Numbers speak volumes. Since Herbert Hainer became CEO in 2001, the adidas Group has flourished. From 2001 to 2016, net sales have increased from 5.8 billion euros to around 20 billion euros. Net income has increased five times to almost 1 billion, the number of employees has quadrupled to over 57,000 and the value of the company has risen by a whopping 27 billion euros. There is no doubt: Herbert Hainer was not only a great CEO, he was a brilliant one.

I had the pleasure to work very closely alongside Herbert over the past 15 years as his Chief Communication Officer. As Herbert leaves the adidas Group on September 30th, 2016, it is time for me to reflect on what I have learned from a brilliant CEO like him.

1. Lead your area of responsibility as if it was your own (small) business

Herbert led the company as if it was his own. He made sure the company was financially successful, of course, but it was just as important to him that he took good care of the employees. He was visible on campus, had lunch at our employee restaurant, walked through the hallways and was always approachable. This is exactly what I try to do. When thinking about my department, Corporate Communication, I always think about it as a communication agency and try to lead it as if it was my own (small) business. I spend time with my team and see it as one of my key tasks to help them achieve their own personal objectives. I also do sports with them, I bake cakes for them and I invite them to a barbecue at my house each summer.

Connect with your team on a different level to create an inspiring and lighthearted atmosphere which will make the department more successful on the tennis court and in business.

2. Show passion for what you do

I make sure that I am always up-to-date about whatever happens in the world of communication, media and – of course – in sport. So I know the latest sports results, I follow what our beat reporters write and go through all business and communication magazines. For me, this is never a chore. I enjoy doing it because I have a deep passion for the adidas Group, sport and communication. The flip-side of it is: I also take it very personal when adidas is criticized by media, analysts or friends.

3. Keep your feet on the ground

One might think that being the CEO of the adidas Group makes you a very flamboyant businessman with all the Messis, Beckhams and McCartneys around you. Herbert never saw it that way. He used to say that the only spectacular thing about him was his job. It allowed him to do extraordinary things but he only wanted to do the job the best he could, and, at the end of the day, go home to his family and be a normal person. To me that is role-modeling at its best.

Even if you're super successful, you need a dedicated team to reach the ultimate goal.

4. Celebrate moments that matter

One of my fondest memories of my time working with Herbert was Greece’s surprise victory at UEFA EURO 2004. The adidas top teams France and Germany went out in the group stage and only the underdog, Greece, made it to the semifinals in a 3-Stripes shirt. Media started to write negatively about our performance at the tournament but then the newly signed team, Greece, became European Champions! After the match we all gathered in the adidas hospitality area at the stadium in Lisbon. We drank, we sang, we danced. We were so relieved about this surprise victory we drank more, sang louder, danced faster. In the middle of it all: our CEO, Herbert Hainer!

The following morning I received a phone call and I was worried he would criticize that we had partied too heavily. But Herbert’s first words were: ‘Our party yesterday was a blast, wasn’t it?’

Indeed, it was a great night out and clearly a moment that mattered in my adidas Group career.

DFB contract extension, June, 2016: All these big and small moments will last forever as a part of my personal career story.

It was a pleasure and privilege to have worked with such a successful CEO over such a long period of time. I will miss Herbert Hainer but I am happy that he leaves on such a high note now. At the same time, I am very much looking forward to working with our new CEO, Kasper Rorsted. He will give his best to make sure that the adidas Group is and remains the best sports company in the world. I am sure there is a lot more to learn as we continue this journey!


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by aman 29.09.2016
awesome post and great summary of reflections.
by jan aman 04.10.2016
Thank you for your positive feedback. Much appreciated!
by Nitesh Nahta 08.11.2016
Hi Jan, thanks for sharing this. It's very unlikely that all of us would directly report to a CEO but having someone like yourselves sharing these insights with rest of the employees is such a great way of spreading the learning. Great article!
by jan Nitesh Nahta 09.11.2016
Hi Nitesh,
thank you for your comment. Much appreciated. I hope you could take away some learnings for your daily business?!
Best regards,