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Category > History > Page Uploaded: 01/04/15

Dassler family ownership of Adidas ends (1987)

One of the key events in the history of Adidas, and by extension, the sporting goods industry, was the death of Adidas CEO Horst Dassler in 1987. Adidas were founded by Adolf Dassler in 1949, and by the 1980's had become the world's most popular sports brand. The Dassler family had maintained ownership and management of Adidas from 1949-1987: the company passing hands from Adolf Dassler to his wife Kathe Dassler in 1978 - upon the death of Adolf Dassler - and then to their son Horst Dassler in 1984 - upon the death of Kathe Dassler.

The Dassler brothers, in happy times, before they fell out and split up their company.

Horst Dassler's death surprised the sporting goods industry: he was only 51 years old when he died. The death of Horst Dassler led to turmoil within Adidas: lacking clear leadership, Adidas made poor strategic decisions and lost ground to competitors: most notable Nike. Nike would take Adidas' crown as the world's most popular sports brands; the Nike brand was promoted by global sports stars like Michael Jordan; a strategy Adidas used to grow the popularity of their brand.

There was no clear successor within the Dassler family when Horst Dassler died; Horst had worked for his father for decades and had acquired vast experience and influence within sports marketing. The Dassler family members who inherited the company were Horst's two children, Suzanne and Adolf Jnr, and Horst's four sisters; who were the daughters of Adolf and Kathe Dassler. The company shareholding was 10% for each of the children and 20% for each of the sisters. The general consensus of historians is that there was feuding between the family members about how to manage the company.

Due to a lack of strong leadership after Horst's death, sales of Adidas products fell sharply. This eventually led the Dassler family members to make Adidas a public company - referred to as a "Aktiengesellschaft" in Germany - and they then decided to sell their majority shareholding. Unlike with most British and American companies, many large German companies remain in private and family 'hands', and the the decision of the Dassler family members to sell their shareholder to a foreign owner surprised and dismayed many members of the German public.

The majority of Adidas stocks were purchased by French businessman Bernard Tapie in 1989. Tapie would lead Adidas to near bankruptcy: he had purchased Adidas with bank loans and eventually could no longer service the interest on the loans. Tapie implemented a range of unpopular and controversial decisions: such as moving manufacturing from Germany to offshore in South East Asia. Tapie sold his shareholding in 1994: the shareholding was purchased by a consortium of businessmen who placed Robert Louis-Dreyfus as the new CEO of Adidas..

Historical Notes

The key events of 1987 included: UK Prime Minister Thatcher winning a rare third term; 37 deaths on the US frigate Stark in the Persian Gulf; the U.S. stock market rised above 2000 points for the first time; a channel ferry capsises near the Belgium harbour of Zeebrugge - killing 193 people; China's civil code in enacted; Kings Cross Tube Station fire kills 31; Terry Waite was kidnapped in Beirut; and the World's Population reaches over five billion people.