Clark resigns as CEO of Yakima

Jim Clark, CEO of Yakima Products, has resigned. Jay Wilson, Yakima's CFO, will serve as the acting CEO until the board finds a replacement. Clark will remain with Yakima until mid-June to facilitate the transfer of responsibilities to Wilson.
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Jim Clark, CEO of Yakima Products, has resigned. Jay Wilson, Yakima's CFO, will serve as the acting CEO until the board finds a replacement. Clark will remain with Yakima until mid-June to facilitate the transfer of responsibilities to Wilson.

When we asked Clark why he tendered his resignation now, rather than working until a new CEO is found and then completing the transition post Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Clark told us that both he and the board felt the timing was ideal for a number of reasons.

"I have worked for a private equity firm for eight years and it has its own set of benefits and challenges. We've had some very real challenges and we've enjoyed some great wins. After seeing the company through the sale, which cut the size of the company in half, and through the move to Portland, it is time for me to take my next step -- it is no more complicated than that," Clark told us.

"It is not a sudden decision. It is something that has developed over a period of time as I began thinking about all of the opportunities that are out there in the outdoor business that I really love," he said.

Added Clark, "I have been working straight through for 20 years since I got out of grad school. Now, having achieved some level of success, I can take a step back while I am still young, enjoy more time with my kids while they are young, and regain my youthful wonder."

Clark pointed out that the timing is also ideal because the company is well ahead of planning into the 2007 budgeting cycle, meaning a new CEO coming in gets to lead the process of establishing a new budget, rather than inherit one.

"Certainly, the new CEO will want to lead it and, then, of course be held accountable for it," Clark told SNEWS®. "If it is your budget, there is a good level of ownership in place."

When asked, Clark confirmed that in addition to his resignation, Yakima had made some concurrent staffing reductions across three departments. Eight employees, including one management position (credit manager), were let go -- representing 2 percent of the total workforce.

"I am very passionate about Yakima and very bullish on the future and existing product currently in the market and in the current pipeline," said Clark.

Clark will remain on the Outdoor Industry Association board and told SNEWS® that the outdoor industry is where his passions lie.

SNEWS® View: Clark is a good man who was thrust into an executive seat that we suspect he might not have opted for had he been able to foresee the future -- one where more often than not he would be serving as a whipping boy for executing decisions that were not of his making.

Clark began his rise to the CEO seat in 2002, following the June 2002 firing of Duncan Robins, the former president of Watermark's gear division and, before that, Yakima's CEO when the company was acquired by Watermark. At the time, Clark was president of Watermark's boat division. Following Robins' exit, Clark was named Chief Revenue Officer. By the beginning of 2003, he was the company CEO. During his watch, the company endured massive tumult that included transitioning the company headquarters from Easley, N.C., to Arcata, Calif.; several significant layoffs; a sale of the boat division to Confluence; a move from Arcata to Portland, Ore.; and, most recently, a fairly heft recall. That's a lot of stressful activity for a three-year period by anyone's book.

Each headquarters' move, layoff and company change was accompanied by increasing levels of anger, frustration and, in some cases, vitriol that was often leveled at Clark by current and soon to be former employees. To be fair, we know from insiders that Clark was serving his board, which was, in turn, serving the money behind then Watermark and now Yakima every step of the way -- parent company Arcapita. Clark had already witnessed what happens when a CEO acts with creative and independent thought not necessarily inline with what the board desired -- Robins' (once a golden boy for the company) firing underscored that.

We suspect, from reading between the lines and speaking with insiders close to both Clark and the company, that Clark simply reached a point where he wasn't willing to suffer the frustration and emotional toll anymore and, with the company moving forward (finally) in a direction that made sense to the board and to Clark, it was as good a time as any to move on. And, perhaps, Clark realized too that as long as he was in the CEO seat, it was going to be harder for Yakima in some circles, to gain sales and support, simply because of bad blood and history. And that is a shame because there are many great and talented folks at Yakima.

Make no mistake -- this industry and Thule in particular, needs a healthy Yakima. We've heard numerous stories from retailers and others who cite former Yakima employees and reps now motivated by one goal alone -- to make Yakima hurt and bury the company. No question Yakima made some very questionable moves and decisions along the way (pre and post layoffs and moves), and that communication was anything but consistent at times, but frankly, the only thing that needs burying now is the hatchet. We know about the legal wrangling and the bickering and the rumored selling of each other's products on eBay. Perhaps now, we can move on?

Agree or disagree, we'd like to hear from you. Chime in here to voice your opinion in our SNEWS® Chat set up just for this topic -- it is private and viewable only by SNEWS® subscribers, so feel free to open up the discussion and bare your soul.

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