The announcement hit like a large clap of thunder – and apparently had only been in the works for a few days.
Mike Leveque (pictured right), after stepping forward eight months ago to head up Star Trac in its worst times, said simply on March 1 that he was leaving the company (click here to read the company news release) where he had not only cut his teeth but also had rose through the ranks for 18 years to become a highly-thought-of industry executive.
The wording in an email sent to friends and colleagues the evening of March 1, only hours after company staff met to discuss the departure, was plain enough, but also had just the right dash of vagueness: “After 18 years with the company, this is the right step for my family and me. I will be taking some time off and then looking into new business opportunities.”
In a separate email to company employees earlier in the day, he expressed “sincere thanks to all of you for your hard work and dedication,” and affirmed he would remain available during the transition.
Grosz at the helm
At the same time, Dustin Grosz, former vice president of operations for Nautilus who had stepped into the leadership role just over a year ago as the president and CEO of StairMaster, was stepping in as Star Trac’s new president. The day Leveque’s announcement landed in inboxes around the world, Grosz arrived at the Southern California offices from the Core Fitness offices in Washington. The Core Fitness LLC company, which does business as StairMaster, also had acquired Schwinn commercial products a year ago when Michael Bruno, who took over Star Trac in July 2010, had acquired both of those company’s assets too. (Click here to see a March 10, 2010, SNEWS® story).
Grosz (pictured right) was immediately named president of Core Industries, which does business now as Star Trac, while also immediately resigning his role as president of StairMaster. He will remain on the board at Core Fitness dba StairMaster, he said. Tracy Maloney, a StairMaster executive dating back to 1988, he said, has been hired as vice president and general manager to oversee that business as Grosz immerses himself in Star Trac. Maloney begins March 14, and Grosz will commute from Washington until June when his kids finish their school year, Grosz told us.
Long known as an operations specialist, he said he would focus on systems and functions at Star Trac, following most of the restructuring and refocusing plans Leveque laid out to SNEWS in a Feb. 9, 2011, story (click here to read).
“Star Trac has great products,” Grosz told SNEWS, “but the reality is, if you order something today (the questions are) when are you going to get it, and will you get it when you were told you would.
“The foundation pieces need to be addressed,” he added.
While he handles systems and operations, owner Bruno will be the “relationship guy,” Grosz noted. “Michael Bruno is the owner of the business,… and he will continue to be engaged on the front end with customers.”
Leveque still available
With Grosz spending the last two days meeting with staff and getting up to speed, Leveque, who said he hasn’t had a vacation in two years, was home – still on company laptop and cell phone, still available for an unnamed period of time for Star Trac, but not in the office.
When Leveque spoke to SNEWS to discuss the turn of events, he emphasized his need to rebalance his life, that the parting was totally amicable, and that the time seemed right:
“It’s been a seven-day-a-week, 14-hour-day run,” Leveque said. “Over the last year, there has been a lot of time and attention required from me – to get the new ownership in place, then the final restructuring – with a large amount of time between the two – then getting the supplier base in place.
“And before that even the company wasn’t in a stable position, so as of May (2010) it just intensified when I took this position,” he said.
After some time off – including to enjoy a rare dinner out with his family March 2 for his daughter’s 16th birthday – he said he will start thinking about the next step.
“I’d like to look at opportunities in the industry,” he said. “It’s a great industry to be in – the health and fitness industry.
“I will assess if there is a challenging role that leverages the experience and relationships that I have gained over the last 18 years,” he said.
“The heartfelt messages that I have been receiving over the past few days from former employees, competitors and customers have been truly humbling. I value these relationships and look forward to re-kindling them in the future.”
A future awaits
Neither Leveque nor Grosz underplay the work that still is ahead for Star Trac, but the building blocks are in place. For one, the consumer division should be divested this month, they both pointed out, to allow the company to focus on its strength in the commercial arena. And, for now, per Grosz, a merging of StairMaster and Star Trac is not in the cards, and both will continue to operate separately.
Leveque pointed to a refinement of the company’s strategy that would return the company to stability; “There is an enormous amount of work to be done but there is no reason the company cannot be successful in the future,” he said. “After 18 years, I want the company to succeed.”
Grosz said he believed the company will look different come summer.
“I believe by mid-summer we’ll be ticking on all cylinders,” he said. “We’re not that far off.”