Nautilus restructures -- hires CEO, Cook still COB

In a move that will allow The Nautilus Group to focus even more strongly on expanding its brand, the company has hired a brand strategy expert as its new CEO, replacing company founder Brian Cook, who will remain as chairman of the board.
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In a move that will allow The Nautilus Group to focus even more strongly on expanding its brand -- inside and outside the fitness industry -- the company has hired a brand strategy expert as its new CEO, replacing company founder Brian Cook, who will remain as chairman of the board.

Gregg Hammann, most recently president of Latin America and Canada for Levi Strauss & Co. as well as chief customer officer of North America, joined Nautilus on July 16 as CEO and president of The Nautilus Group, which is the corporate holding company for fitness properties Nautilus, Schwinn, StairMaster and Bowflex.

"We have a tremendous opportunity with the brands in this portfolio," he told SNEWS, calling them "the four strongest brands in the industry." He added, "We want to make sure we leverage them the best way we can."

Related to Hammann's hire, President Kevin Lamar as been named an officer of the company (NYSE: NLS), joining 17-year company veteran Cook and CFO Rod Rice, as well as Hammann -- "the new guard," as Lamar called the select group of four officers. With Hammann on board, Lamar will now focus solely on retail, commercial and international operations, instead of being pulled in other directions.

Cook -- someone Lamar called "a true visionary" -- will remain overseeing the broader scope of corporate business rather than day-to-day goings-on, Lamar said. "It's not as if he's going away; he's moving up to chairman," Lamar added, and Cook will stay very involved.

These changes have put the frosting on more than two years of building and restructuring begun when Lamar officially took over the helm in June 2001 and the company began buying others, including Schwinn Fitness (September 2001) and StairMaster (January 2002), and took Bowflex to retail (early 2003) from its prior strictly direct-to-consumer model.

"Nautilus has come a long way," Lamar said about the last two years and the molding process. "I feel as if this business is really starting to come alive. We now have the team; we just now need to keep going.

"We clearly have a direction," he added, reiterating the oft-used company statement: "We want to be the Microsoft of the health and fitness world."

He added that although Nautilus hasn't delivered all of the results expected by Wall Street of late, the company still is a leader and "can be a billion-dollar business someday."

Some of that growth will be led by Hammann, who will look for strategic opportunities in many places, Lamar added. "Nautilus can mean a whole lot of things from health and leisure to clothing to nutrition; there are a ton of categories we can get into." Still, he added that the cornerstone of the business will remain specialty retailers.

Hammann told SNEWS his first task will be to undertake market and consumer research about Nautilus brands and the industry to help determine the company's position and where it can best head. That will begin in the next two weeks and should be completed within about 30 to 45 days, he said, so findings can be incorporated into the Nautilus' 2004 plans.

Prior to Levi Strauss, Hammann held senior management positions at McLeodUSA and The Coca-Cola Company, as well as at Procter and Gamble Co.

"I am very excited to have Gregg leading our company," Cook said in an official statement. "I believe his experience in the marketing of multiple consumer branded products is exactly what our company needs at this important juncture."

Hammann, a former college football player and track team member, lifts weights and runs regularly, and said he still recalls the first piece of professional equipment he worked out on being a Nautilus branded piece. Moving from the traditional corporate world of established brands like Levi, P&G, and Coca-Cola enabled him to tie his passion with his business, he said, since fitness has been a part of his life since he was a teenager.

With other fitness companies also recently landing executive management from outside the industry, Lamar said he believes fitness is now maturing enough to attract them, which in turn will take the industry a huge step further.

"As this industry matures and grows up, we're going to attract world-class talent," Lamar said. "People outside the industry are starting to wake up and say, 'This is a real business,' and they can help us become better as companies."

SNEWS View: It's been an interesting ride watching Nautilus in the last two-plus years as it hired Lamar, then shaped itself, slowly ballooning beyond just being the company that made the well-known Bowflex to becoming a behemoth with a stable of name brands that even many outside the nascent fitness industry know. The opportunities are of course huge when it comes to truly leveraging the brand and its names into other categories, and we trust the company will be quite watchful as to not dilute or cheapen the Nautilus name in its attempt to be a "Microsoft." Hammann's background will bring an additional touch of maturity and outside vision that could give the company a great boost to its growth.

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