He knows quite a lot about sports apparel and competition — especially, between Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. So what’s the president of North America for Adidas, based in Portland, Ore., going to address as keynote of a manufacturing conference in Green Bay?
“The Evolution of Leadership,” the topic selected by Green Bay native Mark King applies as much to any business, says King, who points out that the global giant Adidas is essentially a manufacturer of sports apparel. Leadership is enormously important for manufacturers today, he says.
In a highly disciplined, highly technical category like manufacturing, leadership is every bit as important as it is in any industry, King says.
“We are a manufacturer. We make 250 million pairs of athletic shoes (each year). We make 500 million pieces of apparel. What we do is design, develop and manufacture. Most of those manufacturers are partners of ours but we really think of ourselves as a manufacturer. I don’t think leadership is really any different, it’s really the environment that you create. Leaders get paid to move their businesses forward. And I don’t think you can move your business forward unless you have really smart, talented people.”
King, who grew up in Green Bay and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, will address an audience of some 1,000 at the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference Oct. 20 at the KI Center in Green Bay. He plans to arrive earlier that week to spend time with longtime friends, including Mike Calawerts, owner and president of VerHalen Commercial Interiors in Green Bay (with his brother John Calawerts).
“He’s been around the world and he has so many incredible experiences,” says Calawerts, who, along with Mark Kaiser of Lindquist Machine, invited King to speak at Manufacturing First. “I tell people he’s still a Green Bay person. He is hard working and loyal to the community — has given back to the community in a number of ways.
“He’s very charismatic and has always been that way,” Calawerts adds. “He’s a natural leader.”
King has returned for the UWGB TaylorMade-Adidas Pro-Am golf tournament, has spoken at the UWGB commencement and been involved with Green Bay Junior Achievement.
“We are very excited to have Mark with us in Green Bay,” says UWGB Chancellor Gary Miller. “He is not only a very generous supporter of the university, but also a shining example of how the UW-Green Bay experience offers an excellent foundation for success in life.”
King joined TaylorMade, then a startup company, in 1980 and spent 20 years in sales before he was named president in 1999 and CEO in 2003. Under his leadership TaylorMade became the leading and most profitable golf company in the world. In 2014, he was appointed president of Adidas and Reebok operations in the North American market — charged with making up the ground the company lost to competitors Nike and Under Armour. He has given scores of speeches nationwide based on his experiences as a leader in his industry and a lifelong sales professional.
Since he took the reins at Adidas, the company has realized enormous success: Stock was trading at about $50 when he started and it’s now trading at $150. He credits “timing,” in part, but also the company’s decision to change the way it operates. With its headquarters in Germany and its roots serving the European and global soccer market, Adidas has applied technology to its sports equipment and footwear, King explains. The company has also moved more designers and developers to the United States and will soon move some of its footwear manufacturing operations to Atlanta.
“As consumer trends change more rapidly we need to have manufacturing closer to the actual marketplace,” King says. “When you make it outside the United States there are cost advantages but also longer lead times. We now believe being able to react to consumer needs can offset costs.”
Leaders in today’s world must keep pace with change, King says.
“It’s always been evolving but it’s really changing at a rapid pace today, as Millennials dominate the workforce, as technology dominates how we work, companies are forced to be very much in a transformational mode. Any leader that will be effective has to evolve the way they think, the way they behave and, quite frankly, just the way they lead. There are many things today that a leader that was maybe effective 20 years ago would struggle with today, commanding and demanding that people do certain things. It’s just not the way the world works.”
Effective leadership styles have changed a lot over the years, he adds.
“Today’s leader is much more about the environment that he or she creates for people who do the work. And that environment needs to be safe, where people can ask questions and challenge the way things are done, share ideas. Leadership in today’s world is about creating an open environment where people can explore their own ideas, challenge the status quo and inspire people. Inspiring people, giving people a chance to think and grow and develop and engage and contribute at a deeper level, that’s where you create really fulfilling environments, you attract really smart people and you do really extraordinary things.”
King recently began hosting a podcast program online via the website and mobile app Soundcloud, in which he interviews sports celebrities. Called “Extraordinary Happens,” his first interview was with Aaron Rodgers of the Packers.
“I’m a very optimistic person and I’m a big believer that extraordinary things happen all the time. Whether it’s in the manufacturing space or selling space, I think extraordinary things can happen, and extraordinary things are happening in the manufacturing space today. What I’d like to provoke is how do we find those extraordinary things? They don’t happen by chance, they’re not random, but there’s very much a process of finding breakthrough ways of competing and moving your business forward.”
Growing up in the Midwest and Green Bay in particular has helped ground him and shape his worldview, King says.
“I come from a community where people are just down to earth and appreciate one another,” he says. “I have been out of Green Bay now for almost 40 years and I’ve seen that the people from the Midwest just have a different work ethic — they’re very committed and diligent and work hard. They focus on what matters, which are people and working hard and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is about driving businesses forward. That’s the formula.”