That’s why the most powerful Adidas manager has to go

Karen Parkin

The Adidas HR manager has to leave and leaves a company with a completely male board.

(Photo: adidas / Hannah Hlavacek)

Munich The management of Adidas is too male, too white and too old, CEO Kasper Rorsted teased immediately after taking office. That was in the fall of 2016. “As far as women are concerned, we have some catching up to do,” said the Dane. Shortly thereafter, he appointed HR manager Karen Parkin to the top management level.

Now, however, the group owner is back where he started almost four years ago: The board of directors of the sneaker manufacturer is again completely male, white, and it is no longer the youngest members. Because after nearly a quarter of a century in Adidas’ service, Parkin, 55, gave up on Tuesday. The company listed in the Dax announced that she had offered her resignation to the supervisory board. And he agreed to her immediate withdrawal.

The English-born, who also has an American passport, does not go voluntarily. Rather, it bends to the pressure of workers in America. Statements that Parkin is said to have made at an internal event of the Reebok subsidiary in Boston a year ago were particularly controversial. She is said to have dismissed racism in her own house as unimportant. Since then, resistance to them is said to have increased massively.

The brand with the three stripes had been under fire in the USA in the course of the Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks. Internally, employees at the US headquarters have urged the male and white dominated management to position themselves clearly.

A black designer asked for an apology. In response, the company announced that 30 percent of new hires in the US will have to be black and Latino in the future. Even more: Even before Parkins left, Adidas announced that it would spend $ 120 million in the fight against racial injustice by 2025.

Distrust in the company headquarters

The brand also funds 50 scholarships for young black people every year. Adidas also signed the Juneteenth Pledge, an obligation to introduce June 19 in memory of the abolition of US slavery as a paid holiday. A new, independent committee is to monitor compliance with the voluntary commitments.

But none of that was enough, the distrust of Parkin’s US headquarters in Portland was too great. Adidas needs an accelerated change, supervisory board chairman Igor Landau is quoted in a statement from Adidas. This “will drive a new management at the top of the personnel area”. CEO Rorsted said it was now a matter of “further developing Adidas into an even more diverse and inclusive company”.

The manager herself said that Adidas had made progress in many areas. “But there is still a lot to do,” she said. It had become clear to her: “In order to unite the company, it is better if I withdraw and prepare the way for a change.”

This ends a steep career. Parkin started selling the brand in England, then moved to the US office in Portland in 2004. In 2014 the married mother of an adult daughter became HR manager, in 2017 she moved to the board. But her first job was at the toy manufacturer Lego in England.

Parkin wasn’t the first woman on the boardroom at Adidas. In November 1992 the Frenchwoman Gilberte Beaux briefly managed the company. But after the manager, the men completely took command again. Until Parkin moved into the board.

More than a million applications a year

The open-minded woman enjoyed a good reputation in the company for years. She was considered an approachable and pragmatic manager, a boss who tackles the problem. For example, it has developed a new employee management program for the entire group; “My best” has new guidelines every quarter instead of the usual annual targets. People are no longer rated only by their superiors, but also by their colleagues.

Once a month she also asked three questions online to all employees. “People’s poll” she called it, in German one would say that she looked at the people’s mouth. But apparently she wasn’t listening well enough. Nevertheless, Adidas seems popular among job seekers. The label claims to receive more than a million applications each year.

Last year she was instrumental in expanding the headquarters in Herzogenaurach. It was a massive change for several thousand employees in the small Franconian town. “Nobody has their own desk, nobody has a telephone connection,” explained Parkin. She made office nomads out of couch potatoes.

Parkin himself was always on the move, commuting between her adopted home in Portland and Herzogenaurach. An undertaking that is stressful even in normal times, while Corona, on the other hand, was almost impossible in the end. At least locally, it should now come to rest.

“Either we change ourselves radically – or the change is forced on us,” said the woman, who liked to wear sneakers from Adidas, once in a conversation with the Handelsblatt. Her abrupt departure was probably a mix of both.

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