Mountain Hardwear has named Mike Wallenfels as the company's next president when the company's founding president, Jack Gilbert, steps down on Jan. 1, 2005.
Wallenfels, who currently serves as Mountain Hardwear's vice president of sales and marketing, was one of the members of Sierra Designs' management team, who left SD after trying unsuccessfully to buy the company, to launch Mountain Hardwear in October of 1993. Wallenfels was also elected to the Outdoor Industry Association board of directors four years ago. Â
"Mike is well qualified to step into the president's role at Mountain Hardwear. He has been instrumental in developing and executing Mountain Hardwear's strategic direction, and has a strong grasp of all aspects of sales and merchandising for the brand," said Gilbert.
SNEWSÂ® asked Wallenfels what he believes his greatest challenges over the next 12 months will be.
"Working toward the continued integration of our systems with the Columbia systems, as well as getting all the people we need to hire, hired," said Wallenfels. "Hiring new folks puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of our current employees as we work to train and integrate new faces and talent into our team. That will be the most immediate challenge.
Wallenfels told us that Mountain Hardwear is slated to hire 14 additional staff in the next year to meet the demands of systems integration and the organizational infrastructure necessary to meet the expectations of growth.
"To grow from where we were when we were acquired in 2002 (approximately $31 million in sales) to the sales goal we are targeting for next year requires a very different organizational structure," Wallenfels said. "We will need more people doing more specialized jobs."
Indeed, the sales goals for Mountain Hardwear are heady, though industry analysts who spoke with SNEWSÂ® recently believe certainly attainable. Though Mountain Hardwear's numbers are not specifically broken out in Columbia sales reports, we can guesstimate by comparing percentage increases reported since the acquisition with the known annual sales of the company in 2002 that Mountain Hardwear will likely realize $50 million in sales by the end of this year. A significant portion of the recent sales increase has come from European sales increases. Though Wallenfels acknowledges that even though the company now owns its European arm with its own sales manager and marketing manager, Europe is currently a difficult place to do business, especially with the economic climate in Germany.
"We are starting out very new in Germany, and that doesn't make the job any easier," Wallenfels agreed. "However, I believe that in the next 12 months, all the pieces will be in place domestically and in Europe in terms of systems being integrated, new hires and new construction, and what we will then have to focus on will be simply developing new, innovative and exciting product, and looking at what direction our portion of the market is heading.
"In other words, are there market opportunities for us where the market is heading? How will our sales goals in the market fit within the industry?" Wallenfels added. "I have no doubt that we must, and this is not a challenge unique to Mountain Hardwear, find ways to get our brand invigorated on the retail sales floor. New things sell if and when retailers are excited about them."
Gilbert, who will be moving to a 20-hour per week advisor status with Mountain Hardwear, will be working closely with Wallenfels we are told to offer "strategic planning, sales support and special project assistance." Gilbert told SNEWSÂ® that, "I have been responsible for the sales and numbers part of the business since I started with The North Face in 1968. I feel like I have been doing that long enough."
The Stanford-graduate and former college hoops player is off to New Zealand in January to play in a senior basketball tournament. Gilbert also tells us he just bought a fishing cabin on the Klamath River with his wife.
SNEWSÂ® View: Congratulations to Mike Wallenfelsâ€¦yet another member of our industry who cut their management teeth at Adventure 16 and has moved onward and upward. Ted Ganio, currently a vice president at Adventure Medical Kits, and yet another A16 alumn, as well as a former though more recent Sierra Designs refugee than Wallenfels, is also joining Mountain Hardwear to head up a product category. Ganio's recent hire underscores the urgency of adding new staff as the company continues to hire talented folks to help take the pressure off one or two company execs and position Mountain Hardwear to achieve the growth Columbia expects in the not-so-distant future. Wallenfels is clearly the best and right choice to succeed Gilbert, and his appointment allows Mountain Hardwear to continue operating and growing under the guidance of a familiar hand that is already trusted and respected by the staff as well as many others in the industry. Gilbert told us that Paul Kramer, his founding partner at Mountain Hardwear, had no desire to become president and was completely in agreement that Wallenfels was the right man for the job. We would agree because that will allow Kramer, a design genius in so many ways, and a man who enjoys being completely product-focused, to do what he does best for Mountain Hardwear -- keep the company on the leading edge of innovation. Wallenfels' most difficult task, we believe, will be that of learning to delegate and let go. For his entire career, at A16, then Sierra Designs, he has been a leader who relishes challenge, opportunity and being intimately involved in as much of the daily operations of the businesses as is humanly possible. That unique energy and drive to take on more and more has led him to this point of becoming the natural and most obvious choice for assuming the mantle of leadership. However, as the president of a leading outdoor industry company, he has to recognize that it will be his skill at enabling his staff to make independent decisions, take initiative, as well as make mistakes, that will prove Wallenfels' next greatest opportunity and challenge. Whether or not Mountain Hardwear is able to reach that lofty goal of $100 million in sales by 2007 as Columbia has made it all too clear it expects its wholly-owned subsidiary to do will depend on whether or not Wallenfels can move forward by letting go, and backfilling the void of releasing his hands-on approach by hiring talent that will carry forward executing the vision and direction Wallenfels establishes. We suspect, as Mike Egeck has done at The North Face, Wallenfels will prove himself to be a very adept, inspired and compassionate leader who cares as much about the bottom line as he does his staff, his corporate parent and the industry.