After more than 14 years leading the Outdoor Industry Association, Frank Hugelmeyer announced his sudden resignation Tuesday, with indication that both sides wanted to move on to a clean slate.
“It was a mutual decision,” Hugelmeyer told SNEWS. “In every organization, I believe there is an appropriate lifespan for the tenure of any CEO. Therefore, it is time for me to move on and do what I do best, build and grow another organization into an enterprise that matters.”
Hugelmeyer will officially step down from his role as OIA president and CEO by the end of the week, Oct. 3. The board will name an interim executive director and work with a national search firm to find a permanent replacement.
OIA Board Chair Jennifer Mull told SNEWS that OIA wants to make a “thoughtful selection” on its next CEO, and said she didn't anticipate dramatically altering the strategic plan OIA has outlined to focus on the evolving roles and definitions of the future outdoor consumer, recreation and business.
Hugelmeyer said he wants take time to explore his next professional step with potential avenues in either the corporate or non-profit world. “I definitely want to stay connected to the industry,” he said.
Hugelmeyer, who previously led Lowe Alpine America, joined OIA as member of the board in 1999 — back when it was called the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America. At that time, the organization held little respect or sway in the industry, he said.
“I remember by year’s end in December (1999), we had $1,700 in the bank and six employees,” Hugelmeyer said.
Taking the reigns in 2000, Hugelmeyer set out to turn things around. “We're an industry that should be respected, he said, “and we should help define what recreation is in America.”
His strategy was to broaden the organization beyond “just hikers and campers,” welcoming a greater array of outdoor recreationists — everyone from paddlers to trail runners. That larger group — accounting for $646 billion in consumer spending a year ago — helped OIA gain some swagger, not only within the industry but in Washington, D.C., where it became a leading voice for both the environment and the business of the outdoors.
His greatest accomplishments also brought bigger challenges, Hugelmeyer admitted.
“It's become tougher to pull together, and keep together, all the different stakeholders,” he said. “You constantly have to find that 30,000-foot level decision that everyone can support.”
The biggest challenge for his successor might be welcoming even more opinions into the equation.
“There is certainly a group that sees the outdoor industry as finite and defined, but I would ask: ‘Where is the consumer going.’ I strongly believe they will define the future. It’s not going to be defined by the industry.”
While his time left at OIA is short, Hugelmeyer said his goal is to reach out and thank as many people as he can for their support.
“I’m not retiring from the industry, but you can’t help at moments like these to be grateful for all the friendships you make along the way,” he said. “It’s tough to leave a job you love.”