Adidas and Puma – A story of family dispute

Adidas and Puma are two of the world’s most famous sportswear brands. They are the second and third-largest sportswear manufacturers in the world respectively. They have sponsored several major events over the past few decades, and boast a myriad of celebrities that endorse their brand. However, what’s surprising is the fact, that if it was not for a rift between two brothers, both Adidas and Puma would not exist today.

Adidas and Puma History

70 years ago, Adolf Dassler founded Adidas, and his brother, Rudolf Dassler, created Puma. The Dassler brothers worked together on Gebrüder Dassler (Geda) which they founded in 1919. The concept of two-striped footwear originated within Geda. The two brothers started off in their mother’s laundry room. Adolf would design the shoes, and Rudolf would act as a skilled salesman. The company grew to 12 employees and the brothers moved out of the laundry room.

man wearing red and white adidas crew-neck T-shirt

Their breakthrough came in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Adolf convinced American sprinter Jesse Owens to run with a pair of Geda’s shoes. Owens ended up winning 4 gold medals, while other athletes also wearing Geda’s shoes won 3 gold, 5 silver, and a bronze between them. This unexpected success shot the brand to immediate fame. Geda became an overnight commercial success with sales touching the 200,000 pairs per year mark. However, the company’s luck ran short as WWII broke out soon.

person wearing black-and-white Puma shoes

“The company would probably have gone through the ceiling, but then the war came,” said historian Manfred Welker in an interview with Business Insider.

Adolf and Rudolf joined the Nazi party. They converted their factory into a materials producer to help Germany with the war. Compared to his brother, Rudolf showed greater devotion and passion to the cause. Adolf on the other hand stayed at home. After Rudolf returned from the war, Geda started its operations again, and shoe production began. However, in 1948, the brothers had a fallout between them and went their separate ways. The dispute was so severe that it remained until they died, and even carried onto their families!

Why did Adidas and Puma split?

So what exactly led to the split between the two brothers? Well, nobody knows exactly what the cause was, not even their own grandchildren. However, there are a couple of theories that came into light over the course of history. During the war-times and years that followed, the relationship between the brothers and their wives and families had started to fall apart. Let’s take a look at the reported causes of the split.

Causes

  1. Rudolf had fled from the front in 1945 and was arrested on his way back. It is reported that Adolf gave the US occupiers information about his brother to get him out of the way. (Business Insider)
  2. Another interesting theory suggests that there was jealousy rooted between the brothers. This was majorly due to personality conflicts, political differences, and betrayals. Rudolf was infamously known as a womanizer, was rumored to have had an affair with his brother’s wife.
  3. There were also disagreements regarding who had really invented the screw-in soccer boot studs. These were the studs that helped Germany’s national team secure its World Cup final victory over Hungary on a soaking pitch in Berne in 1954.
  4. Several people point towards a night in 1943 when Herzogenaurach was under allied bombardment. Adolf and his wife went into an air-raid shelter to hide. Rudolf was already in there with his family and apparently Adi said “The Schweinhunde (pig dogs) are back.” Adolf justified that he was actually referring to the Allied Forces, but Rudolf refused to believe him and assumed that Adolf meant him and his family.
  5. In 1946, Adolf was facing potential time in prison as well as removal from management in the shoe company. Rudolf was power-hungry and decided to exploit this situation. He created statements claiming Adolf as a mastermind behind weapon production in the factory. He stated that had he not been in a prison camp, he would have stopped his brother.  However, Adolf was found not guilty and was again declared the head of the company over Rudolf. 
silhouette of person kicking on mid air

Post Split – Rivalry Begins

By 1984, the brothers had gone their separate ways and set up their own shops. The shops turned into companies and Adolf named his ‘Adidas’, while Rudolf named his ‘Puma’. Adidas and Puma became the personification of competition driving innovation and progress. The personal rivalry became a brand rivalry, and the two started competing for international footwear supremacy.

Marketing battles soon began as both Adidas and Puma started competing to get celebrities on board for endorsements. Fast forward to a couple of decades, Adidas is ahead in business terms. It is a more premium brand and is larger in size. The rivalry did not fizzle down, and Adolf and Rudolf did not speak to each other officially again. The town in which they resided in was forever grateful for the brothers’ dispute. Without the fight, the two global giants would never have been born.

After the death of Rudolf in 1974 and Adolf in 1978, their sons took over. Adidas and Puma are both public companies now. They are no longer in family ownership.

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Sarim Siddiqui
Sarim is the founder of PACE enterprises currently comprised of two divisions, PACE events and PACE Business. He is a certified Digital Marketer and works as a Digital Consultant, Content Strategist, and Search Engine Optimization specialist. He is passionate about educating on business and startups, as well as helping small businesses achieve their digital goals. You can find him on Instagram @sarim112 or LinkedIn, or reach out to him at [email protected].

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