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 Working in the Sports Industry: There’s Nothing Better
Career | 28.04.2017

Gschwandtner, Schuller, Gulden, Kullmann – this is where the cool guys work

Sports Job: Why There’s Nothing Better Than Working in the Sports Industry

Working in the Sports Industry: There’s Nothing Better. Come as you are: People who have fun with sports and can get others excited are perfect for the sports industry – like these two gentlemen at ISPO MUNICH 2017.
Come as you are: People who have fun with sports and can get others excited are perfect for the sports industry – like these two gentlemen at ISPO MUNICH 2017.
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Not by chance do personnel managers in the sports business sound like coaches before a big game: “Even when it gets tough, together we can do it!” Those who work in the sports industry get to experience people and situations that would be impossible in other jobs. It’s clear: There’s nothing better than a sports job.

For lateral entrants into the sports industry, sometimes it’s not quite as easy to cut through the “strange” code of conduct of their new colleagues. Why is my boss on a first-name basis with me after five seconds of knowing me? And why does everybody here wear sneakers or even running shoes by Adidas, Nike, or Asics instead of low shoes trimmed to a shine?

How does this code work in the sports job you’ve already begun? The first mistake lies in this very question. There isn’t that kind of code in the sports industry. In comparison to other sectors, much less importance is placed on formalities.


Much more important are the ability to work in a team, commitment, enthusiasm, reliability, and fairness – all characteristics required in any kind of team sport. And that’s why there’s nothing better than working in the sports industry.

Runtastic boss is a born host 

If you’ve met executives from the sports industry before, you’ll know what we’re talking about here. For example, Runtastic founder Florian Gschwandtner: The 34-year-old Austrian is just teeming with energy – and has an extremely contagious effect on people.

If he hadn’t made a start-up into one of the world’s biggest digital fitness enterprises, thus making himself a millionaire umpteen times over, you could picture him as a host in a Robinson Club – then, even the otherwise nutrition-oriented guest in their mid-fifties would appear at the hotel pool at 7:30 to swing their impressive hips under Gschwandtner’s instruction.

Runtastic boss Florian Gschwandtner keeps himself fit and knows how to motivate.
Runtastic boss Florian Gschwandtner keeps himself fit and knows how to motivate.

Runtastic is a heavily growing sports company that’s investing much into human resources, Florian Gschwandtner said in an ISPO.com interview: “Motivated, positive people achieve something, all others will almost certainly fail.”

The fact that much of employees’ satisfaction is placed on him and his colleagues is something you’d believe of Gschwandtner without thought – and the ratings in employer evaluation portals agree.

Sports make people happier – and more successful

Working in the sports industry is, without a doubt, something special. When there’s fresh, new snow in the Alps, some desks at Blue Tomato, boardsports retailer from Schladming, are already deserted before noon. “Sometimes powdering comes even before working,” explained company founder Gerfried Schuller.

This is where the Blue Tomato boss powders: Gerfried Schuller was European Snowboarding Champion in 1988. (Quelle: Blue Tomato)
This is where the Blue Tomato boss powders: Gerfried Schuller was European Snowboarding Champion in 1988.
Bild: Blue Tomato

That’s because people who love sports and life are, with pretty good certainty, also more motivated in their jobs. Why shouldn’t you treat yourself sometimes after a hard day’s work?

After nearly 30 years at Blue Tomato, Schuller said his goodbyes as managing director, according to a statement, to have “more time for travel, surfing, snowboarding, sailing, mountains, sea – and quality time with family & friends.” And that even before his 50th birthday. Respect!

Puma boss Gulden shows emotion

You can get far in the sports industry with the right sense for the interpersonal and the ambition learned in sports – further than you would with just a good degree and certificates. Bjørn Gulden was a soccer pro in the eighties, playing for teams like the 1. FC Nürnberg – he’s been CEO of Puma since 2013, and has gotten the long crisis-wracked sporting goods manufacturer back on track.

CEO Bjørn Gulden sees Puma as on a good path.
CEO Bjørn Gulden sees Puma as on a good path.

The malice from when the Swiss national team’s Puma jerseys kept ripping, one after another, in the 2016 European Championshipaffected Gulden personally. “Of course it bothered me!” the former soccer star made clear, acting like he had just chased the deciding penalty kick over the goal. Letting out some emotion sometimes – that’s what authenticity looks like.

Job openings in the sports industry – this job board specializes in the sports business: Click here to see the job offers >>>

In jeans on Mount Everest – why not?

But that unique spirit is by no means a phenomenon carried into the sports industry by a young, new generation of managers. If you met Bernd Kullmann on the street, you wouldn’t suspect that this odd 62-year-old made a lasting influence on an entire industry as the chief executive of Deuter, making a much more than decent living doing it.

He’s said to have always challenged his employees to bravely tread new paths – like he did as a mountain climber. “Courage is a part of it, risk is a part of it,” emphasized Kullmann in an ISPO.com interview. And, of course, endurance. Otherwise, the legendary photo of Kullmann climbing Mount Everest in jeans in 1978 might never have come to be.

In jeans on Mount Everest – this photo of Bernd Kullmann from 1978 became a legend.
In jeans on Mount Everest – this photo of Bernd Kullmann from 1978 became a legend.

Women in the sports business: Pent-up demand

The sports industry attracts the cool guys – and these days, more and more cool gals. Pent-up demand reigns. As progressive as many sports companies operate regarding sustainability, digitization, and CSR, the sports industry seems outdated in women’s emancipation.

Nike, Adidas, Puma, Under Armour – in the world’s largest sports firms, only three women number among the top management: Kerry D. Chandler as Chief Human Resources Officer at Under Armour, Karen Parking as Chief HR Officer at Adidas (from May 2017) and Hilary Krane as Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Nike.


As head of Jack Wolfskin, Melody Harris-Jensbach (in an interview here >>>) is an absolutely exceptional case. The sports industry in Germany and Europe is still hobbling behind compared to the USA. 

Staying active – even against resistance

The problem of the too-low proportion of women in the sports industry is being recognized more and more – and it’s being actively addressed. This is something that makes the sports business a very unique working environment: Sports mean movement and flexibility – even against resistance – something also firmly anchored in the sports business.

“Don’t give up!” Nothing worth having comes easy. But you have to take the step,” urges Steve Fogarty, Head Recruiter at Adidas, of job applicants. With the right corporate culture, you can “overcome the limits of what’s possible” together.

It’s definitely not by chance that he sounds like a coach giving a motivational speech in the locker room.

Video: Women Power for the Sports Business:

Joscha Thieringer (Quelle: ISPO)
Article by Joscha Thieringer, editor
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