Today it is 20 years of Rob Strasser’s passing and I would like to share some stories with you about this incredible person, leader and marketing-genius.
Rob and his longtime friend and colleague Peter Moore came to adidas when the brand had lost its focus and was in troubled waters. They introduced the groundbreaking adidas Equipment concept which was more than just a new collection, more than just an ad campaign; it was a new philosophy, the philosophy of honesty and back to Adi Dassler’s roots “form follows function” – and it was the start to restore the brand’s credibility and image. Rob Strasser and Peter Moore helped to lead adidas back to winning ways.
This was also the time when I met Rob the first time in 1990 and when I was asked to join his team. Rob came and he said “So, you are Ina. Can you work hard?” I looked at him… how could he dare asking me this question? But this was the start of being part of a great team changing the world. Rob was a very inspiring person with a big heart. He would walk through the building, ask people whom he never met before: “What are you doing? What’s good? What’s bad?”
And by talking to employees he had the ability to drive them to solutions to problems. He wouldn’t tell you the solution… you had to come up with it.
For those who never met Rob but wonder who this guy was, read the article we put together in our adidas history book.
Rob Strasser was a big bear of a man, broad grin behind a bushy beard, prone to perspiration and to quoting his hero, Winston Churchill. He treated his excess bulk as a joke against himself, but it was to contribute to his eventual and premature demise. As long as he lived, though, he left a lasting impression on all who encountered him.
A sheet of paper from a Strasser workshop contains a handwritten list of his “good words” (honest, aggressive, driven, risk, mistakes, trust…) and “bad words” (compromise, excuses, can’t, committee, late, losing…). No man for half-measures, Rob Strasser made a sudden and unexpected departure when he died of heart failure in a Munich hospital while attending an adidas sales meeting in the mountain resort of Sonthofen in October 1993. His gravestone in a rambling cemetery on his beloved Oregon coastline is inscribed with words of affection and humour: “a man bigger than life… a builder of dreams… generous of heart…” and concludes with a simple but apt verse of his own composition:
The way ahead is clear.
Be honest about the battlefield,
Throw out the old rules that don’t make sense.
Get out of the comfort zone.
Go to the front of the fight,
And stay there.
And most importantly,
Cut out all the bullshit.
“I met an Indian guru once,” says former adidas Switzerland boss Hansruedi Rüegger, making an unexpected comparison. “Rob Strasser had the same sort of aura. You would walk into a room where he was and Pow! Pure energy. Maybe he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet, I don’t know, but as a marketing man he was a genius.”
“Rob was incredibly intensive, he was all either/or, in everything he did, no in-betweens,” analyses former Business Unit Equipment Manager Bernd Wahler. “He could move you with genuine, spontaneous enthusiasm that came from deep inside him. He was very sharp; he knew where he was going.”
Günter Pfau, then shortly to move from adidas press duties to other responsibilities, says Strasser reintroduced German values that had been lost, such as fighting spirit and concentration on technical aspects. “We used to joke and wonder why it should take an American to make us more German again!” adds Pfau.
And to finish this article I did ask Peter Moore to put some memories together for this blog:
“I first met Rob Strasser in 1978, he was Nike’s newly appointed marketing guy…….this was way before fancy titles and big pay checks. Before becoming the “marketing guy” he was the company’s lawyer……. welcome to the early years of Nike. I never in my wildest dreams would believe that that first encounter would lead to a 20 year relationship that, besides a great friendship, involved some of the most exciting times in my life, and in the history of the athletic footwear industry. Through all of it there are really two things that stick out about Rob that, in my opinion, made him unique and special. The first was his genuine interest, and like for people, all people, good guys, bad guys, anyone, he loved to hear their story, their ideas, whatever they had to say, he was sincerely interested.
The second thing that always amazed me was Rob’s generosity. He was the center of opportunities and he loved to include others in the adventures of exploring, and exploiting them. He often looked at it like the Mission Impossible television show, where he would build a team to attack a given opportunity. In the end everyone he involved learned things they would use throughout their careers and lives. He never asked for anything in return except that you work hard, and with a passion for whatever it was you were doing.
In this regard he lead by example, nobody had more passion for what they were doing than Rob, and nobody could work harder, there aren’t enough hours in the day. I often wonder what he would think of the industry today…..my guess is he would role his sleeves up, and yell out in that big voice of his…….”Moore, I have an idea how we can fix this thing…….”
I wish I could hear it. He’s missed everyday by lots of people, but none more than me.”
To those who knew Rob, do something today Rob would have loved to do with you. And… if you are around Manzanita at the Oregon coast – go see him, he likes being visited.