Handcrafted football boots on a rack at the factory of German sporting-goods maker Adidas.
Photograph by Alex Grimm — Getty Images
By John Kell
February 19, 2015

Adidas is kicking off its search for a new chief executive.

The German company — which has a contract with current CEO Herbert Hainer until 2017 — is already in the early stages of a search to find a suitable successor to run the world’s second-largest athletic gear maker. Adidas on Thursday said a supervisory board, along with Hainer, has appointed two new executive board members and a new chief human relations officer to bolster the effort.

“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,” said Igor Landau, chairman of the board responsible for the search. The company is also retaining an executive search firm.

Hainer, 60, has held the job since 2001 and is the longest-serving CEO of a German blue-chip company.

The move comes as Adidas has lost some ground in the Western markets it serves, including Europe and the United States. Larger rival Nike (NKE) has gobbled up market share in both regions, while Under Armour (UA) has made notable dent in the United States. The turnaround in the U.S. has been called “the top priority” at Adidas, which wants to report double-digit sales growth in the region. The struggles at Adidas have pressured shares and led some investors to express their dissatisfaction with how Hainer has handled the business.

Hainer, in a letter issued to Adidas employees, indicated he’ll still play a key role in a turnaround. At the end of March, he said Adidas would unveil a long-term strategy to investors. He admitted the media could be a distraction, but sought to assuage such concerns.

“As part of the ongoing media coverage [about Adidas], people also started to speculate about my objectives for the next two years and my succession,” Hainer wrote in the statement. He said his goal is to ensure the new strategy Adidas will soon disclose gets off to a “great start.”

—Reuters contributed to this report.

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