Zeena Freeman and Peter Metcalf talk future for Black Diamond

SNEWS has the first interview with new Black Diamond President Zeena Freeman, along with perspective from soon-to-be outgoing CEO Peter Metcalf.
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Following last week's announcement of new leadership at Black Diamond Inc., SNEWS chatted with new president Zeena Freeman and longtime CEO Peter Metcalf.

Metcalf, 58, who has led Black Diamond since its start from the roots of Chouinard Equipment 25 years ago, plans to hand over the CEO title to Freeman by summer 2015. He will remain with the company in a senior position responsible for public policy and championing causes important to BD customers, plus play a meaningful role with product and brand positioning.

"It's really where my passions lie," Metcalf told SNEWS "In many ways, I think BD will be more BD than we have in the past."

Maintaining a strong brand identity will be key for a company that admittedly is vastly different from its start. Black Diamond Inc. (NYSE: BDE) is now a family of three brands (Black Diamond, Poc Sports and Pieps), playing on the global level, entering apparel, and pulling in nearly $200 million a year. It also has plans for a robust omni-channel presence to keep up with new retail landscape.

"For all that," Metcalf said, "we needed to augment our leadership."

Enter Freeman, 47, a former Sony and Gap Inc. executive, who also spent time in the food and beverage industry.

BlackDiamondPresident_ZeenaFreeman

"There is a huge opportunity for Black Diamond based on the power of its brands and products to inspire customers in a growing market," Freeman told SNEWS. "The growth and opportunity in the outdoor industry reflects the fact that consumers want this kind of lifestyle more now than ever."

She said she's aware that some might see her as an outsider to the outdoors, especially following the footsteps of Metcalf, but she's comfortable in that role.

"When I went into apparel, people questioned that I was from the food and beverage industry," she said. "When I went into electronics, they questioned that I was from the apparel world. I don't think of myself as being from any particular industry; instead, I think I have been a customer advocate for great products and experiences across industries, geographies, and customer segments. I am excited to learn from partners and customers who have deep expertise in this space while leveraging my experience to help serve POC, Pieps and Black Diamond customers."

Plus, along with her husband and two children, Freeman's work has taken her around the world, living in outdoor meccas from the Himalayas to most recently San Francisco, where the family takes advantage of what the outdoors has to offer, she said.

Metcalf said he didn't blink an eye at the hiring of Freeman, who he called the perfect fit for the company that already has an abundance of outdoor expertise.

"Our industry is very special, however, there are great people outside this industry that know about apparel, omni-channel and running a global business -- skills that are really transferable," he said. "There was no one else in the organization who had the leadership strength in all three of these areas."

Black Diamond's first female president and soon-to-be CEO is an added bonus, Metcalf added, "both because of the lack of female leadership in this industry and the reality that more than 50 percent of the business is from the female customer."

Metcalf told investors last week he's confident Freeman's positive influence will be felt "within weeks" at the company.

There are, of course, challenges ahead, Freeman acknowledged, noting quite a bit of change for the brand including the company's recent sale of its Gregory brand and its intention to reduce some of its hardgoods SKUs. Not to mention numerous staff and management changes leading up to Freeman's hire.

"What Black Diamond Inc. is at its core is its greatest asset," Freeman said, "because its brands are founded on the integrity of its products. Going forward, in Black Diamond's case it's not a question of just changing more, it's changing those things that get in the way of being true to the power and promise of its products and brands."

She continued: "Honestly, my basic goal is not to "institute change" but to help the brands to manage change themselves by being better at who they are, at what they so powerfully offer, to their partners and customers."

--David Clucas

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