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Tony Cooke Vice President HR at Adidas Group


From being an apprentice professional footballer in the late ‘70’s to HR Director in adidas, Tony’s career has come full circle. HR Directorship was probably the furthest thing from his mind as he plied his trade as an aspiring footballer but a sickening knee injury on an icy cold February afternoon in Oldham soon put paid to any hopes he had of gracing the hallowed turf of Anfield or Old Trafford…

Devoid of any formal qualifications, he opted quickly for a junior’s position in a city centre bank where the highlight of his day was making tea for all the staff and serving Ken Dodd at the till....

Tony cut his ‘Personnel’ teeth during a secondment to the Bank’s HQ and soon developed a keenness for all things people related. Eager to progress, he moved into telecommunications and joined GEC just as it was about to merge with Plessey. At a period when industrial relations were very often front page news, Tony’s introduction to Personnel in this context was eventful to say the least.   He spent time learning about employee relations, training & development, and HR. One of his many lasting memories of GEC-Plessey was when during an ‘All Employee’ meeting, one of the staff offered a view that “the Personnel Director here was to people what King Herod was to children…”

William Baird PLC, then a huge clothing manufacturer for Marks & Spencer offered Tony the chance to create his own HR function, an opportunity he needed no encouragement to take. During the next 8 years, he was able to implement best practice tools and processes from a HR perspective but also start to learn about all of the key commercial elements associated with a large organisation. In 1990 he was appointed HR Director for the Outerwear arm of William Baird and in 1995 he was promoted to Divisional HR Director providing a HR service to businesses in Holland, Ireland and Sweden. Tony recalls his time at William Baird fondly.” Back then the rag trade was notoriously traditional and a lot of the guys were very set in their ways. Keen to put a great presentation together for the troops on my first day, I asked my new assistant if we had PowerPoint and straight faced, she pointed to a plug socket at the side of her desk…..”

To catch up on lost academic time, Tony has an Advanced Post Graduate Diploma in Management Application and has attended a Director’s Development Programme at Insead.

Tony was appointed to his “dream job” in 2001 as HR Director, adidas UK. The pace of change in the organisation has been markedly rapid. Since starting his new job, he has played a key part in an integration with Holland and Belgium, the acquisition of the Reebok business and more latterly the integration of the Nordics to create adidas North Europe. A far cry from his original remit 10 years ago….”I’m one of the lucky ones who can say I actually love coming in to work. The business is in great shape, our brand is revered and people are desperate to join the adidas family. Everybody is passionate about what they do and really into hearing about how we’re doing as a business – this does engagement the world of good. Culturally, I’d say we’re informally professional.   When I started, I had to try to learn to stop being star struck when the some of my all-time heroes came in and because we dress so casually, I had to convince my wife that I was actually going in to work each day!”

Away from work Tony is married with 3 kids. He tries to convince himself that he can still play football and watches his beloved Liverpool FC most weekends –on several occasions, he has politely declined the offer of counselling from his worried HR team ……