PARIS — Adidas is ready to make room for a new generation.

Following rumors about a possible departure of its chief executive officer Herbert Hainer, Igor Landau, chairman of the supervisory board at Adidas, confirmed that the board had launched a formal search to replace the incumbent, whose contract was extended last year.

“The supervisory board’s decision to extend Herbert Hainer’s ceo contract until 2017 had the objective to give sufficient time for a smooth transition in order to optimize the process of succession,” said Laundau.
The chairman noted that during “the last year and a half, the supervisory board has — jointly with Herbert Hainer — continued to pursue the generation change which was already initiated within the group’s management team in 2013,” including the appointment of two new executive board members, Roland Auschel and Eric Liedtke, along with a new chief human resources officer Karen Parkin.

“The next step in this process is now to look for the best possible candidate for Herbert Hainer’s succession both inside and outside the Adidas group,” Landau stated, adding that this was going to be “a long-term process that will be facilitated by an executive search firm.”

As reported, Hainer has faced calls from investors to resign from the post, which he has held since 2001.

A spokeswoman for the brand would not say if cutting Hainer’s contract short was an option should a successor be identified before March 2017, or whether the executive was likely to sit out his tenure.

Adidas shares were up 4.4 percent in mid-morning trading, making them the biggest gainers on the German index, following the news.

Hainer addressed employees in an upbeat letter, stressing the firm’s “fantastic start into 2015,” accompanied by the launch of “adidas Yeezy”, the brand’s first shoe created with Kanye West, and the “#ThereWillBeHaters” campaign for adidas football, among others.

“I have three clear priorities,” he reiterated in the note. “First, to ensure that we continue to stay on our growth track for 2015 and beyond. Second, to get our new strategic business plan off to a great start. Third, to continue to pursue the already initiated generation change within our group’s senior management team.”

Hainer, who is the longest serving ceo of Adidas, has come under pressure from investors unhappy about Adidas loosing ground to U.S. rival Nike, which has been eating into the German giant’s market share, particularly in the U.S.

In an interview with German media last month, Hainer admitted he had made mistakes, such as rolling out too many new golf products just as the market was contracting, but said he had been surprised by the personal criticism after a series of profit warnings. 

The incumbent, together with Auschel and Liedtke, is now working on a new five-year strategy, to be presented at the end of March.

A fresh face might serve the brand with the three stripes well. It helped its next-door neighbor Puma, where Bjørn Gulden has been stepping things up since he took the reigns in 2013.

Although a long shot away from Adidas and Nike, the German sporting goods maker reported revenue rebounds in the U.S. and strong sales in accessories as well as footwear, its Achilles’ heel, earlier this week, following a few lean years.

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