Brian Grevy, a new executive board member at Adidas, is an exceptional leader. In his previous role as CEO of lifestyle retailer Gant, he oversaw a transformational internship programme called a ‘Flipternship’, which embraces the idea that it’s never too late to learn new skills.
Fashion → Sporting Goods
Gant’s career flipterns are encouraged to try working in a field in which they have no previous experience. It made a full-length documentary ‘Flipping the Ladder’ which followed three professionals going through such a transition and was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in May 2019.
“Everything is grounded in the ethos of ‘never stop learning’,” Grevy tells SRI of the Gant scheme. “The idea behind Flipternship is to bring people into the business who had never worked in the industry or their role. For example we brought in someone from banking to the PR team.”
Such new people in new positions ask “new questions” that an organisation can learn greatly from, he argues: “It’s a great way to support innovation and spark new and better ways of working.”
As a business leader he believes it is essential to recruit talent from other sectors. “If companies are not ready to look outside, they will face big constraints.”
Grevy, 48, rejoined Adidas at board level early this year. The Dane previously spent 12 years working for the global sportswear giant, progressing to become general manager of its prestigious training unit, based at company headquarters in Herzogenaurach in Germany. He then flipped his own career ladder to move back to Scandinavia and become Chief Marketing Officer at Stockholm-based Gant.
“If companies are not ready to look outside, they will face big constraints”
He took the job because he saw an opportunity for “really driving a business forward” and he quickly moved to the CEO position where he introduced some of the insights he gained at Adidas. In driving transition, he places a premium on transparency.
This was a lesson he grasped on his “steepest learning curve”, when restructuring the Adidas Nordic division, where he had the head role. The changes resulted in 37 per cent of positions being cut, including those of colleagues he had known for years: “When you’re changing a culture, communication is absolutely paramount. I was direct with the team and told them: ‘The operational pace will change and that starts with the leadership team.’”
“My advice is not to be shy about your ambition, and understand that during your career journey, the road isn’t just up”
Remaining staff were updated when former colleagues found new jobs elsewhere.
Having returned to Adidas, taking responsibility for global brands, Grevy believes his experience in running a tighter operation at Gant will be beneficial. “When you are in a big machine, numbers suddenly become big and you get blind to the value of money,” he says. “I know what you can get out of a small organisation by being much more cost aware because you don’t have the money or the resources. That means you are more creative.”
He has never made any secret of his own ambition and tells aspirant executives to be bold and open on the subject. “My advice is not to be shy about your ambition, and understand that during your career journey, the road isn’t just up. I’ve done a number of side-steps. When I moved from my global role in 2012 to the Nordic MD role, that was actually a step down in the hierarchy of the company. But I did it because I knew I needed to learn to run a P&L (Profit & Loss) if I was to achieve my ultimate ambition of becoming a CEO.