Depending on where you live, today’s column is all about sneakers…or tennis shoes (feel free to debate the difference in the comments), but it does have a lesson that can be applied to travel, or any business. It’s all about keeping your eye on the ball. Do you know how Adidas, Puma and Nike got their start? Listen up.
Last week, I discovered the story behind the rivalry between Puma and Adidas. You can read about it here in Fortune, but the gist is that back in the 1920s, the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company was a small shoe manufacturer in Germany operated by two brothers—Adolf and Rudolf Dassler. Like many of us, they started small and operated out of their mother’s laundry room. One brother was the introverted “brains” behind the brand, and the other was the extroverted “salesman.” Rudolf, the extrovert, landed Jesse Owens who wore their shoes to win the 1936 Olympics and allowed them to make their mark on the world.
As with many families, there was some tension. The brothers’ wives did not like each other and with operating and living in the same villa, it eventually came to a head during World War II when the Allies were bombing Herzogenaurach, their village. As Adolf and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter already occupied by Rudolf and his wife, he exclaimed, “The dirty bastards are back again,” referring to the Allied forces. Rudolf was convinced the remark was directed at him and his family and the rest is history.
After some more familial strife, Adolf (known as Adi) split and formed his own company, Adidas (Adi, Das…get it?); and Rudolf (known as Rudi) formed his called Ruda, but later changed it to the more athletic sounding Puma. The competing companies were on opposite shores of the river that ran through town and their dispute spilled into the town. You worked for one or the other. Employees of one could not fraternize with employees of the other and God forbid if a romance broke out between opposite shores.
As expected, Adidas (remember Adi was the introvert) took an early lead and kept it by consistently designing new shoes and revolutionizing the industry. Puma was always playing catch up.
The rivalry was so intense that they lost sight of the bigger picture. In 1964, a small company in Oregon started making shoes and sold 8,000 pair their first year. And in 1971 Blue Ribbon Sports became Nike. While the feud between the Dasslers raged on, Nike continued to grow and become the world’s largest athletic apparel company. And it was not until 2009, after the Dasslers had both died (and were buried at opposite ends of the cemetery) did the companies decide to bury the hatchet with a friendly soccer game.
And the rest, as they say is history. For all intents and purposes, Adidas and Puma, while still in business, have never regained the top position.
So, what’s in it for travel? Firstly, don’t fight with your family. Secondly, if you do, make sure you keep an eye on the competition. Trust me, the competition is keeping an eye on you and if you are not careful, you could find yourself in trouble. And finally, while Adidas and Puma are nothing to sneeze about, they have achieved their success by embracing change and moving with the market.