Two and a half years ago, three of Lululemon's top four executives, including its CEO, were women. Today, as new CEO Laurent Potdevin has cleaned house, its management team consists of five men, a somewhat unusual shift for a company that once received attention for the number of women in its uppermost ranks.
Lululemon said Wednesday that Chief Product Officer Tara Poseley will be leaving the company as it eliminates the position and consolidates her responsibilities under a new creative director role, which will be filled by Lee Holman, an ex-Nike executive who joined the company last year. Poseley's departure follows the May exit of Delaney Schweitzer, the executive vice president of global retail who started at Lululemon in 2002.
While it's not unusual for new CEOs to replace management teams with their own hires, Potdevin's changes have stripped women from Lululemon's highest positions, where they were previously dominant.
"It's a completely different makeup than the originators of the brand from the founder to some of the earliest management that was sort of guiding the ship and creating the culture," Adrienne Yih Tennant, a managing director and a senior retail analyst at Wolfe Research, told BuzzFeed News. "It's almost like Laurent is saying, 'I didn't pick these people, I inherited these people, and I'm now forming my own team.'"
Lululemon, before and after:
Officers under Day (left) and under Potdevin (right).
Potdevin, the former president of Toms, became Lululemon's CEO in January 2014. He replaced Christine Day, an ex-Starbucks executive who took over as Lululemon's CEO in 2008. While Lululemon's sales grew from about $450 million in 2009 to $1.4 billion in 2012, with profitability also soaring, Day announced her exit in mid-2013, shortly after the yoga wear company's disastrous recall of pants for being too see-through. She is also said to have clashed with founder Chip Wilson, who has since left Lululemon's board, on the company's direction and his level of involvement, according to Fortune.
While Day was CEO, she made it onto lists like Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women In Business," and others for top leaders in Canada and even the "50 Most Powerful Moms of 2013." She was frequently highlighted as a rare woman leader of a public company, and shortly before the company's recall crisis, spoke with Katie Couric about "breaking the glass ceiling" and what's holding women back as leaders.
In regulatory filings and on the company's website, the only male executive was CFO John Currie, who has also left the company. The roles of CEO, chief product officer, head of retail operations in North America, and head of brand and community were all held by women.
A Lululemon spokesperson noted the company still has a lot of women in senior roles, including the VPs of U.S. and Canadian retail and Europe, as well as an SVP of retail in North America. The company's 11-person board also features four women, which is more than many other publicly traded companies.
Still, the changes at the very top are notable, especially during a national conversation about what's keeping more women from the C-suite.
Lululemon has been making inroads into menswear, but the retailer primarily targets "a sophisticated and educated woman who understands the importance of an active, healthy lifestyle," as per regulatory filings. It has been looking to sell more stylish clothes as people increasingly wear activewear casually with no intention to work out in it.
"Do you need to have leadership that is your target market in order to really service and understand that target market?" Tennant said. "I would say they have a pretty strong board who understands that consumer... and maybe not at their top spots, but it's very, very female-oriented when you go on campus. It's not that they're lacking any of that female DNA, but it does beg the question. There's probably going to be a shift culturally."
Lululemon's "special secret sauce was in large part the culture and atmosphere and small company feel in such a successful and large company," she continued. "It remains to be seen if that is a portable quality."
Potdevin still has to fill the newly created role of chief supply chain officer.
Sapna Maheshwari is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Maheshwari reports on retail and e-commerce.
Contact Sapna Maheshwari at email@example.com.
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