Mark King was born and raised in Green Bay and graduated from UW-Green Bay. He joined TaylorMade, then a startup company, in 1980 and spent 20 years in sales before he was named president in 1990 and CEO in 2003. Under King’s leadership TaylorMade became the leading and most profitable golf company in the world. In 2014, King was appointed president of Adidas and Reebok operations in the North American market — charged with making up the lost 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.
Your topic at Manufacturing First is, “The Evolution of Leadership.” Why do you refer to leadership in terms of “evolution?”
The marketplace, the environment, society is changing. 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.
Just how well is Adidas doing?
There was a low point when I first started where the stock was trading at around $50 and now it’s trading around $150. It actually went down in the first few months I started but you could say the stock has risen approximately 200 percent in the last two years.
It’s all timing. The lesson is that things were not looking that optimistic two years ago and in a very short period of time we chose to challenge ourselves: Can we do things differently? Can we look at the world a different way? Could we create new and different products? We’ve created a really hot business in less than about two years.
Adidas stock has soared since you took over. What did it take to boost business so dramatically?
When I took the job the company was definitely at a low point over the past 10 years just in terms of a marketplace perception. In many cases it wasn’t justified, but that was the environment. We as a company decided to make many changes in the way we deal with the United States. We decided to move resources here to be closer to the market. Manufacturing is one of those that we’ve decided to explore. We’ve moved more design and developers and more American thinking to be able to focus on the American consumer. It’s been kind of an all-out emphasis to focus more on America.
It’s very interesting being owned by a German company. Adidas is a really successful brand and company around the world and it has done OK in the United States but it’s not as strong as we would like it to be. The DNA of the brand is what we call soccer, what our European parent would call football. It’s the biggest global sport and it’s becoming more important here in the United States. We’re very proud of the technology; what we focus on in terms of performance products more than anything is our soccer business.
You are a native of Green Bay. How did growing up in the Midwest serve as a foundation for your leadership style?
Growing up in the Midwest is fantastic and especially Green Bay, you come from a community where people are just down to earth and appreciate one another. 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.
What prompted Adidas to decide to bring some of its manufacturing to the U.S.?
We are moving some of our footwear manufacturing into the United States in 2017. If it’s successful — and we are assuming that it will be — that would definitely be something we would look to do more of in the coming years.
The first plant would be somewhere in the Atlanta area, it’s a footwear manufacturing facility. As consumer trends change more rapidly we need to have manufacturing closer to the actual marketplace. 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.
What are some lessons in leadership you’ve learned working in such a competitive industry?
To me, leadership definitely has changed over the years. 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 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.
What’s unique about leadership in manufacturing?
In a highly disciplined, highly technical category like manufacturing, is leadership different than technology? In my view, it’s not. I think leadership is first and foremost, 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. 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.
What message do you hope your audience will take away?
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.