Adidas employees say a fragmented leadership is perpetuating a culture of 'systemic racism' at the company, with limited Black representation inside and a general dismissal of a global problem
Adidas is a global company headquartered in Germany, with major offices across North America and the UK. Some employees say a disconnect between Adidas' American and German headquarters is impeding the company's ability to address and solve what they describe as racism within the company. "The messaging from Germany has long been that this is a US problem," said a current Black employee at Adidas' Portland, Oregon office. An Adidas spokesperson referred Business Insider to a June 5 company statement that read "racism is an issue that exists not only in the US, but in all countries. We all want to see justice, action, peace, and most importantly, progress. As a global sports company, Adidas is committed to creating change." The spokesperson added that the company's leadership stands with this statement, regardless of location or nationality and that Adidas' leadership team includes people of multiple nationalities. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Julia Bond was only a few months into a full-time designing job at Adidas when she experienced a brush with racism at the company. A T-shirt design featuring a Confederate flag was approved and sent on a "mood-board" to her team for design inspiration. Bond said that the design remained on the wall for weeks before anyone, including her, noticed it was there. "I wasn't planning on having a visceral reaction but I couldn't help but cry," Bond, who is a Black woman, told Business Insider. She took a few days off and met with human resources representatives to explain what happened, she said. An Adidas representative said that the image was removed immediately after the design team was made aware of the incident and an apology was issued to Bond and her team. But to Bond, the damage was already done. It's incidents like these that Adidas is working to stop. But employees say that leadership in the company's German headquarters are impeding the change that many US-based employees are fighting for by dismissing the issue of racism as a problem that only exists in America. Business Insider spoke to five current Adidas employees located in offices in North America and Germany, three of whom cited issues of upward advancement for Black people at the company. In two cases, Business Insider granted anonymity to allow them to speak more frankly about their experiences with Adidas. In these cases, Business Insider verified their identities. Four of the five current employees that Business Insider spoke to said they believe a disconnect between Adidas' American and German leadership impedes the company's ability to fully address what they describe as racism within the company. A former Adidas employee who worked in the UK office until 2019 and a current employee in North America both cited feeling tokenized by colleagues for their Black skin color. Some Adidas employees, with Bond at the lead, have been protesting since June 5 and speaking up about what they describe as an uncomfortable and problematic environment for people of color at the athletic-wear giant and a lackluster response to the current situation in the US. Adidas employees are pressing for concrete change at the sportswear giant In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and protests that spread across America, a 13-member coalition representing over 100 employees from the company's North American and German headquarters on June 2 sent a 32-page deck to North American leadership titled "Our State of Emergency," which outlined a series of requests to recognize and respond to racial injustice, with hard deadlines for each. A day later, in a June 3 email to Adidas' North American leadership that she shared with Business Insider, Bond described her experience with what she called "systemic racism" in the company. "My existence at this brand is praised as diversity and inclusion, but when I look around I see no one above or around that looks like me," Bond wrote in the email. "I can no longer stand for Adidas' consistent complacency in taking active steps against a racist work environment." Adidas' six-person executive board is entirely white and its 16-person supervisory board is mostly white as well. And Black employees from the company's North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon, said the company's workplace contradicts the brand's diverse and inclusive image, The New York Times previously reported. The report said that fewer than 4.5% of the 1,700 Adidas employees at the Portland, Oregon, campus identified as Black, according to internal employment figures from last summer. In contrast, marketing campaigns and celebrity partnerships from Adidas are known to prominently feature artists and athletes of color, such as Beyonce, Kanye West, and James Harden. Then, on June 7, an Adidas employee named Aric Armon took to Instagram to share the story of what he described as a white colleague calling him a version of the N-word. Adidas later joined many other companies in making commitments to being more proactive on race. Nike has pledged a two-to-one match for employee donations to organizations that help advance equality, McDonald's held a meeting with black franchisee groups to address racial divides both within and outside the company, and Glossier announced it would donate $500,000 to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense, and other funds, as well as an additional $500,000 in grants to Black-owned beauty businesses. For its part, Adidas announced a three-step plan for change, which included a multimillion-dollar investment into Black communities in America over the next four years, investments in university scholarships for Black employees, and a commitment to filling 30% of all new positions in the US with Black and Latinx people. Read more: Adidas fired its head of US retail over a 'violation of company policy' amid social-justice protests at the brand Employees feel racism is downplayed by senior leadership In 2019, however, employees say Adidas management seemed to dismiss racism as a problem confined to North America — and not something the German leadership needed to address head on. On August 19, 2019, Aaron Ture, a product manager for the Adidas-owned Reebok, was one of many employees in attendance at an all-hands meeting for Reebok employees, which included top leadership from the Adidas board and CEO Kasper Rorsted. One of the questions that was presented at the meeting centered on the topic of racism within the Adidas group. The question was answered by Karen Parkin, an Adidas executive board member based in Germany responsible for global human resources. Ture said that Parkin's response is something he can never forget. "I hate that I am unable to accurately quote her word for word, but from my memory I recall her response to be along the following lines: 'This is noise we only hear in North America. I do not believe there is an issue, so I do not feel the need to answer this question,'" Ture wrote in an email to Adidas leadership describing the incident. Another Adidas employee also described Parkin using the word "noise" to describe the racism problem in the US in a public post on LinkedIn. Adidas has not confirmed Parkin's original wording in this meeting and Parkin did not return Business Insider's request for comment. "This very situation shines light on the very problem we have in this company," Ture wrote in his email to Adidas leadership sent nearly a year after Rorsted and Parkin addressed the company, which also described his experience as a Black employee at the meeting and at the company in general. "The predominantly white Board, SLT and Corporate Communication Team executed their power to hide what could shine light onto the deeply hidden and systematic issues of our company. One being, that our very Head of HR denounces the experienced racist problems and silences our voices." A disconnect between some American employees and German leaders Ture, who is based in Massachusetts said that while the US seems to recognize racism as a serious issue in the company, the leadership team in Germany seems reluctant to do the same. In a Quartz report, one anonymous employee in senior leadership reportedly attributed inaction on racism and discrimination complaints at Adidas to Parkin and Rorsted, describing the pair as the two most powerful figures in the company. "They're the ones that are ultimately going to approve or deny anything," the employee told Quartz. Adidas reportedly disputed this characterization of its senior leadership. Rorsted did not return Business Insider's request for comment. A current corporate employee in Adidas' Portland office also cited a disconnect among American and German leadership in regards to racism. "The messaging from Germany has long been that this is a US problem," said the employee, who requested anonymity to speak more frankly about the situation at Adidas. This employee, who identifies as Black and has been with the company for three years, said that conversations with his German colleagues have made it clear that racism is not viewed with the same gravity abroad as it is in the US. "There's just a pretty big disconnect between the global and local companies," he added. This disconnect was highlighted in a June 4 German HQ meeting entitled "United Against Racism," which an employee in attendance said was led by Torben Schumacher, the general manager of Adidas Originals. During the meeting, a handful of Black employees from the Portland office were given the chance to publicly recount their personal experiences with racism at Adidas, according to Olivia Pietroni, an Adidas designer in Germany, who attended. Pietroni, who identifies as a white woman, told Business Insider the move toward open conversation about internal racism during this meeting was a big step for the company. But she felt that a proper acknowledgement of the problem from leadership was lacking, especially from Schumacher, who ran the meeting. "He very much isolated it to being a US-only problem," Pietroni said of Schumacher's discussion of racism in the meeting. Schumacher did not return Business Insider's request for comment. In response to a request for comment regarding the alleged disparity between the messaging from US and German leadership about racism, an Adidas spokesperson referred Business Insider to a June 5 company statement that read "racism is an issue that exists not only in the US, but in all countries. We all want to see justice, action, peace, and most importantly, progress. As a global sports company, Adidas is committed to creating change." The spokesperson added that the company's leadership stands with this statement, regardless of location or nationality, and that Adidas' leadership team includes people of multiple nationalities. Another German-office employee who identifies as a non-White female also told Business Insider that she felt the issue of racism was only being addressed in the US. In regards to Adidas' June 5 statement, this employee said, "As with any public statement, the language of their action plan and commitments is very intentional. If you compare it to previous statements about diversity and inclusion, the US focus is evident." 'A non-apology' As more employees speak up about their experiences at Adidas, it is getting harder for leadership to remain silent about the issue. Read more: Leaked documents show how Adidas is confronting racism internally by banning certain terms like 'asset' among employees In addition to its multimillion-dollar investment into Black communities and commitment to filling new positions in the US with Black and Latinx people, Adidas is also banning and reviewing certain phrases like "urban," "streetwear hound," and "ghetto" for use in internal discussions. Most recently, Adidas announced that Juneteenth will be a paid holiday for all employees in North America to commemorate the end of slavery in the US, an Adidas spokesperson confirmed. Parkin, who originally joined Adidas in 1997 as a sales director in the UK, took to Adidas' internal employee platform on Yammer on Friday to address what occurred almost a year ago at the August 19 meeting, an Adidas spokesperson confirmed. "As the Executive Board Member responsible for HR, it was my responsibility to make clear our definitive stance against discrimination, and this I did not," Parkin wrote in a post viewed by Business Insider. "Should I have offended anyone, I apologize." Ture responded publicly to Parkin's message in an Instagram post, calling it a "non-apology," and told Business Insider that the message spurred an "internal uprising" at the company. According to Ture and another Adidas employee in Portland, Parkin's message had more than 50 responses on the internal network from employees expressing frustration and disappointment. Now, some employees are calling for an investigation into Parkin, according to a Wall Street Journal report. "We welcome the commitment of our people to stand against racism," Adidas said in a statement to the Journal. "Our Black employees have led the response that we will continue to implement together and that we have committed to as a company. We are now concentrating our efforts on making progress and creating real change immediately." Some employees say they are finding hope in the recent initiatives. However, at least three employees said that a formal apology and a public acknowledgement of Adidas' wrongdoings from leadership is still missing. "I hope that Adidas doesn't continue to drag this out," Bond said of Adidas' lack of a proper apology. "Because it just hurts their image as well."
If you're an Adidas or other athletic-wear employee with a story to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (646) 376-6018 using a nonwork phone. SEE ALSO: Leaked documents show how Adidas is confronting racism internally by banning certain terms like 'asset' among employees Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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Red Bull names its first Black CMO and shakes up its marketing team after internal Black Lives Matter controversy
Summary List Placement Red Bull has named a new CMO and laid off more than 50...Summary List Placement Red Bull has named a new CMO and laid off more than 50 people around the world, mostly in its culture marketing department, following internal controversy over the company's response to Black Lives Matter and the leak of a racially offensive presentation slide. The culture marketing department is known for organizing and sponsoring concerts, festivals and other events with a big focus on hip-hop music and breakdancing. Multiple employees said leadership credited this work with helping Red Bull perform well during the pandemic, and a June presentation from North America CEO Stefan Kozak and CMO Amy Taylor showed that the company had outperformed its chief rival, Monster. But then Kozak and Taylor were fired in July. It was widely believed they were fired because Red Bull corporate leaders in Austria blamed them for leaks and the internal tensions behind them. The month before, 300 employees had signed a letter to them that was leaked to Business Insider and that urged the company to more explicitly support BLM. Kozak and Taylor subsequently announced plans for diversity efforts. Also in June, an offensive slide that was shown at a company meeting was leaked to Business Insider. Along with Kozak and Taylor, the company also fired the marketing exec, Florian Klaass, whose team was responsible for the slide, according to multiple people. Multiple people said several of the employees involved in organizing the Black Lives Matter letter were among the roughly 50 who were let go. The most recent round of layoffs hit the US on September 1. On Sept. 30, Red Bull promoted its brand marketing head Ken Turner to North American EVP and CMO, making him Red Bull's highest-ranking Black executive. His promotion followed another key change. Erin Woody, VP of culture marketing who reported to Taylor and led many of Red Bull's most visible projects, resigned a few weeks ago after 10 years at the company. Woody did not respond to requests for comment. Asked for comment on the recent changes, a spokeswoman for parent company Red Bull GmbH said the company restructured its culture marketing team to focus on programs that have the most impact. She said some of Red Bull's dance competitions and local efforts, like a Detroit-based artist residency program, would continue. Got more information about this story or another ad industry tip? Contact Patrick Coffee on Signal at (347) 563-7289, email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter DM @PatrickCoffee. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.SEE ALSO: Bain Capital-owned Kantar is cutting 10% of staff as the research firm takes a hit in the pandemic Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence
Red Bull has shaken up its US leadership and global marketing operation. Here's how the energy drink company has responded to turmoil over Black Lives Matter and calls to increase diversity.
Red Bull has been through a series of executive-level changes over the past two months due...Red Bull has been through a series of executive-level changes over the past two months due to internal tension over the energy drink giant's diversity efforts and its response to Black Lives Matter. The company's North American CEO and CMO were fired while working to expand outreach to the Black community. Insiders said the turmoil reflects a cultural divide between Red Bull leadership in Austria and the US, its largest market. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. In July, energy drink giant Red Bull fired three top executives, including its North American CEO and CMO, and dissolved the cultural marketing divisions that organized events like live music festivals. These moves came after internal tensions over Black Lives Matter went public and an offensive slide from a company presentation that was first published by Business Insider and drew attention from major media outlets like The Wall Street Journal. The departed execs had been working on a plan to increase Red Bull's diversity and outreach to the Black community, but insiders said that project's future is now in doubt. An interim team has been named to run the organization in North America while Red Bull seeks new leadership. The turmoil came as Red Bull's sales continued to grow. The company said it sold nearly one can for every person on earth in 2019 and bounced back from a brief coronavirus-related dip to gain market share over chief rival Monster this year. In recent weeks: More than 300 employees signed a June 1 letter addressed to North American CEO Stefan Kozak and president, CMO Amy Taylor that questioned the company's "public silence" regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. It asked for more detail on how the company, which has often partnered with Black celebrities, would support its Black employees and the Black community at large. Employees later leaked a slide from a February corporate event that used a world map that described India as "call centers," Africa as "zoo animals come from here," and the Middle East as "evil doers." Employees said colleagues warned organizers not to use it and made complaints to human resources. Three weeks after the leak, Red Bull's corporate leadership in Austria fired Kozak, Taylor, and global head of music, entertainment, and culture marketing Florian Klaas, whose team was said to have chosen the slide. It also dissolved the teams that organize sponsored music festivals and other cultural events. Insiders called the firings acts of retaliation. "We reject racism in every form," Red Bull's board wrote in an all-staff memo. An internal video from June 17 laid out the diversity programs Kozak and Taylor were developing when they were fired. They included collaborations with Chance the Rapper's charity and a consulting firm that specializes in diversity as well as new employee resource groups. SEE ALSO: Fewer than 3% of US executives at ad giant Havas are Black. Read the deck outlining its ambitious plan to increase diversity. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Swayze Valentine is the only female treating fighters' cuts and bruises inside the UFC octagon
Red Bull fires top North American executives following internal controversy over Black Lives Matter and the leak of an offensive presentation slide
Red Bull fired its top two North American executives, CEO Stefan Kozak and president and CMO...Red Bull fired its top two North American executives, CEO Stefan Kozak and president and CMO Amy Taylor. The company also fired global head of music, entertainment, and culture marketing Florian Klaass and reduced or dissolved its cultural marketing teams in the UK, Canada, and its home country of Austria. The moves came weeks after employees leaked a letter to leadership that criticized Red Bull's "public silence" on Black Lives Matter and an offensive slide from a company presentation. Insiders said it was widely believed the North American execs were fired because corporate leaders in Austria blamed them for the leaks and internal tensions behind them. Click here for more Business Insider stories. Red Bull fired its top two North American executives, CEO Stefan Kozak and president and CMO Amy Taylor, and global head of music, entertainment, and culture marketing Florian Klaass. A person with direct knowledge of the firings, who is known to Business Insider but requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it, said Klaass was let go over his role in a February corporate event where a presentation slide was shown that featured racist stereotypes. The slide, which was leaked to Business Insider, showed a world map that labeled the Middle East and Southeast Asia as "evil doers," continental Europe as "pussies," and South America as "coffee comes from here I think." Multiple employees said Klaass' Austria-based team included the slide despite being warned not to do so by US colleagues. Red Bull more recently has been rife with internal tensions over Black Lives Matter. Employees leaked a letter that was sent June 1 to Kozak and Taylor criticizing the company's "public silence" on the movement. The three fired executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An internal memo confirming the US changes is printed at the bottom of this story. Employees said the firings were acts of retaliation Several insiders close to the situation said it was widely believed that Kozak and Taylor were fired by Austrian leadership over the leak and internal tension over diversity issues. Two employees said Taylor had been working on a project to increase Black representation at Red Bull but that the leadership wasn't interested. Another employee said that managers urged staff not to leak any more information, warning that Kozak and Taylor could be fired if leaks continued. Red Bull also cancelled several major cultural events and dissolved the teams that oversee them Along with firing the executives, Red Bull cut or dissolved entertainment and culture teams in Canada, the UK, and Austria and canceled most of its major cultural events, including its annual Red Bull Music Festival and Red Bull Presents. "Red Bull has decided to strengthen the focus of its culture marketing programs on where it makes most impact," the spokeswoman said. "Culture programs that remain include Red Bull BC One, Red Bull Dance Your Style, Red Bull Batalla de los Gallos." Two employees said global CEO Dietrich Mateschitz told staff earlier this year that there wouldn't be any layoffs in 2020. Two others who work in marketing, however, said management told them that between 20 and 50 people were laid off or told that they would have to choose between new jobs and exit packages. Another employee said the culture teams were seen as the most vocal about racial justice matters and that US staffers saw the restructuring as a form of punishment. The company's board said it rejected racism Red Bull consists of two separate organizations: Austria-based Red Bull GmbH and Red Bull North America, headquartered in Santa Monica. Employees told Business Insider the firings and leaks illustrate a divide between the company's US culture and its more conservative Austrian leaders. Red Bull's board of directors addressed the leaks in a June 26 memo that read: "We reject racism in every form, we always have, and we always will. Anyone who knows anything about our company knows this." "Red Bull has always put people and their dreams and accomplishments at its core and values the contribution of each and every person — no matter who they are. We want everyone who feels this way to be welcome in Red Bull," it concluded. Kozak spent 16 years with the company, running its Canadian and Latin American divisions before being named North American CEO in July 2010. Taylor had been with Red Bull for 20 years after working with the Atlanta Hawks organization. Klaass was a 14-year veteran. Read the memo announcing the North American restructuring below. RBNA, I would like to share with you the changes that will happen in Red Bull North America this week. Stefan Kozak and Amy Taylor will leave Red Bull. We would like to thank Stefan and Amy for their contribution and wish them the best for the future. Stefan and Amy's successors as CEO and CMO respectively will be announced at a later stage. In the interim period and for the Business Planning process: Matt Rosenmayr and Alexandre Ruberti will be responsible for local co-ordination in the US and will represent the US Leadership Team in Austria. Alexandre Ruberti will continue to lead Sales and Distribution for RBNA and RBDC and in the interim will take on the responsibility of our 3 Business Units. Bill Connors, Eddie Hayden and Joe Waters will report to Alexandre. Anjelica Garcia, Djenaba Parker and Marc Rosenmayr will continue to lead their respective teams. Ken Turner will, on top of his current role as Head of Brand Marketing, coordinate the other Marketing disciplines with the support of Markus Obrist (Area Marketing Manager NA) Alexandre, Anjelica, Djenaba, Ken, Marc and Keith DeGrace will report to him. These changes are effective immediately. We are extremely proud of what the North American business has been able to achieve including increasing our market share in what has been a challenging year for all of us and we want to say thank you to everyone for your commitment to continue to deliver excellent results. We look forward to your 2021 plans to help grow our brand for the future. We will work closely with the business leaders to ensure a successful 2020 and Business Plan 2021 and I will travel to the US and Canada as soon as I am able to do so. Regards, Franz WatzlawickChief Commercial Officer Got more information about this story or another ad industry tip? Contact Patrick Coffee on Signal at (347) 563-7289, email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter DM @PatrickCoffee. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence