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Robert Louis-Dreyfus

When Robert Louis-Dreyfus took over as chairman-CEO of Adidas two years ago, the German sports shoe marketer was losing money, failing to deliver merchandise on time and, worst of all, becoming very untrendy.

Fresh from the financial re-engineering of Saatchi & Saatchi Co. (now Cordiant) that helped restore the advertising group to financial health, Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, 49, has enhanced his reputation as a turnaround expert.

Before joining Adidas, he called Adidas a shoe he would wear, while his young nieces and nephews preferred Nike and Reebok.

"The turnaround of Adidas into a `young' brand was already initiated before my arrival," he said. "What I did was to push the company ahead."

Mr. Louis-Dreyfus' style is to sketch a broad strategic vision and leave the execution to trusted subordinates, some of whom he brought with him to Adidas.

"We had severe delivery problems in many markets in the past, annoying the retail trade when ordered merchandise arrived a month late," he said. "This has been solved. We also set up joint-venture companies with distributors in many Asian markets-Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand."

One of his main changes has been to market more aggressively. He oversees the fast-paced, youth-oriented commercials Adidas' international agency, Leagas Delaney, London, churns out.

Under Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, the company is also sponsoring non-traditional sports like streetball, a form of basketball.

"The total marketing budget was doubled from $180 million to $360 million, including all the below-the-line activities, and we've got more promotions than ever," he said.

Adidas is introducing improved products like the Predator soccer boot, the rollout of which coincided with the World Cup soccer championship last year.

Adidas' sales rose to $3.4 billion in 1994 from $2.8 billion the previous year, and rose another 20% in the first half of 1995 over that period in 1994. Pre-tax profits soared from zero in 1993 to $100 million in 1994. In Adidas' biggest market, Germany, market share has grown from 31% in 1993 to 37% this year.

Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, who started with a minority stake in Adidas, was satisfied enough with his progress to buy (along with a group of investors) the rest of the company earlier this year. Adidas is expected to go public shortly, allowing Mr. Louis-Dreyfus to more than recoup his investment and provide capital for Adidas to grow further.

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