk about the game, he sensed a lack a passion in the team. King felt like he could have been selling laundry detergent or kitchen appliances.
Less than 18 months into his new job, adidas executive Jim Stutts convinced King to rejoin Taylor Made as President in 1999. Callaway immediately sued and tried to force Mark to sit on the sidelines. According to author David Rynecki, an ugly legal dispute ensued. At one point, employees at Taylor Made led by Robert Erb organized a rally where they hung a makeshift FREE MARK KING banner from the building. Callaway eventually dropped the suit and King started making inroads at Taylor Made adidas Golf. His philosophy was simple: hire passionate people to make great products at breakneck speed.
King didn’t waste any time. Taylor Made initiated a rapid design process that led to multiple introductions per year. Hitting various price points and offering equipment for all types of golfers, he forever changed the way golf companies do business. Under King’s direction, Taylor Made sales skyrocketed from about $349 million in 1999 to more than $1.7 billion in 2013. The brand went from being half the size of Callaway to being twice its size. In order to do so, King relied heavily on adidas for support. He needed to get product into the hands of touring professionals. According to Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf, “Without a huge presence on Tour, no strategy would have worked. It takes big money as it becomes a bidding process for faces on television. The strategy succeeded beyond most people’s dreams, maybe even King’s. He not only disrupted Callaway; he disrupted all the companies.”
According to Mark King, “Great companies have great cultures.” He arrived at adidas America wanting to create a group that would be a foundation for future sustainable growth. King instead found a company with a fragmented culture. Strong cultures existed, but they were subcultures. One sport vs. another sport and US vs. Global. King immediately targeted his efforts towards building a cohesive culture that works together.
1. One United Team - Treat People Right and Give Them Purpose
King is a ball of energy with a strong sense of humor. He openly admits that he is an acquired taste. King set out to put the team together after arriving at adidas. His challenge to them was simple, “Know Me, Understand Me, Follow Me.” King has an open door policy and believes in transparency. King has been able to leverage support from global. Since coming on, he’s made 10 trips to Germany in 10 months. Large product teams from global have also moved to the US Headquarters in Portland, OR. King believes, “If adidas is to be the best sports brand in the world, we need to be the best sports brand in America.”
King also understands the importance of purpose in the workplace. He believes in the ability to change lives through sport. He wants employees to feel empowered to do something meaningful that makes a difference in peoples lives.
2. Be Innovative - Lead Change
3. Create Personal Accountability – Embracing Speed
“Do what we say, say what we do.” This is the challenge Mark King has ushered to the team. As part of the process of creating personal accountability, he started from the top. King put the 10 members of his senior team into a 360 review. Peers and direct reports would assess the team and they would build individual plans to improve.
King believes speed can be a differentiator. He has a bias for action and believes in failing fast.
Case in Point: When Senior Design Director Katie Becker approached King with an idea for a line called adi Girl. King encouraged her to quickly pursue the idea. Within six weeks, Becker was successfully selling the line into a major account. A process that normally took one year was condensed down to six weeks.
What Does the Future Hold?
Global has made a commitment to run quarterly marketing campaigns in America for the next three years. The campaigns will tell a consistent brand story that touches athletes from the professional to the amateurs. It is a multi-year, multi-sport and multi level investment.
The brand has signed licenses with the NFL, MLB and the NBA for on field/court footwear and they have committed to signing hundreds of athletes to create a strong presence. The focus is on key cities such as New York, Chicago, LA, Miami and Atlanta. King wants to create real life experiences. Experiences that aren’t just buying experiences, but brand experiences. Part of his immediate plan involves building out the retail presence with flagship brand stores (all products), home court brand stores (performance), neighborhood brand stores (originals), and by key retail partnerships with Dick’s Sporting Good and Foot Locker.
The brand is committed to building product for the customer and not the retailer. King believes that if adidas can win the hearts and minds of the kid, it will translate to market share. He wants his team to Dream Big. When asked, “What would the bumper sticker be for adidas America?” Mark replied without hesitation, “Extraordinary Happens.”