If someone were to ask you what the keys to success are, what would your answer be? Would you say one should adopt a ‘work hard’ mentality? Or perhaps be unwaveringly dedicated to one’s goals? The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer. Having a blueprint to success would be convenient, but it’s the journey towards finding happiness that makes life so exciting.
Everyone’s path is unique and regardless of its direction, it is important to find something that you are truly passionate about to unlock your full potential. When navigating his own life journey, adidas’ Chief Corporate Communication Officer, Jan Runau, used his deep-rooted passion for sport to fuel his professional ambitions. I sat down with Jan to learn the importance of brand love and passion.
More than just a game
For many, sport plays an essential part in their personal development. Sport has the power to create a sense of belonging and teach you fundamental lessons about leadership, teamwork, and determination. Growing up in a sport-loving family, Jan learned these principles at a very early age. It was during his childhood years that he first discovered ‘The Brand with the 3-Stripes.’
“As a kid, I used to do a lot of sports – it was my very first passion. It didn’t matter if I played football or tennis, I just enjoyed being active. Growing up in Germany during the ‘70s, there were two big sports brands that everyone knew – adidas and Puma. To be honest, I was attracted by both, because my favorite football club at that time, Borussia Mönchengladbach played in Puma. In reality, however, from my tennis equipment to my very first Gerd Müller football boots, most of my sports gear was branded with the 3-Stripes. After all these years, I am still a huge fan of the brand, and it just goes to show how impactful brand affiliation can be on someone’s life.”
Being a sports fan from an early age, Jan always aspired to work in the sport industry. Now serving as the Chief Communication Officer at adidas, he has managed to turn his passion into a long and fruitful career. Much like many of us, he achieved this feat the old-fashioned way – by steadily working his way up the corporate ladder. And although he has been a part of the 3-Stripes family for over 30 years, Jan’s journey began at a local German newspaper where he worked as a sports journalist.
“Right after high school, I decided that I wanted to be a sports journalist and started working for a local newspaper. I was managing the sports section, which proved to be challenging, but also extremely exciting. After a couple of months on the job, I thought to myself that I should broaden my understanding of journalism so I can unlock new job possibilities in the future. I started looking for suitable university courses and was fortunate enough to be among the 70 people selected to attend the Sportökonomie (now called sport, business and law) program at the University of Bayreuth.
“Back then, finding a course that combines the worlds of sport and business was almost impossible. I was very fortunate to have found one that incorporated a variety of subjects such as marketing, sports theory, and finance into its curriculum. I suddenly found myself in an environment where I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who were just as passionate about sport as myself.
“During my first semester at Bayreuth, I had the pleasure of meeting two of Germany’s best athletes in field hockey and pole vaulting at the time – Uli Roth and Günther Lohre. They’d set up their own communications agency and had taken some time to present the work they had done for the most recent World Games to our class. Hearing about their experiences truly resonated with me and on that very day, I decided to put my journalistic ambitions on hold to pursue a career in PR and communications instead.”
Just the luck of the draw
After exploring several different avenues, Jan finally found his calling. Thankfully, luck was also on his side. On one fateful Saturday morning, Jan’s sister showed him a job advert for a position at adidas and suggested he apply for the position, although he was still in the midst of his studies. Fast forward a couple of months and Jan was on the way to his first working day at the brand, completely unaware of the incredible adventure he was about to embark on.
“When I started working at adidas, the company’s annual sales were € 2.6 billion – now they’re at 22 billion. I have been with the company through its highs and lows, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
“Back in the 80s and early 90s, we were a much more traditional company, focusing predominantly on the German market. Nowadays, you can find adidas products everywhere around the world.”
“One of the things I love most about our progress as a brand is how international and young our workforce has become. Every time I walk around the World of Sports, I feel amazed at how diverse and enthusiastic everyone around me is. The inclusive nature of our company is something truly special and we shouldn’t forget that.”
A winning team
Jan’s climb to the top ranks of adidas was no coincidence. Throughout his career he has shown exemplary leadership skills and has been a centerpiece in the growth of the company. Like any great leader, Jan enjoys seeing his team thrive and exceed expectations. Rooted in sports, his formula to success revolves around teamwork and cooperation. “For me, nothing feels better than winning as a team. Regardless of whether we’re playing on the field or working on a big project, there is a certain beauty when you bond with your teammates and things just work out. Some of my fondest memories – both in my personal and professional lives – come from moments like these.
“The synergy that we have at adidas is one of the things I love about the brand. Just like a football team, each individual brings unique qualities and serves a different function, but ultimately we are all chasing after the same goal. When you work together as a team you can achieve great things. This sense of purpose and collaboration among employees is why adidas has been so successful throughout the years and why we will continue to be successful in the years to come.”
History in the making
During his 30-year tenure at adidas, Jan has played a vital part in some of the company’s most impactful campaigns and product launches. When asked about his most cherished memory with the brand, Jan explains that there have been too many to choose from and hesitates to pick a favorite at first. After a brief moment later, however, he smiles and shares an extraordinary story.
“My favorite campaign is the original ‘Impossible is Nothing’ initiative, which we introduced back in 2004. For its launch, I had the pleasure of working alongside Muhammad Ali on unveiling a huge billboard in the center of Harlem, New York. Thousands of people had gathered to witness the grand reveal and the best part of it all was that they had no idea that Ali would be there.
“Without anyone suspecting a thing, Ali arrived in a car and parked in front of the venue. I will never forget the reaction of the crowd once they realized who it was. As soon as they laid eyes on him, everyone rushed to the vehicle to get a picture or perhaps an autograph. The atmosphere was truly incredible. Seeing the amount of love and admiration these people had for him felt absolutely surreal. Moments like this always remind me why I love working at adidas and demonstrate how our shared love for the brand and passion for sports can bring us all closer together.”
From unveiling the first “Impossible is Nothing” campaign in 2004, to witnessing its rejuvenation in 2021, Jan’s enthusiasm for adidas remains unchanged. As our conversation nears its end, he shares his vision for the future of adidas. “As a brand, we need to stay true to our principles. We consistently embrace innovation to stay ahead of our competitors. We have always produced the best sports products to help people perform at their peak and I don’t believe this trend will change in the future.”