In their shoes


Herzogenaurach: the name is difficult to spell and even harder to pronounce. It’s a town in Germany that sits on the Aurach river, approximately 23km northwest of Nuremberg, and was the scene of a bitter feud that spanned more than 60 years and split the town in half.

Working independently, Adidas and Puma both had some success but if they had put aside their petty differences and pooled their talents, they could have been so much more.

In the 1920s, brothers Adolf and Rudolph Dassler were partners in a shoe company. Rudolph was the salesman, Adolf the designer. Their first big break was providing shoes for athletes competing at the 1928 and 1932 Olympic Games. In 1936, they even persuaded American sprinter Jesse Owens to wear their products. Owens would go on to win four gold medals, boosting the company’s reputation. Soon they were selling more than 200,000 pairs of shoes per year. Until suddenly everything changed.

No-one can cite an exact reason for the pair’s sudden spat during World War II. Some say it had to do with political differences. Others make reference to a bomb shelter incident and it has even been suggested that Rudolph had an affair with Adolf’s wife. Whatever the real reason might have been, it was enough for the brothers to break up their business and form their own companies.

Adolf and Rudolph ended up living on separate sides of the river. Their respective businesses became the primary economy of the town, dividing Herzogenaurach to the point where Adolf’s workers refused to marry, serve or even interact with Rudolph’s workers and vice versa. It became known as “the town of bent necks” because people would glance at your shoes to figure out which side you were on. 

Unfortunately the two brothers never reconciled. Eventually they would be buried in the same cemetery, but as far from each other as possible. 

You may be wondering what relevance, if any, this story about an old feud between two brothers might have for us. Well, you’ve probably heard of the companies they ended up forming. 

Adolf, commonly known as Adi, chose to use part of his first name and his surname, when it came to naming his new business—Adidas. Meanwhile, Rudolph attempted to do something similar but found that “Ruda” didn’t quite convey the message he was after. His brand became known as Puma.

The feud between Adidas and Puma purportedly ended in 2009, when employees agreed to play in a football match together to coincide with the UN’s World Peace Day. The brands are no longer owned by their founding families and Rudolph’s grandson Frank has even switched teams, accepting a job with Adidas as head legal advisor. But hints of the old rivalry still linger, with long-term Puma employee Helmut Fischer describing Frank’s defection as a “capital sin”. He believes the competition between Adidas and Puma was beneficial for both businesses, challenging them to concentrate on developing even better products.

Yet in the midst of their animosity, neither company noticed the rise of their real rival. Today, Nike is indisputably the champion of the global footwear industry. Its 2014 sales brought in revenue of $US16.2 billion, larger than Adidas and Puma’s combined, which made global sales of $US8.1 billion and $US1.56 billion, respectively.

Working independently, Adidas and Puma both had some success but if they had put aside their petty differences and pooled their talents, they could have been so much more. Is there a lesson in this for us? 

Vania Chew is PR/editorial assistant for Adventist Record.