Interview with Mr. Frederic Serrant, Managing Director APAC, Adidas

Frederic Serrant is a senior business executive with over 30 years consumer industry experience in 3 continents. Now he is adidas’ Managing Director of the Asia Pacific region, and a member of adidas’ Global Leadership Group. He has successfully managed crisis situations, turnaround projects as well as rapid expansion strategies. Fred strongly believes in inclusive leadership and diversity to maximize team and business performance.

 

APAC BUSINESS: 2024 Paris Olympics is undoubtably the world’s biggest sports event this year, what’s your latest updates in terms of products, technologies or partnerships in this Olympic year?

Frederic Serrant: The Olympics and Paralympics are the biggest stage the world of sports has to offer, and adidas is putting the athletes involved front and center this year. When we speak of Paris 2024, we are reflecting our conscious approach to jointly address, celebrate and support both Olympians and Paralympians around the world. Our aim is to inspire the next generation of athletes with our partners stories and achievements, enabled by the best we can offer them for Paris 2024 and beyond – all while cementing our brand’s rich legacy with the Olympic Games. When it comes to the Summer Olympics, our legacy is unrivalled: we’ve been a core part of the fabric of the Games for 96 years from the product we make to the teams we support.

In 2024, we are set to help athletes to disarm pressure so they can realize their personal possibilities in sport; and there is no better place than the biggest multi-sport event in the world to shine a light on the positive impact that sport can have on people’s lives, how it can connect people and bring them joy.

Take Running – we develop innovative products to support our athletes with resetting records and breaking barriers – some examples include:
adizero Adios Pro Evo 1: This revolutionary road-racer in September 2023. It is the lightest racing shoe within the adidas running footwear range – 40% lighter than any other racing super shoe we have ever created.

adizero Prime SP Strung 3: Designed for 100m with maximum stiffness and energy return to help propel athletes down the home stretch, the shoe is a continuation of the Prime SP model, updated with the data-driven Strung upper.

 

APAC BUSINESS: When it comes to consumer market, what are some of the latest consumer trends that you’ve been observing across markets that you’d like to highlight?

Frederic Serrant: We announced our Q1 results on April 30 and are happy to see that the business in Q1 developed better than we had expected. We see strong growth in all markets this part of the world, including Japan, South Korea, and South East Asia. Across the business, gross margin, and operating profit were all better than initially planned. Our full-price sales in our DTC channels were strong and our sell-out with our retail partners was higher than the sell-in. This means lower inventories, less discounts, and better gross margins both for our retail partners and for us.

We see growth coming from our Lifestyle business right now, especially Originals footwear, but we also see that the higher end of our Running, Football and Basketball product is doing well. The demand for our footwear franchises Samba, Gazelle, Spezial, and Campus is still very strong and growing, but we also see new franchises like SL72 starting to become high in demand. We feel we have a very strong pipeline of product for the next quarters.

We now look forward to celebrating the great sports events like the Euro 2024, Copa América, the Olympics and Paralympics. It is a great year for sports and with our activities around major sports events, we are also expecting to contribute to sales increases throughout 2024.

 

APAC BUSINESS: APAC Market is big and diverse. For Adidas, which market or business segment do you see the greatest potential?

Frederic Serrant: We are first and foremost a company rooted in sports. We have to win in this territory landing highly credible products supported by the best technologies to then be able to be aspirational as a brand and sell sportswear and fashion products. We certainly have a massive opportunity with the recreational runners who are representing the bulk of the market. Our high-performance products led by adizero Adios Pro and evo C are winning more than half of the podium worldwide. We can’t really do more but what’s critical is to be able to generate the halo effect on the mass runners.

Football is adidas and adidas is football. This is a territory we have to own and there is opportunity with university sport (Bukatsu) especially in Japan. Beyond that Sportswear is a massive market and we are starting to land products that are resonating significantly better with the consumers at a great value for money.

We are also excited by the very fast development of the Sporting Goods Industry in SEA, a very dynamic economy. We have a fantastic opportunity as more and more people are embracing a healthier and more dynamic way of living through sports as their disposable incomes increase.

 

APAC BUSINESS: Fred, you have worked in many countries on 3 continents around the world, we’d love to hear more about your journey in Adidas over the years. Now you are leading the APAC region, what are the opportunities and challenges in the Asia Pacific region?

Frederic Serrant: We could even say 3.5 continents with India considered as a subcontinent ^_^

I have always been guided by learning and I believe we are never done with it. Hence, I have always positioned myself within the organization I am part of (Mars Inc. and now adidas) as someone who is mobile everywhere and up for any challenge. As an anecdote, I once turned down a job in the UK for an opportunity in India to develop myself with speed as I saw it as a way bigger challenge for me to embrace. This is an approach I have leaned it to throughout my career. There have been a few occasions where there was not much competition for the roles I was considering as they were perceived to be riskier. I didn’t see it that way. This probably explained how I ended up travelling the world and find myself in this position. So, my advice is to go where you will learn the most and the rest will follow!

When it comes to APAC, this is certainly the most diverse region in the world, and this is what makes it so complex and interesting to manage. Trying to apply a “one size fit all” strategy in this part of the world would lead to failure or at best average performance. What is critical and really challenging is to identify what is truly common and where synergies can be found and what is hyperlocal and should be addressed as such.

To illustrate, eCommerce has become a very relevant part of our business in every geography and the capabilities required to be able to win in this channel and match consumer expectations are very similar. Therefore, it makes sense to build common infrastructures (Tech stack) to support it. At the same time, consumer expectations in terms of payment methods are different and we have to speak their language. Not offering Naver Pay in Korea is for sure hindering business as well convenience stores payment in Japan. This part of the world is where growth is coming from, and it will remain the same for the coming decade at least. This is the main opportunity. But being able to leverage the underlying momentum requires a deep understanding of the diversity of this region.

 

APAC BUSINESS: As a regional head, how do you describe your leadership and your management style? What are some of the priorities you will set for the company moving forward in APAC?

Frederic Serrant: I could describe my leadership style as rational, organized, and inclusive. I truly believe in people and the importance of leveraging the diversity around me to drive a common vision and ambition as a team. When we built the APAC HQ almost three years ago, we did it with this intent and just to give a couple of examples, we reached gender parity and my direct team had more than 10 nationalities. However, diversity is more effective if there is inclusivity meaning we truly take the time to gather the differences of opinion to arrive at the best decisions. I believe we don’t have a lot of true geniuses in the world (e.g. Steve Jobs etc.) and I am clearly not one of those so getting different perspectives is instrumental to me.

Ultimately at the end of it, I see it as my responsibility to bring the team together and to ensure that there is a line up of talent who can succeed the work that have been started.