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IMD case study on adidas’s pandemic-fueled strategic challenges currently amongst the world’s most popular cases

‘The upheaval of 2020 coupled with ongoing digital disruption left adidas with key strategic decisions to make,’ says Niccolò Pisani, IMD Professor of Strategy and International Business.
January 2021

Adidas: How to keep running fast in a post-COVID-19 world?, by Professor Niccolò Pisani, has garnered tremendous success since its publication in October 2020. Currently featured as one the latest bestsellers in the Case Centre’s strategy and general management category, it has been repeatedly ranked as the most popular case study out of the over 60,000 held by the world’s leading distributor.

“The case shows how even leading companies such as adidas need to rethink their strategic priorities to future-proof themselves in a post-COVID-19 world,” said Pisani. “The strategic choices that companies make now will be critical to remain competitive in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

By the end of 2019, the Adidas Group was solidly the world’s second largest multinational in the sportswear manufacturing industry, employing approximately 60,000 people worldwide. Following the successful implementation of a digital transformation initiated in 2015, the company enjoyed years of sustained growth and high profitability in the 2016-2019 period, strengthening its brand desirability and increasing sales volumes, especially in the online space.

It ended fiscal year 2019 stronger than ever and its chief executive officer (CEO), Kasper Rørsted, was very optimistic about what the future would hold. Yet the COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of 2020 radically changed the business landscape. adidas was severely hit by the lockdowns and social distancing was expected to have a lasting impact on consumer habits – consequently on operations.

And so – what would have been unimaginable only few months earlier – the company’s first earnings call of 2020 focused on the negative results of the preceding few months and the high degree of uncertainty going forward. Aware of the many challenges facing the company, Rørsted had to decide which strategic initiatives he should prioritize to future-proof the company and keep it on a steady growth trajectory in a post-COVID-19 world.

The case provides an ideal business setting to discuss key trends – from sustainability to digitalization – and how they are set to have an even deeper impact on the strategic thinking of successful companies such as adidas post-COVID-19.

“The Coronavirus outbreak has exposed the need for companies to enhance the resiliency of their supply chains,” said Pisani. “The case provides the basis for an insightful discussion and analysis of how the pandemic is expected to impact the sourcing strategy of companies such as adidas.”

Additionally, by focusing on the strategic challenges faced by adidas the case triggers a fundamental discussion on the future of the retail sector, including the role of brick-and-mortars shops and the strategic importance of global cities post-COVID-19.
The case can be ordered at the Case Centre, which is a distributor of IMD’s full collection of over 1,500 cases. IMD’s faculty has developed case studies for over 50 years. Renowned for their international focus, IMD’s cases have proven to be a timeless tool for developing the leadership capabilities of executives, irrespective of where they are on their career path.