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A walk in his shoes: Adidas CEO describes his journey for USF students

Veronica Brezina

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Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted at USF's Thought Leader Series. Photo: Veronica Brezina

Kasper Rorsted. who heads one of the world’s largest athletic wear companies, gave the University of South Florida students a look into how he built his career and the obstacles he faced, including his mistakes. 

Rorsted, CEO of Adidas, was one of the speakers to present during USF’s Thought Leader Series last week held inside the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater.

“We want the best athletes in the world wearing our products, and if they’re not wearing them, we’re building our products wrong,” Rorsted said in his opening remarks while sporting Adidas attire from head-to-toe.  

Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted (left) is interviewed by Dean of the Muma College of Business Moez Limayem during a Q&A session at USF’s Thought Leader Series.  

The Thought Leader Series was initiated in 2018 to help bring keynote speakers and business icons to the campus. Adidas signed a $23.6 million sponsorship deal in 2018 with USF to provide apparel and footwear for USF’s athletes until the 2025-2026 athletic season.

Rorsted, who resides in Europe, said this was his first trip to the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.  

During his presentation, he highlighted how the company, which has 62,000 employees worldwide and 2,100 retail stores, is on the cusp of innovation and helping battle the ongoing climate change issues. 

Rorsted said Adidas is trying to stop the cycle of plastic waste by making sneakers from recycled and renewable materials. 

Last year, Adidas achieved a 69% share of sustainable Adidas products. The company plans to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

He noted how the company is also encouraging more diversity as 37% of its executive leadership roles are held by women. 

Prior to joining Adidas, Rorsted led German chemical and consumer goods company Henkel AG & Co. to a quadrupled market capitalization. He left the company in 2016. 

He also worked at Hewlett-Packard in the early 2000s. 

He joined HP when HP acquired Compaq, but explained he was fired due to his “bad attitude” as he grappled with the company’s culture. He admitted onstage that he learned from his mistakes at HP and it ultimately led him to his dream job today. 

“If you work for a company, you have to embody what they stand for. And if you can’t do that, you can’t be there as an employee. For me, I have the greatest job in the world.”

Before exiting the stage, Rorsted advised the business students in attendance to find the balance between work and home life.

“When I go to football on the weekend I bring my kids or my wife, but I want to do these two things [work and family life] right,” Rorsted said, stating he only travels for business when necessary. 

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