‘Have you got what it takes?’ That’s the question we posed to over 200 adidas Group suppliers at our recent annual summit in Jakarta. Having outlined our strategic direction last year – with our focus on reducing the time needed to get products to market – we wanted to challenge our supply base to contemplate what it takes to succeed. After all, it’s one thing knowing where you want to go in life. It’s another thing getting there. To illustrate the point, I wanted an example of success which our suppliers could easily relate to and feel passionate about. What better than Germany’s triumph at this year’s FIFA World Cup? What, I asked myself, could the manufacturers of football boots, shirts and balls learn from the people who use them? Well, quite a bit as it turns out. I reviewed many articles relating to Germany’s success and found there are many parallels to how successful companies run their business. SEE ALSO: The Dilemma of sourcing globally
Having a clear vision is key
As with all major endeavours, it starts with a clear vision. Germany’s was to win the World Cup. In the words of the captain, Philipp Lahm, “I have a clear goal. And that’s, of course, the greatest possible success, to win the Cup.” Of course, Germany weren’t alone in wanting to take the FIFA trophy back home.
What may have set Germany apart is that they took the larger vision and broke it down into smaller goals. They didn’t just want to win. They wanted to play excellent football and make their whole nation proud. Targets were established with a minimum expectation for the number of goals the team should score per game and a maximum ‘permissible’ to concede. Each player knew their role in the set-up and what they needed to deliver in both attack and defence. Why is this relevant for our suppliers? There is no doubt that looking at the adidas Group supply base, we see the greatest progress with improvement initiatives, like those addressing productivity, efficiency and quality, in those suppliers where there is a clear vision, championed by the owners themselves, and shared throughout the entire organisation. It’s one thing being able to repeat the company’s vision statement. It’s quite something else knowing how this translates into your specific role and practising it on a daily basis.
Just wanting to win a World Cup isn’t enough
I know this all too well, I’m English! In the case of Germany, they converted their desire into a detailed, multi–year plan with significant investment behind it. Following their elimination at the group stage in both the 2000 and 2004 European Football Championships, there was a realisation that something had to change. The traditional ‘deutsche Tugenden’ (virtues) of grit, defensive strength and never-say-die spirit were no longer seen as being enough to prosper in the modern game. On taking up his appointment as National Coach in 2004, Jürgen Klinsmann and the German Football Federation (DFB) started working closely with the club coaches to determine what sort of football the national team should play. Their conclusion was a dynamic, offensive type of football. In short, the fast, technical game we witnessed, most emphatically, in the semi-final against Brazil. They established a modern style of play with a clear emphasis on youth. Importantly, the same style was pursued for all national teams, including the youth levels. Players were expected to fit with the system. The system was not changed to fit the players. To ensure that the youth focus gained traction, a systemic talent development approach was implemented across the country and it was made mandatory for clubs to have a youth training centre and to develop talent. A footballing curriculum was created with the backing of the Bundesliga clubs. These were encouraged to pick local talents with players nurtured up through the ranks. A network of 1,000 coaches was created, with 350 venues where up-and-coming football players could receive additional training once per week linked to the national youth team programme. This of course didn’t come cheap but it did, however, bear dividends. Of the German team who won the U21 European Championship final in 2009 – incidentally 4-0 against England – no less than six of the team took to the field for the World Cup final in the Maracana stadium in July. Four players of that team were far enough along in their development to play a full part in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they delivered a 4-1 drubbing to – you guessed it – England, on their way to defeat at the hands of the eventual champions, Spain, in the semi-final.
Key learnings from the Football World Champions
There are several lessons here for our supply base.
- It’s just as important in business to establish your ‘style of play’ as it is in football. Those of our suppliers who have focused on particular product categories or manufacturing capabilities are clearly making more progress than those who are changing their set-up and tactics each season. Again, having a vision is critical for success.
- It’s equally important for our suppliers to develop talent through the ranks as proved to be the case for Germany. Just hoping to ‘sign’ talent from other teams isn’t a sustainable approach for the whole industry as it fails to systematically add to the number of people with relevant experience coming through. Hope, as they say, is not a strategy.
- Finally, success does not come for free. It takes hard work and investment.
We also need to ask ourselves the question whether the virtues which have made us successful in sporting goods manufacturing – a focus, primarily, on quality, cost and availability – are the ones to ensure further success in the future. Or, like Germany in 2004, is it time to move away from what made us successful in the past to ensure further success in the future. The German football team most certainly embraced innovation and this is something we urgently need to embrace too. There is much we can learn from Germany’s success at this year’s World Cup. Not only can we be inspired to be better footballers, or to make even better football products, but we can be inspired to be better business people as well. In a fast-changing world, it’s vital that we have what it takes, too, and I am really excited to be part of this journey together with our suppliers. READ NEXT: How to train smart for business success Entrepreneurial lessons from the man who led adidas to global success