x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dealmaker who saved Adidas from ruination

Robert Louis-Dreyfus was credited with saving not one but two iconic corporations and a football team.

The fourth generation scion of a French family conglomerate, young Robert emerged from L'École des Cadres and Harvard Business School and in 1973 joined, as expected, the family business in Brazil.
The fourth generation scion of a French family conglomerate, young Robert emerged from L'École des Cadres and Harvard Business School and in 1973 joined, as expected, the family business in Brazil.

Robert Louis-Dreyfus was credited with saving not one but two iconic corporations and a football team. He became known as the Turnaround Tsar after dismantling and reviving the vast advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and then returning the ailing sportswear giant Adidas to health. His final challenge was to see the Marseille Football Club win the Uefa Cup. He almost succeeded. The fourth generation scion of a French family conglomerate, young Robert emerged from L'École des Cadres and Harvard Business School and in 1973 joined, as expected, the family business in Brazil.

In 1982 he accepted a position on the board of IMS, an American pharmaceutical research firm. In six years he turned it into the second largest market research company in the world, and it was sold to Dunn & Bradstreet for $1.7 billion (Dh6.2bn). Impressed with his rare combination of financial acumen and charisma, Maurice Saatchi recruited him to rescue the company he and his brother Charles had seen prosper, balloon then begin to sink. Louis-Dreyfus sold off businesses, shed 4,000 jobs, reined in spending and focused more on leading clients with the result that the company recorded a profit in 1993.

He took a similar approach to Adidas, floundering in the wake of its founder's demise. By 1996 it showed profits of $170 million and two years later the French football team, wearing Adidas, won the World Cup over Nike-shod Brazil. From 1996, his passion and support for Olympique Marseille also rescued them from the second division and propelled them, at a cost of 19 coaches, into two Uefa finals, but on both occasions they lost.

His reputation was twice sullied by a charge of insider trading while at IMS and, in 2006, a $300,000 fine and suspended sentence for embezzlement (with nine others) of club funds from kickbacks on player transfers at Marseille. He was still club chairman on his death from leukaemia. Robert Louis-Dreyfus was born on June 14, 1946, and died on July 4. He is survived by his wife and three children.

* The National