Casey Sheahan has been named as Patagonia's interim CEO following the Friday, Sept. 30 resignation of Michael Crooke, CEO of the company since late 1999. Crooke's resignation is effective Nov. 1. Crooke told SNEWS® that he will continue as a member of the Lost Arrow board and will continue to work closely with Sheahan and Patagonia as a consultant.
Sheahan, who resigned as the president of Kelty to join Patagonia as a product line director of the company's fishing and paddling divisions on Jan. 1, 2005, told us that "Michael certainly surprised me by the timing of his announcement, but his desire to want to move on at some point in the near future was something that had been discussed from the moment I was brought in."
Said Crooke, "The day I hired Casey I told him what his path was here -- it was a long-term plan. Casey was a person that was groomed from within and brought in with this leadership position in mind. It was not a matter of if, but of when."
Sheahan told SNEWS® that while he was very honored by Crooke's desire to groom him for the leadership position, he told both Crooke and Yvon Chouinard that he wanted as much time as possible to get to know the company, its culture, its people and its founders before any decision was formalized.
"Patagonia is a company built on a culture of relationships, rather like a tribe," Sheahan told us. "When I joined the company, I was honestly not looking at the CEO position as the reason I came on board. There are so many great leaders in this company, including Rich, Rob and others…it could have been the choice of Yvon to turn to any one of them."
Sheahan confirmed that he is the interim CEO for a six-month period, after which time, if he and the company and the founders have developed a "positive working relationship and a process for open and honest communication," as well as a clear understanding that he shares the ethos of the founders, the interim part of the title will likely be stripped away.
When asked why he was leaving now and why so suddenly, Crooke told us: "Everything in life is timing. This is a completely different company than when I came here seven years ago. It is focused and professional, with huge new initiatives that will redefine the performance category -- including the big ocean initiative. Yvon and Malinda (Chouinard) are recharged and more involved than ever and I thrive on challenge. It is time for me to finish my Ph.D., and I also want to do something outside the outdoor industry.
"Just like with Kelty, this thing will be way better than it is now," added Crooke. "Casey has a different skill set than I do, and it is way better than mine in the ways the company needs right now."
Both Crooke and Sheahan agreed that changing the leadership now is the perfect time since Patagonia is relaunching its Capilene program, has a major sales meeting upcoming, and is moving into the busy sales season.
"There was a lot of pipe laid and the change in leadership is a very efficient process that is being managed very well," Crooke told us. "And that is what you would expect from Patagonia."
SNEWS® View: You had to be blind not to read the writing on the wall with this one, beginning with Sheahan's hire by Crooke -- announced in late 2004. No way does a man with Sheahan's skills and abilities take a job as a director of a product line (as much as we all know he loves to fly fish) after being the president of a company like Kelty. And no way does a company like Patagonia hire a man like Sheahan without the idea there is a greater leadership role in the future for him. Though no one is talking about it openly, we are certain that the flame driving Crooke's decision to leave was given a spark a number of years ago when it became clear he was not going to be granted an opportunity to acquire or buy a significant percentage of shares of the company as he had hoped when he left Pearl Izumi to take the helm back in 1999. Not that this should in any way diminish what Crooke has accomplished. He is and will always be regarded as a highly proficient turnaround specialist. First at Kelty, then at Pearl Izumi, and finally at Patagonia. Make no mistake that when Crooke joined Patagonia, the company was reeling internally, having lost its focus and way trying to be a little of everything for everyone. Crooke restored focus by eliminating debt, restoring fiscal responsibility, tightening brand focus, reworking marketing direction and putting in place a team that has Patagonia's engine purring like a finely tuned machine. Under Crooke, Yvon and his wife Malinda became clearly reenergized by the company's direction and insiders tell us that is largely a result of the batteries becoming recharged by not having to manage the day-to-day that the Chouinards decided it would be best to keep the company in the family permanently. As for a change in leadership at the top, Sheahan is the natural choice and, though an outsider in a tribe that traditionally prefers to embrace growth from within, we know that his ethos is very much in line with that of the company and the company's founders.