In what I suppose was meant to be a hilarious stunt, lululemon athletica (NASDAQ: LULU) posted a fake CEO job listingon its website. The job is real, but the listing was facetious. However, it does shine a light on what Lululemon needs -- a CEO who can take it to the next phase of its existence. Christine Day was both loved and hated by Lululemon's core customers and, with her departure, the brand has a chance to get a more unanimous choice on board. It also has a chance to completely screw things up.
While customers may have been lukewarm to Day, investors loved her outlook. The ex-Starbucks Day had a global vision for Lululemon, but it was slow to play out. The company's incredibly conservative expansion plans read like a Jane Austen how-to-land-a-husband guide. All the courting of yoga instructors, vendors, and consumers made for slow going, and gave Under Armour (NYSE: UA) and others a chance to catch up.
Who wants to be a millionaire?
The Lululemon CEO spot is one of the most wide-open hires in recent memory. The company has shown that it's happy to pull in non-yoga focused executives, but it's in a position where one good candidate just isn't enough. Analysts have pointed out that Lululemon is currently in a management limbo, with executive vacancies in its product, marketing, and logistics departments.
Day will remain with the company until the end of the year, but it seems unlikely that she would hire anyone to fill those roles until the CEO position is sorted out, giving the new chief some say in who he or she will manage. The convoluted logistics of that hiring plan means that the company is going to be less nimble until things get cleared up. If Lululemon was to have another crisis like it did with its see-through pants scandal, it could give competitors a huge leg up.
Waiting in the wings
Competition for yogawear is fierce. Lululemon is the standout brand, due, at least in part, to its early movement in the sector. When Lululemon started out, people would say things like, "Bah! No one needs to buy stretch pants just for yoga ... how silly!" Now, Lululemon is pulling in annual sales of $1.4 billion, and those same naysayers are saying, "Oh yes, I'd love a little of that, please."
While almost every major apparel manufacturer makes some version of the yoga pants that have made Lululemon so well off, Under Armour and Gap (NYSE: GPS), through its Athleta brand, are pushing the hardest. Under Armour's main drive is to increase the amount of revenue that it derives from women. The brand is known as an athletes' favorite, but it currently dominates mainly in male sports.
In order to hit its revenue goals, Under Armour is working its yoga and bra lines. In February, the company opened a flagship store in Baltimore, with more of the floor space devoted to women's clothing. If Lululemon slows due to its executive shuffle, Under Armour is going to be there to pick up new customers.
In its earlier days -- like last year -- Athleta made an even bolder grab at Lululemon clients, opening stores near existing Lululemon locations. Gap let Lululemon do all the hard work of finding good spots, then just jumped in to piggyback on the success. Now that Gap has pulled its finances back in order, it's going to be focusing more on Athleta. At its 2013 investor meeting, Gap's management said that Athleta was a brand that Gap could take global, if its plans work out. That would mean Athleta would be on the scale of Old Navy or Banana Republic. A slowdown from Lululemon could hasten that expansion.
Who gets the chair
Speculation on the CEO replacement has swung from Under Armour executives, to founder Chip Wilson. Spoiler alert -- it's not going to be Wilson. Whoever steps into the role needs to have three main traits. First, the person needs to be able to grow a domestic business in international markets. Lululemon has to press outside of the U.S. before its competitors have a chance to.
Second, the new CEO needs to be able to build a coalition of managers and executives. With so many vacancies at the top, anyone stepping in is going to have to build his or her own little army, and get results from that army immediately.
Third, it would be great if the CEO was super-personable. For all his failings, Wilson was a bold personality, and that drew in the vendors and instructors that Lululemon relies on. Day was a bit too formal to make the kinds of friends in the business that Lululemon really needs. A smiling face would go a long way.
I'm hoping that the company can make an announcement in the next few months, or it's just going to keep losing momentum. Until it announces a successor, Lululemon is looking like a rudderless ship surrounded by pirates.
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