fun is
a waste
of time.”

Giorgio Chiellini, professional football player and former captain of the Italian National Team and Bjørn Gulden, CEO of PUMA, talk leadership and how to keep a positive mindset in challenging times.

Giorgio, in 2021 you captained the Azzurri to victory in Euro 2020. How was it to achieve “greatness” with the Italian national team?

Giorgio: The summer of 2021 was fantastic and unexpected in the same way. For the Euro, I was excited like a child for its ice cream. It is the greatest to play for your country. We are always expected to win, and the hope of the nation is a boost for all emotions. I wanted to enjoy and celebrate all the emotions the tournament brings with it. I shared my feelings with my teammates and with the people at home in front of the TV screens. This was probably the secret of my performance at the Euro Cup.

Bjørn, PUMA did great last year in terms of business performance. Did you always know that one day you would be the CEO of a successful company?

Bjørn: I was also a soccer player. Unfortunately, I got injured very early in my sports career. To be a professional athlete has always been my dream. So, I never planned to be a CEO. I think, when you love what you do, it cannot always be planned where you end up.

Giorgio, you are the captain of Juventus and of the Italian national team. Did you always have a leadership mentality?

Giorgio: Honestly, yes. I remember that even in early matches I had a leadership mentality in me. This capacity of improving my teammates and to form a group is very close to me.

Bjørn: Giorgio is not the most talented or gifted player in the world, but his attitude and hard work have made him one of the most impactful players in the world. His attitude as a leader inspires me. You can see, when he’s on the pitch, he makes the other ten players better and that’s the job of a leader.

Bjørn, do you think leadership can be learned or are leadership qualities something you are born with?

Bjørn: There are many ways of being a leader. I think leadership is very complex and it’s very individual. You need to find your way and see that your style has an impression on people. I think you need to have some characteristics like confidence. When you are confident you can perform and it’s easier to also make other people better. It’s really about the personality.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Bjørn: I am working with 16,000 people in our organisation, and I am trying to lead by setting examples, to motivate people and to be nice and available. Sometimes you have to take yourself back and sometimes you have to be very visible.

Bjørn, you have said many times that Giorgio is your role model. What exactly is it that you appreciate in his leadership style?

Bjørn: He puts the team ahead of himself. Giorgio also has that skill to see things three seconds earlier than an average player. That’s why he is still playing at the age of 37.

Giorgio, the Euro 2020 against England was decided in the penalty shootout. What did you tell your teammates before the shootout started?

Giorgio: I’m the last one before the goalkeeper. That’s for sure. But before a shootout, the coach takes the lead, not so much the captain.

Bjørn, are there moments in business that can be compared to a penalty shootout?

Bjørn: I think you can compare the COVID-19 pandemic with a penalty shootout. We were in a situation we had never been in before. It was a lot of pressure – like in a penalty shootout. You need mental strength in such a situation, similar to what you need to have as an athlete. Performing under pressure is something I think you need to learn in both situations. It is not as easy as some may think to play in front of 80,000 or to hold a speech in front of 10,000 people.

Giorgio, how do you get back up after losing an important match?

Giorgio: It’s hard to wake up after having lost. It is important to maintain the right balance – in the best and in the worst moments. You have to ask yourself: “What can I do better?” You must find the right words and attitude to help your team. The good thing is, we play each week. After a poor match, we talk about what didn’t work and we have to turn things around until the next match.

Bjørn, when you took over at PUMA, the business was struggling. How did you motivate your team to turn the brand around?

Bjørn: I told the PUMAs that they were working for a company with great potential. You are not always at the top of the league, and you are not always in a company that performs well. But if you can see the potential, you need to make sure your teammates see it as well. You need to set goals for people to reach, so they get the feeling of success. When people get the feeling of success, they want more success.

Giorgio, in your biography you describe the psychological aspect of anticipating a striker’s thoughts as the most important part of your game. How do you do that?

Giorgio: Before the match I spend 30 to 40 minutes analysing my opponents. I look at the moves they prefer, the situations in which they score and the dribbling. During the game, I try to prevent them from doing what they normally would do.

Bjørn, do you have to do the same - predict the competition?

Bjørn: I’m not so focused on competition, here we are a bit different. I focus more on how to please our consumers. In think when you focus too much on the competition you forget the consumers and the business itself.

Giorgio, you smile a lot on the pitch. How important is it for you to keep a positive mindset?

Giorgio: I managed to change my state of mind during my career. Today, I understand that my state of mind, joy, happiness, and a positive attitude improve my performance. I can pay more attention to the situation than I used to when I was angry or yelled at my teammates. Through that I lost a lot of energy on the pitch. I wish I would have realized this earlier.

Bjørn, one of PUMA’s brand values is also ‘Be Joyful’. Why is that important?

Bjørn: Not having fun is a waste of time. You spend most of your time at work. I strongly believe that if you like what you do, you perform better. Our business deals with sports, fashion, entertainment, music and is international. All of that is fun, so I think we are very privileged.

How do you both maintain positivity and get yourself out of a bad mood?

Giorgio: I work with a psychologist on our team. This has helped me to think about what I can do. It’s a lot of work and it’s not something that just happens overnight.

Bjørn: When I am stressed or down, I do sports. I go to the mountains. They have a psychological effect on me. What also helps is to put everything into perspective. Look around. There are a lot worse things happening in the world. Mental health is very, very important. I think it’s most important that people dare to talk about their problems. I think the worst thing is when you isolate your problems, because then they become bigger problems. So, an open, transparent culture where you dare to talk about things, is key. On top of that, you should find individual things that you like to do, so you get the right balance.

Giorgio, you studied for a master’s degree in business during your football career. Is this something that is of use on the pitch?

Giorgio: Yes, it is important for me to keep my brain trained. The studies were also important to keep attached to the outside world. When you are a professional football player, you live in a bubble.

Would you like to become a manager after your professional football career?

Giorgio: When I finish my active player career, I’d like to stay in the world of football, maybe as a manager for Juventus. Or for PUMA. Let’s see.