December 10, 2013, 12:16 PM

After a volatile year, Lululemon names a new CEO and a new chairman

Laurent Potdevin is named CEO and chairman Chip Wilson steps down from the apparel retailer after controversial remarks.

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If one were to use a popular workout term to describe athletic apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s past year, an apt phrase might be interval training. It’s been tough, then calmer, and then intense all over again.

In March, the retailer, No. 122 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, announced it was pulling a popular line of yoga pants after shoppers complained the material was too sheer. Much consumer and media backlash ensued and the retailer took a hit as it had to work with suppliers to fix the material problems, issue refunds to consumers and pull the popular luon pants line off shelves for nearly three months. Shortly after the incident, CEO Christine Day stepped down after more than five years with the company.

A few months later, Lululemon seemed to be working towards finding its Zen. It worked out its supplier woes and posted a 22.0% year-over-year increase in total sales and a 39.5% increase in direct-to-consumer (mainly web sales) sales for its fiscal second quarter ending August 4.

Just as Lululemon seemed to be in recovery mode, co-founder and chairman Chip Wilson caused a ruckus once again making a comment last month that “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” for the retailers’ line of yoga pants. Media frenzy and enraged consumers made the retailer sweat public relations issues once again. Wilson apologized, but today’s announcement suggests it wasn’t enough for the board. The retailer said today that Wilson is stepping down as chairman along with announcing a new CEO to replace Day.

Laurent Potdevin will replace Day as CEO. Potdevin comes from shoe retailer and manufacturer Toms Shoes, where he was president. Toms grew in popularity in recent years for its business model that provides one pair of shoes to a child in poverty for every purchase of Toms. Prior to Toms, Potdevin held numerous positions during a 15-year stint at Burton Snowboards, a snowboard manufacturer and retailer, including president and CEO from 2005 to 2010. Earlier roles at Burton include president and chief operating officer and director of operations.

Potdevin, who will also take a seat on the Lululemon board, will begin his new role at the company in January, the retailer says. Day is expected to remain with Lululemon through the end of the company's fiscal year to help ensure a smooth transition.

"I am excited and honored to be joining Lululemon," Potdevin says. "It is an exceptional brand with an extraordinary team that creates technical, beautiful products, and builds authentic consumer experiences. The tremendous success of this company to date and the potential for future growth are both exciting and inspiring. I look forward to working with everyone at Lululemon to continue to build and drive the brand forward."

Lululemon also said today that Michael Casey will replace Wilson as chairman following Wilson’s resignation. Casey is currently lead director of Lululemon’s board. Wilson will step down before the company's annual meeting in June, the retailer says.

“Lululemon's success has always been and will continue to be my highest priority,” Wilson says. “I am delighted that Laurent will be joining Lululemon and believe his talents and experience ideally complement our existing management team. I know he will have a strong impact on the business as he has the vision and leadership capabilities necessary to create and direct its future. As Laurent joins as CEO, I believe that now is the right time for me to begin to transition out of my role as chairman of the board."

 

 

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