Mateja Jesenek, a 51-year-old Slovenian native, will become the new global chief executive of The Athlete's Foot (TAF) in April, when the current CEO, Ingmar Kraak, leaves the company. Like him, she will be working out of Amsterdam.
While she is being hired from outside the company, Jesenek is no stranger to TAF or to Intersport International, the Swiss-based sporting goods retailer that acquired TAF about seven years ago. From 2012 to 2018, Jenesek was general manager of Intersport Slovenia (ISI), a company owned by private equity that also operates in eight southeastern European markets: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro.
ISI runs some 150 corporate and franchised Intersport and TAF stores, which together generate about $130 million in annual retail sales and employ some 1,100 people. In 2017, ISI launched TAF in Slovenia under Jesenek's stewardship.
From 1994 to 2012, Jesenek worked with Intersport's former Slovenian master licensee for the region, the Mercator Group, which also operates in such industries as consumer goods, household appliances and furniture, restaurants, service stations and real estate. There, she held posts like head of research for promotions and communications and group marketing director before landing a seat on the executive board, where she served for six years.
As we previously reported, Intersport International recorded an increase in worldwide sales of only 0.7 percent on a currency-neutral basis last year. One reason for the slow growth was a net loss of 87 stores in the course of the year. The year-end total stood at 5,562 stores in 43 countries. France and Austria aside, the group's best growth occurred in southeastern Europe, in countries such as Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
TAF shone brightly in that context, generating retail sales of €363 million, up by 9.4 percent from 2017 in constant currencies. The voluntary group wrapped up the year with 537 stores in 31 markets, up from 523 stores at the end of 2017. Many of the new ones opened in southeast European countries like Albania, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, among others.
According to Intersport, TAF has become the number one specialty athletic chain in the region since Jesenek launched the banner in 2017. Slovenia was named “TAF country of the year” in 2018.