Adidas chief puts pitch plan to work

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2007, 12:00am

Christophe Bezu aims for top spot in mainland

Christophe Bezu, chief executive of Adidas Asia-Pacific and former captain of the French field hockey team, uses the same approach in the boardroom as he used on the sporting field - strategy and preparation.

The sports lover has made Adidas the No1 sporting brand in Japan, New Zealand and Thailand. Now he has his sights set on the fast-growing mainland market.

With the country hosting the Olympics next year, Mr Bezu is pulling out all stops to beat market leader Nike and make Adidas the top brand in the 1.3 billion people market.

The company is adding three new stores in the mainland every day and wants to have 9,000 shops by 2010. Helping the effort is the fact that Adidas is a sponsor of the Olympics as well of this year's FIFA Women's World Cup in the country.

Mr Bezu was born in Calais, northern France, in 1957 and now lives in Hong Kong with his wife and two daughters. Before coming to Hong Kong, he lived and worked in Japan for 13 years. He was appointed to his current role in 2004.

How do you compare life as a sportsman and a businessman?

It is exactly the same in some aspects. To be successful in sport and business, you need to have passion about what you are doing. They both need skill and strategy and they have to work hard at training. Putting the right players in the right positions is not much different from positioning my team of staff according to their skills and experience.

Adidas has had close links with the Olympics since 1928. Do the games really help you boost sales?

We expect a big portion of sales will be from Olympic-licensed products during 2008. The games are a showcase of the technology and performance of our products. It also allows the Adidas brand to be seen on television, at the event and by the men and women on the street who are celebrating a grand sporting event.

We are now a year before the Beijing Olympics. What has Adidas planned?

We will open a number of big retail shops in Beijing and have started a lot of preparation work for our campaign. Being a sponsor means we are an official partner of the games. We have to provide clothing for all the volunteers, staff and technical people as well as license sports products and equipment related to the Olympics.

How have customers' tastes changed since you joined Adidas 20 years ago?

Technology has changed the materials of textiles and footwear. Twenty years ago, a normal tennis shoe weighed about 240 grams but now the standard for the Asian market is only 120 grams. People are demanding lighter and more comfortable materials to help them perform.

Do you and your family all wear Adidas?

Of course. I have a maid who started helping my family with housework two years ago. When she arrived at my home, she wore Reeboks. I told her, 'Sorry, you cannot wear this shoe in my home'. Last year, after Adidas acquired Reebok, I told her she could wear the shoe again as Reebok has become part of the family.

You are now only the No2 sports brand in the mainland behind Nike. Do you think the Olympics will help you to beat your rival, which is also No1 worldwide?

We are No1 in a number of key countries around the region. In China, we are close to the biggest in terms of revenue.

We are quickly developing our retail network - opening three stores every day in the mainland - so I am confident we will be No1 by the time of the Olympics. Nike and Adidas both have a market share of 17 to 18 per cent, so the gap in China is not big.

How can you fight local brands such as Li Ning?

We respect a lot of these Chinese brands, as some of them are partners in distributing our products. We have good relationships with them. I don't worry too much about competition. I am confident our products are of the highest quality and Adidas is the fastest-growing brand in China and Asia.

How many stores will the company open in Beijing in the next two to five years?

We plan to open about 200 shops in Beijing over the next five years. Some of them are franchised, but about 10 per cent will be directly owned by Adidas. We will have 9,000 shops - 4,000 Reebok shops and about 5,000 Adidas shops - in China by 2010.

Basketball star Yao Ming is your representative in the mainland. What made you choose him and do you plan to sponsor more sport stars?

Yao has been representing the Reebok brand for six years. After we took over Reebok last year, he has become part of our portfolio. Yao is a fabulous basketball player. We also sponsor other famous players and a number of sports federations in the mainland.

Do you plan to phase out the Reebok brand? If not, how will you differentiate Adidas and Reebok?

We will keep the Reebok brand as it has a clear and different image from Adidas. Reebok is more attractive to women and reinforces lifestyle and easy walking.

Are you planning more acquisitions?

We are always looking for other brands, but now we have enough on our plate, and globally we are not thinking about another acquisition.

In Japan, you turned all your franchises into subsidiaries and increased revenue from US$8.5 million in 1991 to US$407 million by 1997. What was the key to your success?

I had to stay a long time in Japan to understand the culture. The Japanese have a certain way of doing business, and it took a long time to change our way of business to fit in with their unique culture and thinking. Another reason for Adidas' success in the Japanese market was the World Cup in 1998 which boosted sales.

Is counterfeiting a major problem in the region?

We have lawyers and auditors to look after the counterfeiting problem. I think the best way to crack down on it is to promote your own brand. The stronger the brand, the less people want to have the fake as they would like to have the real products.

Why did you join Adidas?

About 20 years ago, I was captain of the French field hockey team and had a strong passion for sport. As a result, I got the chance to join the company in 1988 as a product director in France.

You lived in Japan for 13 years and now you live in Hong Kong. What are the differences between the markets?

Hong Kong is a multicultural city where it is very easy for a foreigner to live and travel.

By comparison, Tokyo is a very domestic market. But in terms of market size, Japan has 24 million customers while Hong Kong, with only about 6.8 million people, is a village-type market.

France has a 35-hour working week. Do you enjoy such short hours and how does that fit in with Hong Kong, where some people work 60 hours a week?

I am now working more than 60 hours a week and have never been part of the group who work 35 hours. That was a rule related to recent times (in France) when people wanted to have a better work and life balance. With so many jobs and challenges in front of us, I do not think we can afford to leave the office at four o'clock every day.

Does your family complain you work too much?

I emphasise the quality of time we are together. We travel several times every year.