Two years ago, I took over leadership of adidas in Latin America (LAM), moving to the regional headquarters in Panama. Part of my role was to centralize a decentralized region, to get closer to our consumers and give them the best possible brand experience.

Looking around the table, I saw lots of white males in their fifties. Basically, I was looking in the mirror. I knew things had to change if I was to develop a successful LAM team for the future. This is how we’ve gone from two women at the senior leadership table to three, from eight passports to 12, from one religion to five.

I decided to tackle the drive for diversity as I do with my passion for climbing, and went about building a team that could get us to the top of the mountain together.

1. Be transparent

Firstly, identify your goal and share it with everyone. I told everyone what I wanted to do and why and wasn’t shy about setting clear goals for market leads so they too had clear direction on what was to be achieved.

Climber on mountain top holding rope for partner, Mont Blanc, France, adidas, GamePlan A, team building, leadership, diversity, Latin America
Make sure your teammates know what the goal is so you can all move in the right direction. ©Lost Horizon Images/Getty Images

2. Look at your own strengths and weaknesses

I’m a big believer in being genuine and not playing a role. To diversify the leaders in LAM, I had to have a high level of self-awareness and then find partners to cover my weakness and others to develop my strengths.

In mountaineering you need someone in charge of the ropes, someone who checks the materials and someone who has the talc. People should be strong enough to hold you if you fall. They have to remain focused, be able to react quickly to avoid a bad outcome and cover for your weaknesses.

Hiking Couple holding hands to climb rock in nature, the man helping the woman on this outdoor pursuit, adidas, GamePlan A, team building, leadership, diversity, Latin America
Be ready to accept a helping hand. It’s not a sign of weakness but rather recognition of the strenght a teammate can provide. ©Photolyric Stock Productions (Klöpper & Eisenschmidt GbR)/Getty Images

3. Instill trust in your team

I can’t climb to the top if I don’t trust my partner; my performance is in his or her hands. I can’t make it happen on my own because there is too much complexity, too many variables. To do it alone you are either a genius or a fool.

And the outcome of this diversification across our business in LAM? Attitudes have changed, tolerance has increased, our customer knowledge has improved and we are now richer when it comes to decision making.

You will miss your goals if everyone is the same, if the skill sets are all the same. Have the courage to try something different, take the risks and embrace diversity to get to the top of the mountain.

Have you been on a climb like this recently? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.


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by Alexa Peralta 19.06.2018
Very interesting read. From a woman's pov I can truly appreciate a male leader that recognizes the value we bring to the table. I believe us women are already empowered and we need more figures that are open to not only listen but to trust our decisions and ability to take risks.
by Tanja 21.06.2018
These are great accomplishments - congratulations, Jean-Michel and team! Now I'm curios to learn what your next "mountain" will be and how your spiced up team will help you on your way to accomplish those goals.
by Ana Ximena Díaz 22.06.2018
Excellent reading and very true! As a woman, mother, professional and in my 30’s, it has been very rewarding to work in a company that believes in me and that despite my young age, listens and empowers me!
by Sam Marshall 25.06.2018
Great article. Excellent to see a climbers perspective being effectively utilised within the board room.
by Carla Salvador 26.06.2018
As part of the LAM team, I'm proud to live those changes. Promoting diversity is a strong way to empower the team and helping the entire organization to achieve the top.
by Gabriela Moscoso 02.07.2018
Very well done Jean-Michel, great read.
Especially because I decided to start hiking more often since last year, so I went from a not so hard mountain in Switzerland to one far more complicated in Austria, both times I had experienced friends with me, who not only encouraged me to keep going but also trusted I could make it up and down. And it is only when you realize how valuable your team is that you know you can take on any challenge.

Looking forward to read more on this kind of examples! I need motivation for the Inca Trail I will be hiking in September!

by Roberto Bussati 27.11.2019
Great article and very valuable mindset to follow, nice to know how diversity is playing a great role for LAM.