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Adidas CEO faces down investor unrest over Nike advance

A man stands in front of a rack with Adidas Original shoes before the opening at the new Adidas Originals store in Berlin, March 27, 2014. R
A man stands in front of a rack with Adidas Original shoes before the opening at the new Adidas Originals store in Berlin, March 27, 2014. R

By Jörn Poltz

FUERTH, Germany (Reuters) - The long-serving chief executive of German sportswear company Adidas sought to rebuff criticism of his leadership from shareholders on Thursday, as the firm struggles to stop the advance of market leader Nike .

The world's second-biggest sportswear firm has been losing market share in its home territory of western Europe to Nike, which is challenging the German company's dominance in the soccer market ahead of the World Cup in Brazil next month.

Herbert Hainer, who has been Adidas CEO since 2001 and recently had his contract extended until 2017, admitted the company had made "a few executional mistakes" but said a revamped executive team had the talent to revive performance.

"A high-quality management team knows how to tackle challenges. And believe me, we have all the insight, character and determination to do exactly this," Hainer told the company's annual general meeting in the Bavarian town of Fuerth.

"We will achieve most, if not all, of our 'Route 2015' operational targets. However, it might take a little longer than we originally anticipated," Hainer said.

Adidas, which reported weak first-quarter results on Tuesday, had already warned in March that weakening emerging market currencies, notably the Russian rouble, would hurt 2014 results and pose a risk to its 2015 targets.

Ingo Speich, a fund manager at Union Investment which has a 0.89 percent stake in Adidas and is its tenth-biggest investor, has called on shareholders to refuse to grant the customary endorsement of management's actions.

"Even on the German football field, Nike is increasingly sidelining Adidas," Speich was due to tell the AGM. "Athletes are measured by whether they achieve their goals - that should also apply to managers in the sporting goods industry."

Nike extended its lead to take 15 percent of the global sportswear market in 2013 compared with 10.8 percent for Adidas, according to data from Euromonitor, a market research firm.

Hainer, who joined Adidas in 1987 as a sales director and turns 60 in July, is the longest-serving boss among German blue-chip companies and in March also took over as chairman of German soccer club Bayern Munich after Uli Hoeness's tax conviction.

He said he was very pleased that his Adidas contract had been extended, adding he would be defining a new long-term strategy for the period up to 2020 in coming months and pursing the generation change he has already started among management.

At the AGM, he presented Roland Auschel and Eric Liedtke, the recently appointed heads of global sales and global brands and also noted that Mark King will take over as new head of the struggling North America business in June.

(Reporting by Joern Poltz, writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Thomas Atkins and Erica Billingham)

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