Is Laurent Potdevin a Good Fit for Lululemon?

There appear to be mixed feelings on Wall Street about Potdevin leading Lululemon.

Jun 30, 2014 at 8:00AM

Lululemon Athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) recently reported its first-quarter results under the leadership of Laurent Potdevin, who assumed his role as the yoga-apparel retailer's newest CEO in January 2014. Potdevin is succeeding Christine Day, who acted as the retailer's CEO from 2008 to February 2014.

Lululemon shareholders, unfortunately, are on the fence about Potdevin given his personal appearance, while others believe his looks may be for the best. While Potdevin's hefty size suggests that he is not into yoga, his experience in managing athletic brands suggests that he is fully capable of handling his new, critical role at Lululemon. All in all, the question still remains -- Is Potdevin a good fit for the struggling retailer?

Importance of a CEO
Potdevin is an excellent choice as the company's CEO because he has held this title before. At Burton Snowboards, Potdevin was President and CEO from 2005 to 2010, and he then became President at TOMS Shoes. Potdevin has proven himself as an effective leader and successful CEO with what he did for both Burton Snowboards and TOMS Shoes in expanding their brands.

A CEO needs to formulate, communicate, and execute the company's vision along with its mission, carrying both in the right direction. In addition, the CEO should evaluate, direct, and oversee the organization and ensure that its operations are running according to the company's strategic game plan. Lastly, the CEO should lead, inspire, and critique the work of his or her subordinates to ensure the company's future success. For Lululemon's sake, Potdevin should avoid looking to Chip Wilson and Christine Day's leadership for guidance, and be his own leader instead since it has worked out well for him in the past.

Split opinions
In late April, Mr. Potdevin made his first public appearance on Wall Street. Shares of the company fell nearly 15% as investors responded negatively to Potdevin's appearance and ability to manage a yoga-wear brand. One shareholder commented on Mr. Potdevin's looks by saying, "He was kind of....dumpy", adding that Potdevin's clothing was quite "baggy" and his shirt was hanging out of his pants, which drew attention to Potdevin's "bulging stomach." 

Adding to the conversation, the co-CEO of branding and design at Siegel+Gale offered his opinion by saying, "The role of the CEO is to personify the brand. If someone asked me, 'Does this guy take yoga regularly, is this guy into fitness?' I would say 'no'. While Mr. Potdevin's clothing and weight was frowned upon by some, others saw it as a plus as one investor stated, "Potdevin's less-than-chiseled frame might be a good thing for the brand, given last year's furor over comments from founder Chip Wilson, who blamed see-through yoga pants partly on oversize customers."  

This investor brings up a good point. Those women who left Lululemon after Wilson's hurtful comments may bring their business back to Lululemon stores after seeing that its new CEO is not a thin man either and has his own weight issues. Time will tell if Potdevin can change shareholders' opinions on his ability to lead a yoga brand successfully even though he is not the best dressed or most physically fit.

A good fit
Although Chip Wilson, founder and former CEO of Lululemon, lived and breathed the yoga lifestyle, he was not a good fit for the company. His wacky philosophies and sideways remarks landed him and his company in deep water with consumers, bringing loads of negative publicity every time Wilson opened his mouth. Fortunately for Lululemon, Laurent Potdevin may actually be a good fit to carry the Lululemon brand to greater heights. One company with a CEO and founder who represents a good fit is sports apparel and accessories manufacturer Under Armour (NYSE:UA).

Since he founded Under Armour in 1996, Kevin Plank has done a phenomenal job of designing, marketing, and distributing its sports products. Furthermore, the CEO's leadership, knowledge, and business model have provided him with a loyal fan base that includes individuals, sports teams, organizations, and some universities' athletic programs. Unlike Wilson, Plank has managed to drive customers to the company's high-quality sports products instead of away from them. Furthermore, he has projected a professional, positive image, refraining from saying or doing anything that would cause customers to question his personality. Mr. Potdevin is likely to be a good fit for Lululemon if he can be a good leader like Plank has been for Under Armour.

Foolish takeaway
The simple fact of the matter is that Laurent Potdevin is probably the best choice to lead Lululemon from here on out. No matter who was chosen, the company and the individual were probably going to have a few detractors -- plain and simple. If the past is any indication, Lululemon has chosen a CEO with brand-building experience and a socially conscious attitude which should resonate with Lululemon's customers, as can be seen from his involvement in TOMS Shoes.

Both Wall Street and Lululemon's customers should give Potdevin the benefit of the doubt because it seems he is just the man for the job. He may not do yoga himself or care much for his personal appearance, but he definitely knows how to build a brand and take it to greater lengths.

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Natalie O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Lululemon Athletica and Under Armour. The Motley Fool owns shares of Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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