Lowe Alpine's CEO of the last 15 months, Mark Hammersley, resigned
unexpectedly Nov. 26. That prompted Ruth Henderson, CEO of William
Baird PLC, Lowe's parent company, to quickly appoint John King as
Lowe's new CEO, effective Nov. 27.
No word from Hammersley on why he resigned, other than Henderson's
comment that he "has decided to seek a fresh challenge and will be
leaving the business with immediate effect."
Rumors from across the pond that Hammersley was, in fact, sacked, were
firmly denied by Blake Waltrip, president of Lowe Alpine USA.
has worked with Baird before as the commercial director of the
company's womenswear business and, in 1997, as managing director of
lingerie. For the last 18 months, he as been employed stateside as the
COO of Delta Galil (NASDAQ: DELT), a worldwide apparel company
specializing in manufacturing private label socks, men's underwear,
baby wear, and ladies intimate apparel for companies such as Victoria's
Secret, Gap, Banana Republic, Nike, J-Crew, and Structure.
When asked to speak to his qualifications for being appointed as the
leader for a technical outdoor brand, King told SNEWSÂ® , "I have spent
the last 20 years in retail and wholesale management with the last 10
years running organizations in the U.K. and the U.S. I have done
business with virtually every major retailer and brand in the
sportswear industry and know a great opportunity when I see one."
"I plan to use my experience in running profitable companies to work
with the management of Lowe Alpine globally to make this business one
that will contribute solidly to William Baird PLC and the shareholders
of the company."
SNEWSÂ®Â asked Waltrip if that means Lowe will be attempting to increase
sales by going mass market. But that's something that Waltrip insists
is simply not going to happen.
"We will be going out broadly to gain new distribution on the apparel
side of the business, but only with specialty and core outdoor chains
such as REI, EMS and Galyan's," Waltrip said.
King went on to share with SNEWSÂ®Â that he feels a connection with the
outdoors, though perhaps not extensive experience. "I share a passion
for the outdoors and look forward to the opportunity of being in a
situation that will allow me to widen the scope of experiences that I
have enjoyed to date."
"The outdoors represents a lifestyle for consumers and under my
leadership Lowe will continue to deliver innovative, technical products
to the market that enable consumers to enjoy their passionate pursuit
of the outdoors."
SNEWSÂ®Â View: A quick check of what Waltrip said he would do (click here to see our Feb story)
against what he has done since then reveals the U.S. side of the
business appears to be on track. Lowe's pack line continues to be
designed in the United States by Heidi Kessler. The addition of Geoff
O'Keefe as vice president of operations has established a commitment to
specialty retail, and has been a major factor in Lowe being able to
establish or to re-establish footholds in retail doors it had
previously been turned away from, retailers have told us. Placing Sandy
Sincek as Lowe's product line director of apparel, combined with her
now overseeing clothing design, means retailers can finally expect
solid collections for Fall 2002 -- a refreshing change from the
watered-down mishmash of anemic designs and unrelated pieces generated
by U.K. designers who didn't have a clue what the U.S. consumer wanted
or needed. Our hat is off to Waltrip and his team.
While Waltrip has worked hard to establish a quality team here in the
United States for Lowe, continued disruptions at the company's
worldwide headquarters aren't helping matters. The speed with which
Henderson named a successor to Hammersley indicates to us that she is,
as stated in August amid rumors of an impending company sale (click here to read story),
firmly behind Lowe and the company's quest to re-establish itself in
the U.S. while growing the brand globally. The pressure is now on new
CEO King to establish a feeling of continuity and consistency at a
company desperately in need of stability. There is no doubt in our
minds that Baird's board and its shareholders were not satisfied with
Hammersley's immediate results on the bottom line, and King certainly
makes reference to the need to perform for the company and its
shareholders in the story quote above. Losing Hammersley is a shame for
the company because we believe he was on the right track and his vision
was well placed for the company's long-term success. We can only hope
that King, with all his department store retail experience, does not
kowtow to short-term financial pressures and shareholder clamoring to
press Waltrip into opening Lowe up to the world of Nordstrom, Macy's,
and the like. If he does, that will be the beginning of the end for
Lowe as a credible and authentic outdoor brand in the United States.
And you can take that prediction to the bank.