* Puma appoints Pandora’s Bjorn Gulden as new CEO
* Gulden to start new role on July 1
* Pandora chairman Leighton to be new CEO at Pandora
By Mette Fraende and Victoria Bryan
COPENHAGEN/HAMBURG, April 18 (Reuters) - Puma poached a new chief executive from Danish jeweller Pandora, hiring a man with experience on the soccer field and at long-time rival Adidas to lead a turnaround of the German sportswear company.
Bjorn Gulden has revived the fortunes of Pandora in the year he has been in charge, more than doubling the share price and pushing sales up 53 percent.
The 47-year-old was also previously head of apparel and accessories at Adidas, experience he will need as he tries to return Puma to profit growth and build it into the global leisure brand envisaged by its French owner PPR.
PPR has been looking for a new CEO for Puma since the departure of Franz Koch was announced in December, just two weeks after PPR’s Jean-Francois Palus took the top spot on Puma’s supervisory board. Koch stepped down at the end of March, after less than two years in the job.
Last year, Puma’s net profit fell 70 percent, forcing it to cut its dividend by three quarters, shelve certain products and pull out of less lucrative sponsor deals like sailing and rugby.
“Gulden has successfully executed the (Pandora) board’s strategy and turned the sales-out figures from negative to positive in Pandora’s four biggest markets,” Nykredit Markets analyst Kresten Johnsen said on Thursday refering to what customers buy from Pandora shops.
Pandora’s four biggest markets are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.
Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounts for 40 percent of sales at Puma.
Shares in Pandora have gained nearly 140 percent since Gulden arrived in March 2012. They fell 5 percent on news of his departure. Puma stock was up 0.6 percent.
“This has been a very hard decision for me to make. Pandora is a great business which is performing well, but the sports industry has always been a major part of my life, and my role at Puma will also allow my family to remain in Germany,” Gulden said.
Gulden, a Norwegian, was a former professional soccer player in Norway and at German club 1. FC Nuremberg, until a serious injury forced him to stop.
He spent eight years at Adidas and was part of the team that took the company public in 1995.
Puma and Adidas are both based in Herzogenaurach, southern Germany, having been founded in the late 1940s by two brothers who had fallen out with each other.
Gulden was also managing director of shoe company Deichmann and did a stint at Norwegian sportswear brand Helly Hansen. He starts at Puma on July 1.
“From his CV, it looks a good fit. His biggest challenge will be to assert Puma amongst the tough competition and improve profits, because margins have been falling,” said one analyst who declined to be named.
Footwear is Puma’s biggest division by sales, but the gross profit margin declined to 46.5 percent from 49.1 percent in 2012 after hefty discounting.
Allan Leighton, Pandora’s chairman and a veteran British businessman with years of experience in consumer goods and retail, will take over as CEO.