Take A Closer Look

30 Jun

Yes! The FIFA World Cup went to Africa.  Is that the only global event taking place there? Or when you meticulously eye the continent, is Africa becoming the next China?

This is the view of Puma’s Ceo Jochen Zeitz:

WAY TO GO: Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz admires a Kehinde Wiley painting of Cameroon soccer star Samuel Eto’o at Studio 1 gallery in Cape Town. He believes that Africa could soon show the same rate of growth as China

Scoff at your peril. Zeitz has proved the cynics wrong before. He took charge of Puma at the age of 30, and turned the near-bankrupt German group into the world’s fourth-largest retailer of sports gear.

In his 17 years as CEO, Zeitz has transformed Puma from a plodding shoemaker into a trendy brand that sets the pace.

In South Africa this week for the World Cup, Zeitz hailed the tournament for making the doom-sayers eat their words.

“Whenever a new country or new continent gets a big event there’s always scepticism, which I always find annoying.

“Not everything has to always be perfect. I’ve been very, very pleased at the spirit of the people, how the World Cup unites the nation and the world.”

Zeitz joined the masses taking the train to Soccer City for the Ghana-Germany match.

“It was just great to see the atmosphere, everyone asking, ‘Where are you from?’ … to be able to take public transport where before so many in Europe were saying: ‘Oh you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ I think it’s nothing but positive.”

Zeitz has long been drawn to Africa, visiting the continent every year for the past 22 years. He owns a farm in Kenya.

“I love Africa, the continent, the diversity of its people, the different cultures. Being very interested in not only art but also nature, it’s certainly one of the areas in the world where you can still experience pure nature.”

Puma sponsors 12 African teams, including four which qualified for the World Cup: Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Algeria.

It recently launched a “unity” line of football kit for African national teams. A portion of the sales of replica jerseys will go to environmental conservation projects in Africa.

“If you look at the last World Cup in Germany, the second-favourite team after the home team was always an African team. I think there’s a lot of sympathy for Africa and African football,” he says.

Zeitz acknowledges that not many Africans can afford a nice little Puma top selling for just under R1000.

“(The market) is still single digits, but it’s a growing market,” he says. “Everything has its time. Ten, 20 years ago China wasn’t a big market either.”

In Cape Town, Zeitz opened an exhibition by the latest Puma collaborator, African-American artist Kehinde Wiley.

“Art is the ultimate expression of creativity and design, and we are a design-driven company,” Zeitz says.

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