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February/March 2011

adidas SA new MD:

Fast out of the blocks

Winand Krawinkel’s energetic approach bodes well for adidas SA, reports TRUDI DU TOIT. Photos NICOL DU TOIT

It is easy to like Winand Krawinkel. He is open, forthright and enthusiastic — an extrovert with a twinkle in the eye.

He talks with passion, animation and humour. A linguist who speaks English, Italian and French in addition to German, he fluently converses on diverse subjects without once “umming” or “aahing”. While there is substance in what he says, he does not bore, nor, one suspects, would he tolerate bores. Speed (as in when talking, getting things done, making decisions) is one of his strengths… or weaknesses, he warns early on in the interview. He also admits to being impatient.

Yet, he is patient with us and allows us to encroach on his time for half an hour more than the allotted hour.

He uses a sporting metaphor — passing on the relay baton without slowing down the race — to demonstrate the importance he attaches to team work. His energy comes from — and is also channelled into — staying active through sports. He takes his sport seriously and is competitive and ambitious, he says, but his main competitor and benchmark is himself. Traits that, one suspects, also drives him in the workplace.

Krawinkel, a German-born international executive has done his homework on South Africa after being appointed to replace Brian Kerby as the new MD of adidas SA. Like the newly-converted he is very positive about his host country and within a few weeks he had been to a cricket match, had a braai and even started drinking rooibos tea.

There is no significance to the fact that both he and the MD of Nike SA were previously stationed in Italy, he laughs. While South Africans and Italians share some characteristics, like passion, there are many differences: the South African retail customers he met are forthright and very positive, while Italians are smoother and less optimistic. Our consumers also seem to like bolder colours, while the Italians prefer more subdued styles.

He is complimentary about the adidas SA team — his first impression was excellent — and their knowledge of the adidas products and the stories and philosophies that underpin them.

“Adidas is one of the few brands on the planet where consumers display proactive engagement with the brand,” he says. “Adidas is proud of the research and development that results in innovative products, but the question is how you tell this story in stores. You can’t just place a premium shoe on a shelf if you don’t know and appreciate its story.”

As befits someone who spent much of his working career in sales and marketing, he frequently draws attention to the new adidas F50 boot (all of 160gm, but very functional) strategically displayed on the table.

Again and again he emphasises the importance of communicating to help customers understand the story behind a product or range, whether using sponsored athletes or digital communications like blogging, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. or store displays.

Equally important is to understand the customer that a particular store attracts. “We must be careful and make sure our customers stand for something and will not sacrifice the story — we would want to know what they stand for and what kind of consumer they attract, so that we have a clearer picture of what would sell. Pushing product that will not work for a specific market will result in a negative spiral: no sell-through, cancellations, returns and a negative feeling.”

That would not mean that they will only sell to branded driven businesses — the value market also has a role to play, he says, perhaps not with Originals, but certainly with the adidas Neo value label.

He appreciates that stores don’t always have the space to effectively “tell the story” of premium new product, and they will therefore be expanding their own stores, which will also act as a test platform. Once it works there, they will have more confidence to sell it into other retailers.

“I foresee great growth with our key accounts — but not at the expense of independents, especially specialists, who are crucial to our business,” he adds.

Krawinkel’s CV indicates the importance the adidas Group attaches to their South African subsidiary, the gateway to Africa. It is impressive.

Following a degree in finance and management in the 1980’s at the European Business School in Germany, he started his working career as a management assistant for a large pharmaceutical group. His business school thesis on marketing to the (then) new market of consumer electronics was a good introduction to joining Samsung at a stage when consumer telecommunications and IT were still in the developing stage.

Sony subsequently head hunted him and the six years he worked for this major Japanese group “was like a dream”, says Krawinkel. Sony is a FIFA sponsor and it was indeed a marketer’s dream to be involved in the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.

As a passionate fan of sports like golf, tennis and, of course, soccer, he did not hesitate too long when early in 2000, FIFA made him a “fantastic offer” to become MD of the newly established FIFA Marketing AG, a separate legal entity formed after the collapse of their marketing partner ISL. As head of marketing for soccer, he was in the centre of the action during the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan, but he left shortly after to join the global brand Electrolux as European marketing director. Electrolux was Europe’s second biggest household appliance supplier and he thrived on the challenge of trying to beat the market leader.

He was, however, back in the exciting world of sport marketing before the 2006 World Cup, again experiencing the excitement from the centre at the adidas AG headquarters in Herzogenaurach as Head of Business Development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. A sport loving German schoolboy, he had grown up with adidas as a household brand, and while working at Sony and FIFA, he got to know many adidas people well.

It was like coming home. This time he could experience the soccer world cup as a German, working for a German company in the host country, Germany. It was a World Cup in which everything just fell into the right place. “I still get emotional when I think back to that time,” says Krawinkel. The national pride in showing the world what your country can achieve can only be truly appreciated by people who had experienced it themselves, like us South Africans in 2010.

As a major FIFA sponsor, adidas was “on the inside”, especially with their World of Football, a 4 000 square metres soccer park in Berlin. As a relatively new employee, he felt: “If this is adidas… Wow!” A feeling that was reinforced by the impressive adidas headquarters with its tennis courts and soccer fields where “every employee was indeed part of the family.” He believes it is important to have fun while working, for employees to have time for family and a life outside work and does not believe in working till midnight (unless exceptional circumstances demand). But then, if you perform at a running pace, you probably don’t need to work round the clock.

As Head of Business Development, he not only gained valuable insight into the mentality and work processes at head office, but developed an understanding of the different needs of the various markets, and could thus provide feedback to all concerned.

The following year Krawinkel was appointed marketing director at adidas Italy. With a wife that is half Italian, he had few problems adjusting. One of the strategies to stimulate growth was building diverse strategies for the sport performance and sport style divisions.

He believes it is important to have dedicated approaches to lifestyle from the performance markets — although some lifestyle ranges do have a technical heritage, for example the retro sneaker being sold now that looks just like the shoe Marcello Fiasconaro (now working for adidas in Johannesburg) ran in when he was the 800m world champ in the 1970’s.

The Krawinkel family relocated to Cape Town in December last year, and he officially started as MD of adidas SA on January 1 this year. “I would like to thank Brian (Kerby) for building such a strong foundation and for the very professional handover he did with me,” he said in a statement.

But it is quite clear that there is now a very different new captain at the helm of adidas SA.

Brian Kerby, adidas champion

Despite leaving adidas to pursue other business interests, former adidas SA MD Brian Kerby says he will always be loyal to the brand

In Brian Kerby, adidas has a lifelong champion. As a schoolboy he decided his ambition was to work for adidas. When he was in his early thirties, this became a reality and for the past fifteen years, he ate, slept and dreamt the brand. Especially after he was appointed MD of adidas SA ten years ago.

In an interview at the end of last year, just before he left, Kerby reconfirmed his commitment to the brand. “I’ll always have the brand at heart and be a brand ambassador for adidas. Until 31 December I am 100% committed to adidas,” he said. “Then I’ll take some time off, before exploring other business opportunities. I have been talking to a few people, but am keeping my options open.”

He has been thinking, for example, about consulting, sharing his management skills with smaller companies inside or outside the industry; maybe player management; exploring opportunities with companies or brands looking to expand into Africa or even possibly investing into small companies or brands he truly believes in. He is also still in discussions with adidas around how he can help grow the cricket and hockey business, and cycling should this ever come back into the fold. There were discussions around the possibility of relocating within the adidas Group, “but there were no global opportunities at my level which excited me.” Following the global restructuring, an entire international management level was done away with resulting in fewer opportunities outside of the subsidiaries.

Sport has always played an important role in Kerby’s life. He now concentrates on Ironman events where he is hoping to raise further funds for his CSR project Iron Brian. In 2010 he raised sufficient funds to build a multi-purpose sports court in the Hhoyi rural community in Mpumalanga through sponsorships of him competing in Ironman SA. Iron Brian is a special project of the NGO Score, the adidas charity of choice, which uses sport to make a difference to the lives of people in 60 communities across the country. The multi-purpose court will be built in Hhoyi because it is the home of the winning team in the SCORE International Cup of Heroes competition.

However, it was team sports in which he excelled at school, predominantly cricket and hockey. His cricket prowess — he played for the WP Colts U23 — secured him a position as a pro with an overseas club, a coaching position with the WP Cricket Union, and indirectly, also his first job.

After completing his compulsory two years’ army service in the early 1980’s, followed by a B.Comm at UCT, he played cricket in the UK in 1988-89. When he returned, he was offered a position as sales rep by PG Woods in Cape Town, who were keen to recruit him for the cricket team they sponsored, Cape Town CC. He shared digs with Mickey Mallet (current MD of Hi-Tec SA) who was the Dunlop/Slazenger representative in Cape Town at that stage. When Mallet was transferred to Durban as sports marketing manager, he stepped into his position as Dunlop/Slazenger’s Cape Town rep. History repeated itself when Kerby became Mallet's replacement in Durban.

Then, in October 1995, after a short stint in the Dunlop Slazenger Johannesburg office, he realised his dream when he joined adidas as national sales manager, with Tony O’Hagan as MD. Five years later he became the youngest MD of any adidas distributorship — he was in his late thirties — replacing Gary Thomas, who very briefly occupied the office vacated by Tony O’Hagan when he retired in 2000.

During the past decade adidas SA had grown 600% top line and 800% bottom line, says Kerby. “It has become more professional, with vast improvements in the level of staffing and the work environment (they moved into a new modern head office).”

His own strength lies in the fact that he always leads by example, he says. “I will not ask anyone to do something I will not do myself.” His leadership style is open and easy, he believes, and he manages to get the best out of a team. “We have a very strong team, a great team, here at adidas SA. I received loads of support from the guys when I was practically dropped in the deep end (when he was appointed MD) and they all supported me. It has been a great ride.”

The trading environment had also changed — the fun days of SASGAM shows disappeared and adidas became much more of a key account, big business, driven organisation, although there will always be a role for independents and specialists, he adds. But, he still believes in segmenting the market and controlling where the products are stocked to ensure the brand stays strong.

Due to their shift in emphasis to key and house accounts, the Johannesburg and Cape Town agent structures were brought in-house. They still have agents for the rest of the country, Namibia and Botswana.

Being involved in the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a major sponsor in the host country was THE highlight of his career. “Not many people can say that they have been as involved in such an event. It was unbelievable. Of course, there were some concerns that we were not up to the task because we were such a small subsidiary — but hats off to the adidas Group that let us run with it… and we pulled it off!”

They had good support from the adidas Group head office, who also seconded some global colleagues to assist in key positions.

The legacy and long-term effects of the World Cup had been fantastic for the adidas brand, and the brand’s strength continues to grow strongly after the World Cup, he says. “We have done well from our association with the World Cup.”

A career low was the period when they lost control of their logistics processes, resulting in major over stocking. “We had five warehouses at one stage, which created huge inefficiencies, but with focused attention to logistic and supply chain procedures we managed to bring it back under control, and this laid the foundation for the successes we achieved this year — together with a very strong back office team.”

Kerby was working at adidas till December 31, handing over to Winand Krawinkel, and in January, when everyone else returned from leave, he took some of the leave he somehow never managed to find time for.

Winand Krawinkel is pictured here (top) and Brian Kerby (below)

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