Following a very challenging 2020, PUMA CEO Bjørn Gulden and football star Neymar Jr., who joined PUMA in September, sat down to talk about how being a part of a family can help you face even the most difficult situations.
Bjørn, when you signed the deal with Neymar Jr., you spoke about welcoming him to the “PUMA Family”. Why did you choose these words?
BJØRN Well, because we believe that the people we work with should be like family members. Family is the most important thing you have and when you invite people to join the family, it means more than just having a business relationship. Neymar is a fantastic fit for our brand, not only as a player but in the way he uses his personality. I welcome him to the family in the I hope that he will be part of something more than just a business relationship, meaning a family.
NEYMAR JR. It felt like a family from the first time we talked. We talked together with my dad and I already felt at home and that made me very happy. The expression “PUMA Family” comes from this idea of being close and being together and I’m very glad to be a part of that. I think it’s the affection and care I felt from the start that were very special to me and I felt good and calm to be a part of this family. That is what caught my attention and what was different from other places.
What are the values that you think make the PUMA Family so special?
BJØRN Well, I think openness, honesty, respect and having the attitude of being upfront and fast, I think that is how you would like people to be.
2020 was a very difficult year. What was so special about PUMA that helped you to get through this?
BJØRN I think 2020 and Covid-19 was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced. It changed things so quickly and so brutally that you had no reference because you had never seen anything like it before. And there I think, as a family, we all tried to get through it as well as we could and people were willing to go the extra mile to survive. That was the most important thing. I’m very, very proud that we overcame this period, strengthening our position in the market, having a good business, and without losing one employee, as we didn’t lay off anybody. Everybody kept their jobs. And I think, again, we actually acted as a family during a very, very difficult time. And let’s face it, times are still difficult, but we’re getting closer to the end. So, I’m very, very optimistic about what will happen in three, four, five months. But we need to continue to fight also during the last part of this pandemic.
“We believe that the people we work with should be like family members.” Bjørn Gulden
Neymar, were there any special moments for you during this past year?
NEYMAR JR. The most special day was when I knew I was going to sign with PUMA. It was a special day in my life, as it was the start of something new. They believed in me and gave me this opportunity. I was very happy, and I hope it’ll be a successful partnership for the years to come. I think that the difficulties we faced in 2020 were faced by everyone. It was bad for all of us. Nobody can stand it anymore and I think we all want our normal lives back. Every day that passes we need to be level-headed and continue to fight against the pandemic. I hope we can return to our normal lives soon.
How do your own families support you?
NEYMAR JR. My dad has been an important part of my life ever since I was a small boy. He was always at my games or took me to games that were far away. When I became a professional player, we often were further apart, and I wasn’t able to hear him shout from the stands. But our close relationship continues until this day. My family give me strength when I need it most. It’s what makes me strong, even when they are far away sometimes, my mother, my sister, my son, who are in Brazil. My father always comes to visit me here. My two friends Gil and Jo live here, they are like brothers to me who help me with my day to day. They are always there for me. They help me focus. It’s important to have people like that with me to help me in my life.
“The expression ‘PUMA Family’comes from this idea of being close and being together and I´m very glad to be a part of that.” Neymar Jr.
Bjørn, how does your own family support in your role as the CEO of a company?
BJØRN First of all, I would like to say that in the process of getting to know Ney, his father made a very, very good impression on me. It’s not very often that father and son make such an impression in this world, as it’s a tough world. And again, I don’t know him very well, but I can say that that he made me feel very respected. And it was good to see them together. Also seeing Neymar with his son. It’s probably not easy to be a star like that for him and his son. But I mean, they look like a normal family and that is very moving to see.
From my point of view, it is the same thing. The most important thing you have is your family. And in tough times, that’s where you can go back and be normal. For me, family is a safe haven in the sense that without family or without having a family as an anchor, I think the last year would have been very tough. I think that for everybody it is very important to have people around whom you can trust and who can calm you down even when things are difficult. That is the same for me.
When you’re at home, do you try to switch off or do you talk business to your family?
BJØRN I never talk business, but I talk a lot of football.
What about you, Neymar? Do you talk football or not at home or do you try to switch off?
NEYMAR JR. We talk about many things. We talk about football, about business everything.
BJØRN Does your father criticize you when you play? Does he still tell you what to do and what not to do on the pitch?
NEYMAR JR. Sometimes
BJØRN And your son?
NEYMAR JR. My son sometimes too.
BJØRN That’s good (laughs)
In March of last year, European football came to a complete standstill because of the crisis. How did you experience this?
NEYMAR JR. It was horrible. Nobody wanted this. Football felt this and is still feeling this today, because there are no fans in the stands. On matchday there are no fans, there’s no music. These days, you really have to prepare mentally in advance, it is just about the game. You get no more additional motivation out of playing in front of the fans. But unfortunately, that’s what it is like at the moment and we have to live with it. You have to prepare the game in your head. This is especially true if you face a weaker opponent or if the game isn’t that important. That’s why you have to prepare yourself and your team to play it in the same way that you would play a final or when there are many fans. It’s very different to play a game these days as your missing that vibe.
Bjørn, what was the biggest challenge for you last year?
BJØRN In the beginning to understand what this pandemic was about and try to set some priorities. You didn’t know if it was going to last for a week, a month or even a year. Of course, we also had to make sure the people were safe, so we were concerned about the health and safety of our 16,000 people. Then you had to make sure that you had enough money, in case the lockdown lasted for a long time. And then you had to motivate yourself and your people. You can’t be down because you are responsible for 16,000 people. You have to be optimistic and of course, to find that motivation all the time and be positive when things are difficult. It is something you have to fight with. But again, we have a great family, so that motivated me to come in to work.
So how did your teammates and your colleagues help you get through this?
BJØRN By being extremely supportive, being present and doing things that you couldn’t even expect. And I think this is how we will get through this together. You know, everybody was in the same situation. Every morning I woke up and I thought it was just a nightmare and that I would wake up and that everything would be fine. And then you drive to work and the whole world is shut down. But I also knew that everybody was in the same situation. And in the end, I was privileged because, you know, I have a good life. So, I always had to think of the people who were not in this lucky situation. Here again, I think the company helped me to stay positive.
Neymar, was it the same for you? Did your teammates and you support each other during this special situation in football last year?
NEYMAR JR. We were on our way to a game and when we arrived, we heard that it was going to be cancelled because there were many infected people. So we had to go back home and that’s when the panic started. Will we delay the games, will we delay the training? And then everything stopped. It was a huge shock for everybody, nobody had ever experienced something like that. We accepted salary and bonus cuts at the end of the season to help the club. Nobody complained because we had to support the club. We also helped out some charities in our local communities. I went to Brazil to help people, my teammates had projects in the countries where they are from. We had no idea when things would be back to normal. It was a big shock, but we relied on each other to overcome this situation.
The year was also difficult for you personally. You had Covid, you suffered some injuries. How did you manage to cope with these additional challenges in such a difficult time?
NEYMAR JR. It was very bad to go through this, to not be able to play. I kept a clear head, as I said, my family supported me throughout this. Things can get even more difficult if you aren’t in a good place mentally, so you need the support from people whom you love. That really helped me during these days. So, I’m really thankful to my family. They help me stay motivated and return better.
What are your hopes for this year?
NEYMAR JR. I hope it will be year of happiness. I hope the vaccine will come as soon as possible for everyone and that the world can go back to normal. I think that’s what everybody wants on this planet and it is what I want too, rather than anything special for my career. I just hope that the world will go back to normal and that would already be amazing.
BJØRN Yeah, I’m 100% sure that we have most of the pandemic behind us and less ahead of us. I think we need to be thankful that they have a vaccine or many vaccines and that all of us in the next couple of months or three months, four months will be vaccinated because that’s the only solution. So that’s why I’m pretty optimistic that we will see better times and we will get through this. I’m also very optimistic about sports and PUMA and Ney. Because I think that when we get to a normal life, we will appreciate the things that we had before even more. I think it will be even more fun to go to a soccer match and watch Neymar play because you haven’t done it in a long time. I think people will do more sports and I think maybe everybody will be a little bit happier, because they will appreciate things more. Because let’s face it, for 12 months we have had no social life and we’ve had very boring lives, if you think about it. And that’s why I expect to see a lot of happy people when things are getting back to normal. And I’m really looking forward to seeing Ney play again live, because that is what people want to do. Ney, don’t let the people get to you, play and be the showman that you are, because that’s what people want to see. I wish you all possible luck and happiness.
NEYMAR JR. Thank you!