Some of the greatest sporting moments come from creative partnerships, from Luis Suarez, picking out Lionel Messi as he bears down the opposition’s goal, Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers working together to shut down opposing offenses or Tom Daly and Dan Goodfellow executing their 10m dive to perfection.
Business is no different. The flare of an inventor is complemented by the sales skills of her colleague to bring a product or a service to a hungry audience. Multinationals, start-ups, two-person shows … creativity and innovation are being brought to life by people who challenge and spar against each other every day.
So, let me introduce you to two such people.
Ulrich Steindorf is senior director of manufacturing at the adidas SPEEDFACTORY in Ansbach, Germany, while Markus Bischoff is the managing director of OECHSLER Motion, the factory providing manufacturing solutions to run SPEEDFACTORY.
They’ve been working together for two years now to bring tailored product solutions closer to the consumer with unprecedented speed. This process has turned traditional shoe manufacturing on its head.
Ulrich explains: “We’ve always partnered with athletes to understand what they need in footwear and apparel to win gold or score goals, but had also kept the traditional manufacturing model of all sporting goods companies. Our ‘Creating the New’ Strategy leading up to 2020 has Open Source as one of our key strategic choices. This pushes us to look at innovating with outside partners both from an engineering point of view and from a consumer testing and co-creation standpoint.”
Markus, as a manufacturing solutions provider, what makes your work on SPEEDFACTORY different?
We at OECHSLER Motion see ourselves as problem solvers but adidas pushed us to be even bolder and become true pioneers in the sporting goods industry. Our partnership on the SPEEDFACTORY project took us into totally uncharted territory, so the only way to forge ahead was to create our own paths.
Uli, how has OECHSLER challenged adidas?
Honestly, the development of SPEEDFACTORY meant that we’ve been asked questions that we’ve never been asked before. In a typical production scenario some things were trial and error, but with the automated processes of SPEEDFACTORY, we have to tell the machine exactly what it needs to do and provide precise input in terms of temperature, heat, pressure etc. as otherwise it won’t work.
Markus, what are the challenges that adidas has presented OESCHSLER with?
When a real marketing and innovation-driven company like adidas comes to a manufacturing-driven company like ours with out-of-the-box thinking and non-typical ideas, the natural response is to say ‘no’ for various reasons.
They look to revisit something that might have failed a few years ago and see how things have changed.
What forms the bedrock of a successful partnership in sport or business?
Trust and speedy decisions. This has been a very open and honest partnership from the very beginning. We had a clear business case put in front of us so we didn’t hesitate or think about it for a long time. As the factory name suggests, speed is important, in the decision-making process as well, and we gave adidas a quick answer that we were excited to come on board and help change the industry.
We are totally transparent and have no secrets here. If there’s a problem in Uli’s team, we let them know and help come up with a solution. It’s a really unique set-up with extremely open cooperation on both sides.
Everyone involved is solution-orientated. We at adidas sometimes try to push more than what’s actually possible, but when we add in OECHSLER’s expertise, we find our comfort zone together, and with that the right results.
Markus, how has your team changed over the past two years?
I see two areas where our work with adidas on SPEEDFACTORY has changed us as a company. Firstly, we now have a really flat management structure. It’s not like that in a typical automotive manufacturing company. (Usually), there’s a boss, then a group leader, then a team leader etc. Here, everyone has a voice, everyone brings ideas and they are free to find solutions themselves.
Secondly, it’s helped us attract new talents who are excited to work on a product that they themselves can run in, show their family and friends, rather than something that is hidden under the hood of a car for example.
Has this partnership lived up to your expectations?
Yes, it has been a great journey and we’re excited that ‘our baby’ is now starting to address the needs of today’s consumer.
My expectations have been exceeded. From brief, to build, to the first pairs of shoes coming off the line was less than two years. That only happened through challenging and highly driven teams working side by side with each other.