Mike Wallenfels dropped a bombshell on staff members at the end of Mountain Hardwear's sales meeting on Nov. 5: He was resigning as president of the company, effective immediately. Insiders told SNEWS® that it was obvious only a very few folks knew, as the news was greeted with stunned silence and more than a scattering of tears.
Mountain Hardwear sent a news release over the wire on Nov. 6 (click here to read). Kirk Richardson, current general manager of Columbia Sportwear's footwear division, will assume the role of interim president as the company begins a search for Wallenfels' replacement.
Though it has not been officially announced, we have learned that Wallenfels will begin working as the CEO of Timbuk2, effective Nov. 9. Timbuk2 has been engaged in a search for a new CEO since Perry Klebahn resigned in July 2009 (click here to read the July 17 SNEWS story).
"I have been at Mountain Hardwear for 16 years, which is a long run of doing something that I have dearly loved," Wallenfels told SNEWS. "But I would also say the role of what I do now at Mountain Hardwear involves so much more than what it is I truly love to do in the industry, which is being hands on with product and in close contact with the accounts and being able to get my hands around the brand fully."
As Mountain Hardwear has grown from the $32 million brand it was when Columbia acquired it in 2003 to close to the $100 million brand it is today, Wallenfels (who became the company's second president in 2004, taking over for outgoing Jack Gilbert -- click here to read the November 2004 SNEWS story) put into place a much larger team.
"As things started to grow and grow, I ended up with a great team of people around me who are in charge of each of the things I love to do -- product development, account management, sales, and marketing," said Wallenfels. "I began to realize that I really wanted to be much more in touch with making that all happen again."
Too, Wallenfels told us, he was finding that as Mountain Hardwear continued to grow globally, so did his travel schedule, and with nearly 70 percent of his time spent on the road in 2008 and the first part of 2009, he longed to be home more. So, he let Columbia know he would be resigning.
"It was exciting and I have loved doing it, but it was time to make a change," said Wallenfels. "I look forward to turning the traveling back a little bit."
Because, Wallenfels told us, he has an opportunity to dial back the clock 10 years in terms of company size and place in the market and take all that he has learned at Mountain Hardwear to help guide Timbuk2 to the places it needs to go in terms of growth, both domestically and internationally. Plus, he loves both the outdoor and bike industries, he added. Oh, and he gets to stay home and now enjoy a bike commute.
Ken Pucker, Timbuk2 investor and board member, told SNEWS that from the company's perspective, "Timbuk2's brand shadow is much bigger than our business reality and we are looking at all the talent and experience that Mike brings -- experience in trade and distribution and global business and understanding the nexus of product development -- as what we need to help bridge the gap between our shadow and our reality."
And, according to Pucker, the framework is in place for Wallenfels to hit the ground running. In the last year, the company has been performing very well financially. In addition, under the guidance of CFO Tony Meneghetti, the company's back end has been so well optimized and oiled, the company is now starting to receive retail recognition for service.
International expansion will be one of the big opportunity goals for Wallenfels, we were told, and Pucker said the company has a goal of 50 percent of revenue coming from overseas -- which it is a long way away from currently.
In addition, Timbuk2 is looking to Wallenfels to help drive the company toward a platform that enables expansion of the customization program that the company is so well known for. Partnering with key retailers to offer customization portals in virtual stores, as well as offering ways to push personalization in the custom program to new levels -- such as enabling customers to have an image of their pet embroidered on the inside flap of a messenger bag, for example -- are all ways Pucker says Timbuk2 needs to be leading the market.
And then there is that issue of stability. Pucker made no bones that there has been too much change in terms of leadership in the last five years at Timbuk2. "Mike is the perfect guy to engender stability and a daily rhythm that inspires a powerful team," he said, "and we are looking forward to him being part of Timbuk2 for a very long time."