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Career Development at adidas

I’m writing to you from Singapore, my new home. This year has been an eventful one for me already, with a transcontinental move for a job in a new field of expertise. In the spirit of total honesty, if you had asked me when I was seven years old what my dream job was, I probably would not have said, Senior Manager Digital Partner Commerce. I don’t even think the job existed then. Still, this is as close to a dream job that I can currently imagine.

First, I’d like to share a word about what I love about my Digital Partner Commerce role. Then I’ll give you a rundown – in reverse order – of some key moves that have brought me the strategically relevant skills needed to Own the Game.

Lena, an adidas employee, kneels next to some Chinese dragons in the adidas office for Lunar New Year.
The Lunar New Year brought festivities to the adidas Singapore office.

Growth opportunities in a growing metaverse

Digital commerce is more than an industry. It’s a mindset, a culture. To be successful in it, its multi-dimensionality and VUCA qualities need to be recognized. Part of what makes digital commerce exciting is that it’s moving so fast you can literally feel its transformational winds blowing through your hair. This field entails so much untapped opportunity, it will inevitably disrupt even the most traditional and conservative ways of doing business. As a result, those working in this area have no choice but to break silos, co-create, and innovate.

In Digital Partner Commerce, we are leading the acceleration of online sales through our wholesale partners, and with that driving authenticity and reach. This area is especially exciting and complex in that it combines two worlds of knowledge: digital commerce and wholesale. To forge and guide these partner journeys, understanding the needs and objectives of a wide range of businesses is key. This capacity to take the perspective of various partners as well as their priorities and needs enables us to determine two important elements: how the partnerships can be mutually beneficial and how to establish them in an ever-transforming digital landscape. Influencing skills play a valuable role here, too. Our determinations need to be communicated persuasively – internally with our teams and externally with our partners.

So, for those who want to learn, discover, and work at the intersection of various disciplines, Digital Partner Commerce is a dream job haven.

Dream job play 5: Be proactive and ask for what you want

After working in the global headquarters for six years, I was eager to try living in a new place, but I wanted to stay with adidas. Singapore ticked all the boxes for what I had in mind: Big city, new continent, diverse population, and an adidas office overseeing one of the most complex geographies in the company portfolio.

Lanterns hang in the streets in Singapore to mark the Lunar New Year.
The Lunar New Year is the perfect time to begin a new chapter in Singapore.
Street lights line the streets of Singapore for New Year's celebrations.
Singapore is lit up to celebrate the New Year.
The Singapore skyline at night.
Life in a new city offers seemingly endless opportunities to explore.
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When I had decided it was time to invest in my ambitions to land a market role, I started by checking the adidas job portal.

When I learned a former stakeholder would transfer into a senior leadership role in the Asia-Pacific market, I did not hesitate. Without much of a relationship upfront, I organized an informal coffee chat. When we met, I made a case for why I thought I would make a positive contribution to his team. I am grateful that my manager also used his long-standing working relationship with the same colleague to further recommend me. In sum, the proactivity paid off: Even though there were still no job openings at the time, my new mentor identified a project that I could start working on as a side gig while still in my old role in Germany.

My short-term-assignment allowed me to be close to ongoing developments in the Asia-Pacific organization. When news broke that the Digital Partner Commerce team was ramping up, I jumped at the chance.

Dream job play 4: Build on your competencies to create impact

It was the experience of coaching a girl’s football team that made me realize I was ready to test myself in new ways at work and in life. I found it satisfying that skills I’d worked to cultivate could create opportunities for others. 

By the time I started coaching, I’d been playing football my whole life. A colleague (and football mum) told me about a local club, ASV Herzogenaurach (Allgemeiner Sportverein – General Sport Club), where eight girls were playing on teams of boys in their respective age groups.

Football coach high fives her young player during a training session.
Goalie saves a shot from the attacking team during a football game.

Unfortunately, the club didn’t have any coaches to give the girls the attention needed to really foster their development.

I agreed to help form and lead an all-girls’ team. One year later, despite four months of COVID lockdown, we had grown to a 50-girl football community, with one of the squads competing in a higher league than any other team in the club.

Many factors are responsible for this growth. I think the main one, though, is that we formed a community that reached beyond the pitch. The girls liked coming to practice, started bringing their friends, and developed ambitions as a team. They knew they could also count on my fellow coaches and me for topics unrelated to football. They looked up to us as role models.

I realized I could recognize a need, figure out how to fulfill it, and involve others in co-creating lifechanging value

Dream job play 3: Exercise your need to lead

Part of being a role model meant coaching the girls to identify what they wanted and to stake their claim to these opportunities. Let me tell you about an example illustrating this point well. Sadly, huge numbers of girls tend to drop out of sports around adolescence. One day, one of the girls at the verge of puberty told me she felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about her body. She said she was bouncing around the idea of not playing football anymore.

Conscious of the challenges, I asked if she had ever tried wearing functional sports apparel geared towards women, like sports bras. She hadn’t. I let her know that it was standard equipment for me when I was playing, so I could focus my attention on the game.

Young female footballer takes part in a training session.
Sports gear designed for girls and women supports focus and performance.

One of my mentors likes to point out that your job description makes you a manager, but that it’s your people who make you a leader. This really stuck with me. The girls made me a leader, and I started noticing that traits through which I channeled my leadership were more and more sought after in the office as well. People looked to me for my expertise and approached me for advice on challenges in their day-to-day.

Dream job play 2: Find your thrive hive

Of course, I wouldn’t have had the ability to grow and develop my leadership qualities if it hadn’t been for the communities that nurtured and supported me. I’m an extrovert and draw energy and inspiration from my environment and those around me.

Adidas employee Lea sits next to the Adi Dassler statue in front of the Arena building.
So much can be learned about pushing boundaries from those we admire

Generally, I’ve been lucky in this regard, having been surrounded by inspiring people trying to push boundaries almost all along the way. But I have also found myself in some hives where there just is no buzz, where I haven’t felt like I could thrive. I can tell when a change is needed based on signs I pick up from my environment. If, for an extended period, traits I define as success factors are put into question, I look for ways to reposition myself.

So how to break out of situations like this? We are not always in control to change an entire environment or dynamic just like that. And, luckily, it isn’t necessary. To keep on a positive trajectory, I seek out people whose drive, motivation, and experiences intrigue me. I might invite them to coffee or find a way to trigger a conversation. Sharing mutual interests and investments with people is essential to find connection and ways into healthy environments.

Dream job play 1: Build a network

So much of my approach to work was informed by something my very first manager did. He could have onboarded me in the most time-efficient way – with a one-way information download. Instead, he said, “You’ll be involved in complicated processes with lots of stakeholders. I’ll let you know who’s who. Then you meet with them and find out on your own what they do and how their work fits in the context of the organization.”

A group of workers gather together to discuss topics in a busy work setting.
A supportive community is a rich source of knowledge and inspiration.

This remit allowed me to gain a deeper, more complex understanding of the department’s moving parts. Instead of hearing one person’s perspective on how things worked, I heard the story of each area, firsthand. Additionally, being assigned to meet with key players opened the door for me to build my network at adidas. I connected with people and got to know more about them than the bullet points of their 90-day-plans. And I’ve been fostering and building on this initial network ever since.

A promising start

I’ve always liked what adidas stands for. Having experienced the truth of our purpose that “through sport, we have the power to change lives” throughout my life, I’m thrilled to pass on similar experiences to others as well. The company’s work culture and employee experience are certainly top-notch. And for someone whose dream job entails exploration, multi-disciplinary learning and a whole arena filled with doors of opportunities, adidas is the perfect place to launch or boost your career.

adidas employee Lea rides one of the blue bikes on a cycle path on campus.
During my six years at the global headquarters, I have created many fond memories
adidas employee bounces on the yellow trampoline in fron of the adidas Arena building at the HQ.
The trampoline is good for a refreshing bounce.
Woman stands inside a giant transparent ball.
A bit of teambuilding with a playful form of athletism.
Woman holds a Run for the Oceans flag at the adidas campus.
Luckily running for the oceans can be done from anywhere in the world.
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What plays have brought you where you want to be? I’d love to see your tips and wins in the comments section below.

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by Giovanni Kague 22.02.2022
Your job description makes you a manager- your people make you a leader. Drive confidence, foster belongingness, encourage teamplay. Well-said!!! Thanks for the read :)
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