Dave Thomas first set foot in India in 2001, wandering the lanes of Varanasi and Haridwar. It wasn’t until he came back a decade later that he was smitten with the hills of Uttarakhand. That’s when the thought of living and working in India crossed his mind.
An Adidas veteran for over 20 years, Thomas worked in markets as diverse as Germany, Japan and Dubai before being appointed the managing director of Adidas India in October 2015. It wasn’t a great time for the burly Australian to take charge. Financial irregularities at Reebok India had been plaguing the brand for over three years.
Adidas had acquired Reebok for $3.8 billion in 2005, but the India operations of the two brands were kept separate till 2011. The latter had accumulated losses of over Rs.20 billion. Adidas, meanwhile, had just started making a profit, albeit a small one, of Rs.90 million in 2010. The headquarters still believed in the Indian market, but the company was unable to make a serious headway despite being operational since 1995. “We were trying to do everything, measuring ourselves on points of distribution, regardless of whether it was helping build the brand or not,” says Thomas. “My mandate was to reset, clean up and stabilise the organisation. It was time to shake things up.”
Adidas decided to position itself higher up on the premium scale. Till then, the brand was selling cheaper than Nike but more expensive than Reebok. The decision meant raising the entry level price from Rs.2,000 to upwards of Rs.3,500. It also meant bringing in more products from its global portfolio such as UltraBoost and Originals, and launching stores of their own. The shift helped Adidas clock Rs.11 billion in revenue, making it the largest sportswear company in India, with a profit of Rs.950 million in FY17. Reebok, after a tumultuous ride, too, turned the corner, with a profit of nearly Rs.190 million in FY17 even though its revenue has almost halved to Rs.4 billion now compared with Rs.7.8 billion in 2010.
In his Gurugram office, Thomas opens up about his early days in India. For one, when he asked his colleagues why Adidas Originals — the company’s casual sportswear line (driven primari