Master plans : How the big brands were born

You know the inspirational quotes – “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, just don’t stop” or “If you realize you can, you’re halfway there” and countless others.

On t-shirts, gym walls or maybe on the coffee mug of your co-worker who’s been mindlessly surfing the web for the last hour.

These mottos often just serve to remind us of our mediocrity.

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, it turns out these quotes are spot on. We actually have to try things – many times apparently – in order to achieve any kind of success.

Maybe you couldn’t care less about success or proving yourself and are perfectly content. More power to you.

Some had visions they simply had to follow through until completion. They created products and services that have become massive international names.

Sure, there might’ve been the odd divorce, bankruptcy or shattered friendship along the way but that’s water of a duck’s back for this bunch of go-getters.

You may or may not have used some of these brands, but either way the resolve and intuition behind the success is exemplary.


Adidas was founded in Germany in 1949 by Adolf “Adi” Dassler.

The Dassler family were no slouches in the shoe-crafting department. Adi’s father was an accomplished cobbler and his older brother Rudolph went on to found the Puma brand. Holy high achievers!

Young Adi was a sports nut and quickly realized there weren’t any shoes out there for specific sports – everyone basically wore the same kind of shoe.

The classic entrepreneurial gift of spotting a gap in the market.

His father taught him the intricacies of stitching and Adi went about crafting running spikes and football / soccer shoes. He enlisted his brother’s help and they set up a bike-powered milling machine in their mum’s basement.

Dassler’s innovations transformed sports shoes. He came up with the running spike and detachable football studs.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics the Dassler brand earned worldwide exposure when superstar American sprinter Jesse Owens donned their shoes and snapped up 4 gold medals. Adi and his brother were delighted, and another Adolf probably not as much.

When the brothers feuded over the company’s future, Dassler went out on his own.

He combined his surname and nickname to form Adidas. The brand started to branch out into sportswear and became a behemoth in Europe, then took off in the North American market.

Adidas was the shoe of choice for Wimbledon stars, World Cup soccer teams and Olympians in its peak during the 70s.

The company faced serious opposition in the 80s as that upstart Nike started taking more and more market share, largely thanks to its popularity in the NBA and savvy marketing.

Adidas punted their CEO in the mid-90s and underwent a massive resurgence. They signed global megastars such as David Beckham, Beyonce, Katy Perry and Lionel Messi while Stella McCartney added Adidas to her fashion line. Adidas then cracked the crucial American NBA market and signed up the likes of Kobe Bryant and James Harden.

The hip hop community was on board and everyone was wearing the iconic Stan Smiths.

Nike got Jordan and orders us to “just do it”. Adidas got Katy and just lets us have fun.

*This website is in no way attached or affiliated to the Adidas© brand however is more than willing to do so for literally any kind of merchandise and / or any financial incentives.


McDonalds as we know it was founded in America, in 1955 by Ray Kroc.

The yellow arches isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but the rise of the world’s most famous franchise is a fascinating study of single-mindedness and business smarts. Special credit here must go to Harry Sonneborn, whose advice enabled Kroc to realize his expansion dream.

Why isn’t it called McKrocborns then? One – it’s a dud name, and two – the restaurant was founded by the McDonald brothers in 1940. Safe to say, two fairly bitter men.

Ray Kroc was a milk shake machine salesman who one day walked into the McDonald brothers’ California restaurant.

He was blown away by the speedy service based on pre-cooked burgers with simple menus.

Kroc saw the McDonalds’ system as one that simply had to be franchised on a mass scale.

The brothers were wary that quality would be hard to maintain but they gave Kroc a 10 year deal to franchise the restaurants, naturally with them getting a cut.

Kroc went to work but soon found that he was doing all the heavy lifting for a minimal return. He managed to get a few franchises up and running but the McDonald brothers and the franchisees were getting the rewards and Kroc was soon mortgaging his house, which wasn’t part of the plan.

Harry Sonneborn approached Kroc with some sage advice. Focus on real estate, not restaurants. Kroc frowned at him – But I sell hamburgers… Sonneburg disagreed.

At the time franchisees found the land, took out a lease and only when they started selling burgers would Kroc get his measly percentage.

Kronneburg suggest Kroc own the land and lease it out to the franchisees as part of their contract. They could only lease it from him. That way he’d not only get a regular revenue stream but full control over his restaurants.

“The only reason we sell 15 cent hamburgers is because they are the greatest producer of revenue, from which our tenants can pay us our rent” Sonneburg explained.

McDonalds took off and with the help of a slightly creepy clown, now has over 39,000 restaurants worldwide that churn out around 2 billion burgers per year.

Nutritionists may frown at the 1100 calories Big Mac Meal but to be fair, it does come with a Diet Coke option.


Sony was founded in Tokyo, in 1946 by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita.

It is one of the world’s biggest and most innovative technology companies, producing games, movies, music and a multitude of electronic products.

The name came from the Latin “sonus” meaning sound and “sonny” from the slang for young man.

Ibuka and Morita didn’t muck around. In a few years they’d developed Japan’s first tape recorder and by the early 50s they released a pocket-sized portable radio transistor.

That little gem was snapped up by teenagers across the world, thanks to the rock/pop music boom. The American market proved to be a huge breakthrough and Sony started to rack up some serious sales.

By the early 1960s, the company was an international force and the innovations kept on coming. Sony continued to refine their radios and were soon exporting portable TVs and home stereo systems.

The Sony name was synonymous with quality and they were able to charge above market prices for the guaranteed reliability and class of their products.

In 1979 the portable Walkman hit stores in Japan. Sony was hoping for sales of around 5,000 in the first month and sold 30,000.

The Walkman was embraced by consumers worldwide as people were able to listen to their favorite music literally anywhere and anytime – even when crossing busy roads.

The early 1980s saw a global recession and Sony sales were on the slide. Norio Ohga took over leadership and got straight to work.

He focused on developing the CD player (ah, nostalgia) and video games, convinced the CD player in particular had enormous potential.

Sony released the world’s first CD player in 1982 which was warmly received by music lovers appreciating the sound clarity in comparison to cassettes. You also didn’t have to wind tape back up with a pencil if the cassette was chewed.

Their biggest hit came in 1994 with the mighty Playstation video game console. It became the first game console to sell over 100 million units. It’s successor Playstation 2 said “ Pfft!” and sold a lazy 150 million units, aiding in the development of thumb muscles the world over.

Playstation’s appeal lay in its 3D realism and affordable price, knocking rival Nintendo of the top perch.

You would think a company that started in a tiny Tokyo office with eight staff would be satisfied at that stage but Sony continued to grow.

Sony is currently the world’s biggest movie producer, owning several studios and is the world’s second biggest music producer.

The company continues to innovate, now delving into robotics, biotechnology and automatic vehicles.

The Sony world currently allows you to binge on Playstation Apex Legends while ordering your robot dog to turn on the automatic rice cooker. Of course, that could all be so outdated by next year.


Lego was founded in Denmark, in 1934 by Ole Christiansen.

It ranks today as the world’s number 1 selling toy brand, ahead of giants such as Nintendo and Mattel.

Although Lego is intended for youngsters, many a parent (usually not the mother) will often take over the project in order to maintain precise execution of the instruction booklet, thereby removing any fun whatsoever.

Ole Christiansen was a carpenter who started off making furniture. He tried his hand at crafting toys which he excelled at and loved doing.

He named his company “Lego” from the Danish “Leg Godt” – to “play well”. Funnily enough “Lego” in Latin means “I put together” meaning the toy gods had decided Ole’s destiny.

Ole made a huge variety of meticulously crafted wooden toys and business was thriving. However after World War II materials were hard to come by. He switched to using plastic mold machines and soon he’d developed the interlocking brick.

Ole and his son Godtfred took the Lego Brick a step further and decided that every piece of Lego should be interrelated and interlock.

This made Lego unique – anything could go with anything.

The interlocking concept unlocked imaginations and provided endless creative opportunities, which were the very principles Ole and Godtfred held dear.

Lego started exporting overseas, first to local markets in Sweden and Germany then in 1961 to North America.

In the mid 60’s wheels made building vehicles possible and then came the train sets.

The 1970s saw several key innovations that made Lego a must-have for any child around the world. Role playing games were made possible with the introduction of the Lego figure.

Always smiling and never frazzled, the yellow – skinned figures added real life and a joy to playing. Plus the heads came off!

Lego added themes to their sets such as castles, space and towns. Doll houses and female figures were shrewdly included and the bigger sized Duplo blocks were the perfect gateway toy for “real” Lego.

By the mid-90s though, sales were sliding and the brand seemed a tad stale.

Just as with major brands such as Apple and Adidas, it was time to reinvent.

Lego aligned itself with Hollywood studios and themed Lego became the next big thing.

First Star Wars, then Indiana Jones and Harry Potter and so it went, all the way to rappers, mad scientists and soccer mums.

Traditionalists disapproved as Lego had always remained relatively non-commercial in an industry renowned for its unrelenting marketing towards children.

But like pompous film critics nitpicking a kids’ movie, the naysayers were way out of touch.

Kids loved the new look Lego and sales rocketed.

Two Lego movies were made and parents started secretly buying mini figures for themselves.

Sure, crossing a floor strewn with Lego is like walking on a coral reef and searching the house for Harry Potter’s broom are days you don’t get back.

But Lego’s perfect mix of logical thinking and creativity guarantees an occupied child or tween for days and then years on end.

Whether you subscribe to these brands’ products or not, the founders deserve a pat on the back for proving the clichés true. Dreams actually can be realized and hardship can be overcome.

You can do anything you put your mind to. If you can be bothered, of course. No pressure.


  1. I’m always surprised with what you come up with in your blog Hamish. A bit of nostalgia here & love some of the accompanying pics, especially the Sony ones. I had no idea how these brand names came about so thanks. I think the stories of their creators rather than the brand logos are what would get me in.

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