In this episode of the SLN Podcast, Mike Gugat speaks with industry veterans Rob Langstaff and Dave Larson. Rob, a standout distance runner at the United States Air Force Academy wasn’t going to fly planes, so he left the Air Force for an MBA that landed him on the doorstep of adidas in Germany, where he’d later become Head of adidas in Japan before becoming President of adidas for North America. Dave found his way to Stanford to play tennis alongside John McEnroe. After college, Dave would go on to serve brands like Reebok, Nike, Brooks, and Under Armour as a marketing executive. Rob and Dave first became colleagues and friends at Brooks Running. They’re now forming a partnership that will serve organizations in need of their respective business development and brand strategy expertise. Our conversation was had over Squadcast, as Rob resides in Portland and Dave in Orange County.

Podcast Highlights

7:37 – From Air Force to adidas: Rob says, “The military has this military Olympics once a year. It was in Germany and it was my first time outside of the country. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, Germany is so cool. Everything works, everything’s on time. I was thinking about what I was doing for my next step. I said, I’m going to go study business in Germany and I’m going to learn German. And that is kind of the road to adidas.”

12:20 – The competition in the industry: Dave says, “There’s nothing like having an enemy in sight. And for us, the enemy was Nike. And in those days, there was no cross-pollination.”

20:40 – Nike on making mistakes: Dave says, “Mark Parker, the present CEO and at that time Head of Creative or Footwear, had a sign in his office that said whoever makes the most mistakes wins which I thought was pretty interesting and Knight would always say it at Nike, you never get fired for making a mistake, you get fired for lying about making a mistake.”

23:50 – Working at Brooks together: Rob says, “I think we just kinda hit it off cause we came from opposite worlds.”

32:11 – The emergence of the adidas Superstar: Rob says, “I think in 1970, 70% or 75% of all NBA players had switched over to the Superstar. And then a full decade later, right? You got hip hop coming up and Run DMC adopted the Superstar as their shoe. And they write a song in 87 called ‘My adidas’ and a lot of sneakerheads know about this.

38:42 – Launching running shoes in the art district: Dave says, “8 out of 10 running shoes are being worn in the mall anyway. So don’t worry about alienating runners by launching it in certain ways, all they care about is it works for them.”

40:00 – Presto shoe sizes: Dave says, “We size like t-shirts because they were expandable. So instead of eight, eight and a half, nine, nine and a half, et cetera, we size a small, medium, large, extra large, extra small. So there were five sizes. We could sell them out of vending machines.”

41:20 – Importance of a creative brief: Dave says, “Spend a lot of time on the brief and make it real simple. There’s about four or five questions that you gotta ask. And you have to answer them and you have to spend a lot of time thinking about it.”

45:10 – Being curious: Dave says, “Look for trends going on and if you can ride that wave, figure out and be in the middle of it and be relevant, everyone else does your work for you. And so really be a curious person as to what’s going on in the world and then try and fit your world into theirs.”

46:15 – Starting a new consultancy: Rob says, “We have a passion for new ideas. We also love to mentor young people. We might write a little bit, we might teach a little bit and we might consult a little bit and give back.”

47:30 – Importance of storytelling: “Most people come in and they say, well, I want to spend a dollar and I want to get a dollar five back. And that’s all about SEO and it’s all about metrics and stuff, which is good and important, but it can’t be exclusively that cause then you have no personality. So how do you drive the business and build a brand at the same time? It’s about storytelling and you gotta be a creative storyteller.”