“New year, new leader” seems to be the call to action for a few leading athletic companies and Fila USA is no exception.
Its parent company Fila Holdings revealed Monday that Todd Klein has been tapped as the president of its North American subsidiary Fila USA. The former Adidas executive takes on the role that was vacated by Jennifer Estabrook, who retired last year.
Klein’s appointment is the latest in a series of senior executive shuffles in recent months. Earlier this month at Adidas AG, Bjørn Gulden succeeded longtime chief executive officer Kasper Rørsted. The 57-year-old Gulden was poached from Puma, where he had served as CEO since 2013. In turn, Puma named Arne Freundt CEO. Last month Matt Rock was promoted to president of the Americas at Pentland Brands, overseeing Speedo as well as Pentland’s full portfolio, including Endura and Mitre, for the Americas region. Another key move was made by Reebok last fall, when 30-year veteran Todd Krinsky was promoted to CEO.
With more than 30 years of experience, Klein was most recently vice president of advance concepts at Adidas, working on technologies and innovations across footwear, apparel and accessories 46 months ahead of their retail releases, a post he exited in the spring of last year. His intermittent history with Adidas started in 1993, first joining the sneaker giant as a specialty store representative in Texas. A year or so later he relocated to Portland, Oregon, and his tenure included a variety of roles including global ones that were based in Adidas’ head office in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Klein also worked for Reebok for a five-year stint in global marketing.
Having started at Fila last week, Klein is based in its New York offices, where the executive team can be found five days a week and other workers are present Tuesdays through Thursdays. Asked about some of the challenges facing the industry, he cited supply chain and inventory issues, “the topic of inflation seems to come and go from week to week,” and continuing COVID-19 concerns “not just here but also in China.”
As for consumers, Klein said they are looking for an experience more than anything, which can be defined in a multitude of ways. Most keen to map out what the Fila consumer experience is, Klein said he will address that with his team. “First you start with the people, who work at Fila. That’s our culture, and putting the consumer at the front of our thinking and mindset,” he said.
For 2021, the South Korea-based Fila Group saw sales climb 21.3 percent to 859.26 billion Korean won — and Fila USA saw an annual increase of 11.5 percent to 568.62 billion won ($497 million) for the same timeframe. In his first interview as Fila USA president, Klein noted how the past four years at the brand have been challenging, due partially to the 2019 death of former president and chief global officer commercial of Fila North America Jon Epstein, as well as the pandemic and supply chain issues that have impacted and continue to impact the industry.
Klein described his management style as being “people-first. I believe in open and honest conversation. At the end of the day, we have a responsibility and accountability to our consumer, retail partners, our people and our shareholders.” He said, “When you create plans, you don’t do it in isolation. I’ve aways felt that when you’re asking people to buy into a long-term plan, it’s a team effort. Everyone has a part to play in that, regardless of your title.”
After living on the West Coast, the East Coast and Europe, and having traveled extensively in Asia visiting accounts, Klein said he maintains a global perspective. Contending that Fila is one of the few activewear brands that rest at the intersection of sports and sports culture, he said that aligning with more musicians, entertainers, TikTok stars and other influencers — as other brands are doing – requires a balance between sport and style. Still in his first week as president, it is too soon to say what the opportunities are in that arena. The women’s category — both performance-driven sport items and more style-oriented ones — withhold potential other growth, he said.
While tech companies like Meta, Microsoft, Alphabet and others have scaled back their workforces, as have fashion ones like Saks.com and StitchFix, Fila USA is not anticipating any additional changes to the brand or the team, according to Klein. Store closures are not currently planned either. “Those are all things that we’ll be diving into the coming days and weeks,” Klein said.
E-commerce continues to be an opportunity, as it is with other brands, especially in relation to direct-to-consumer. Collaborations with fashion designers such as Haider Ackermann and Roksanda Ilinčić are also part of the road ahead, as a portfolio for that is already in place.
While those are two opportunities, athletic brands are increasingly dealing with controversies and are trying to anticipate others in order to safeguard against them, as evidenced by the recent “Adidas Fashion Fiasco,” which entailed a phony news release about a co-CEO. The fallout from inflammatory statements such as Kanye West’s antisemitic public remarks that led to his split from Adidas last year are also corporate concerns with dealmaking. Asked if Fila is looking to build safety clauses into contracts, Klein said he is aware of the challenges that some of the other brands in the industry have faced. “We have a strong plan in place to address those concerns, if they were to arise. We’ll be discussing that in detail in the coming weeks,” he said.