George Grabner, president of American Recreation Products for the last 15 years, and a veteran of that same company for 22 years, surprisingly retired, effective Sept. 30. He was immediately replaced by Jim Baumann, who has been president of Follett College Stores for the last 12 years.
Baumann, 53, an acknowledged outsider to the outdoor industry and a man who's only knowledge of the industry comes from being an active user of outdoor equipment as a camper and fisherman, will now be asked to lead a group of brands that include Sierra Designs, Kelty, Slumberjack, Wenzel, Royal Robbins, Browning and the Wenger license. Click here to read our July 18 story detailing the reorganization of American Recreation Products into three divisions.
Baumann's resume at Follett is impressive, and includes growing the bookstore from more than $500 million in business to over $1 billion during his tenure. He's well-versed in the online world, including melding the best of brick and mortar with web components to effectively connect with a wide range of consumers and, as one insider told us, "provide many more touch-points for the brands with consumers." How that translates into his ability to effectively run an entirely different set of businesses in the outdoor world remains to be seen.
SNEWS® attempted to speak with Baumann, but were told he was too busy with his immediate travel schedule, leaving us to rely on insider information.
We spoke with Grabner who told us he was "happy with the opportunity to retire and pleased he is leaving American Recreation Products in good hands, but I am really going to miss all of my friends in the outdoor industry."
Grabner said that while he was looking forward to taking some time off, he'd like to find ways to stay connected in the industry. He added that he'd like to help industry companies that might benefit from an outside perspective from an industry veteran, either on a board or in a consulting role. Grabner can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
SNEWS® View: SNEWS has spoken with many insiders, including those who were reportedly considered for the job Baumann was awarded. The search, apparently, was a very short one, leading us to wonder if the recent rapid downturn in the credit markets and economic climate sped up the transition process driven by executives at Sun Capital, American Recreation Products' parent company. It was no secret to us that Grabner was looking to retire sometime in the next two years, but, while a good face is being put on it, this sudden move points to Sun Capital's impatience with any remnants of the old Kellwood guard. Perhaps Sun Capital believes Baumann will be able to generate profits and returns far more quickly than Grabner? Or maybe a new coat of paint on an old house will make it look newer and more attractive to potential buyers?
Baumann will have his hands full either for the long or short term. As long as the trio of Kenny Ballard, Geoff O'Keefe and Paul Gagner remain intact, he can count on strong and gifted advice and support -- if he listens, and IF Sun Capital will actually listen to him.
The bottom line, though, is how much stomach Sun Capital really has for the long term, we wonder. We hear good things about its "long-term view of investments," but hearing and seeing are entirely two different things. In the camping market, you only get one shot each year at swinging for the fences from home plate. Sometimes you strike out, and more often than not, you only hit a single or a double, not the hoped-for home run.
In addition, we wonder if Sun Capital's management really realizes that the investments they make -- if they make them as we know they need to in the vital research and development components of their brands -- will not see any return for at least 18 months. In a volatile economic climate where investors will be clamoring for returns sooner than later, we suspect the appetite for real investment may be more short lived than long term.