Kevin Plank is back as CEO, just two years early

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Stephanie Linnartz got even less time than expected to fix Under Armour’s many problems.
Linnartz, a veteran executive who was previously No.
2 at Marriott International, left the global hotel chain last year to become CEO of Under Armour.
She took over the struggling sportswear chain on Feb. 27, 2023—and, the company said today, she will be leaving the CEO role at the end of this month, after just over a year on the job.
She had said that her turnaround strategy for the company would take three years to execute.
Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s controversial founder and controlling shareholder, will again become its CEO, starting April 1.
The latest “boomerang” CEO to return to his former job (a group that includes Disney’s Bob Iger and Howard Schultz of Starbucks) will become his company’s fourth CEO in four years.
He first “stepped down” from the job in January 2020 to become executive chairman, and he continues to own 65% of the company’s voting shares.
Under Armour did not give a reason for the abrupt CEO change, and a spokesperson declined to comment.
In a LinkedIn post, Plank thanked Linnartz for her contributions towards Under Armour: “She helped advance the company forward in many important ways, including elevating our leadership talent in product, design, supply chain, consumer loyalty, and regional management,” he wrote.
“Much work still needs to be done, but her leadership helped put us on the right track toward winning.”Running Under Armour was always going to be a turnaround job–which Linnartz went into with eyes wide open.
“I believe in taking calculated risks,” she told me last summer, when I profiled her for Fortune.
“She has hit the ground running, launching a clearly articulated three-year strategy that sets us up for strategic growth,” Plank told Fortune, in an emailed comment, at the time.
“I could not be more excited to have her at Under Armour and to work with her every day.”But the challenges Linnartz faced were steep: Under Armour has struggled to grow revenue or profits since its early heyday.
Its share price has plummeted since its 2015 peak, and retail experts call its brand identity muddled, at best.
Meanwhile, Plank’s politics and personal life have continued to put his company into sometimes-unflattering headlines.
And Plank had remained an unavoidable presence at the company well after his departure from the CEO role, as I saw when I visited the company’s headquarters in August—where I was regaled several times with the story of how Plank started the company in his grandmother’s basement in 1996:“Buildings and apparel lines are numbered either 96 (for the year he founded Under Armour) or 37 (for the number of KP’s college football jersey),” I wrote then.
“One corridor at headquarters is decorated with an enormous photo of that jersey, next to blown-up versions of Plank’s early Under Armour business cards, next to #inspo phrases like ‘HUMBLE & HUNGRY BEGINNINGS.’”Founder Kevin Plank has remained an outsize presence at Under Armour.
Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty ImagesThe visible ongoing presence of a charismatic founder can be a problem for a new CEO, says Neil Saunders, a GlobalData Retail analyst who covers Under Armour.
“Despite the fact that someone else is CEO, Kevin Plank is still there,” he says.
“It is still a very founder-led company … and most CEOs don’t want backseat drivers.”While Linnartz had hired several new senior executives and launched a rewards program to increase customer loyalty, her strategy had not yielded immediate results: Under Armour’s most recent quarterly revenues fell 6 percent from a year earlier.
“She inherited a brand that always had a lot of problems,” says Saunders.
“And a year is really not enough time to make a change.”Investors at first cheered Plank’s return: The company’s shares rose in after-hours trading, before sliding back down.
Under Armour also announced that, as Plank becomes CEO, Mohamed A. El-Erian, the former PIMCO CEO, will become the non-executive chair of its board.
“As I look back at my past year at Under Armour, one of the things I am most proud of is the excellent talent we have brought into the organization,” Linnartz wrote in an email to Under Armour employees.
She added that she wishes Plank, “the executive leadership team and all of you much success in the years ahead.”

Under Armour’s numerous issues took even longer for Stephanie Linnartz to resolve than anticipated.

Linnartz, a seasoned businessman and former No. 2 at Marriott International, departed the large hotel chain in order to take a position as CEO at Under Armour last year. On February, she assumed leadership of the faltering sportswear chain. 27, 2023—and after little more than a year on the job, the company announced today that she will be stepping down as CEO at the end of this month. She had previously stated that it would take three years to implement her turnaround plan for the business.

Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour and a contentious figure in the company’s ownership, will take over as CEO on April 1. After Bob Iger of Disney and Howard Schultz of Starbucks, the most recent “boomerang” CEO to reenter the workforce will be his company’s fourth CEO in four years. In order to take on the role of executive chairman, he first “stepped down” from his position in January 2020. He still holds 65 percent of the voting shares in the business.

A representative for Under Armour declined to comment and did not provide an explanation for the sudden change in the CEO. In a LinkedIn post, Plank expressed gratitude to Linnartz for her contributions to Under Armour, saying, “She elevated our leadership talent in product, design, supply chain, customer loyalty, and regional management, among many other important ways she helped advance the company forward.”. “Although there is still much to be done, her leadership has helped set us up for success. “.

Running Under Armour was always going to be a turnaround position, and Linnartz approached it fully aware of this. She told me, “I think it’s important to take calculated risks,” when I interviewed her for Fortune last summer.

“She has jumped right in, presenting a well-defined three-year plan that positions us for strategic expansion,” Plank wrote in an email to Fortune at the time. “I am ecstatic to work with her every day at Under Armour and to have her here.”. “.

But Linnartz had a difficult time because Under Armour has had trouble increasing sales or profits since its early days of success. Since its 2015 peak, its share price has fallen precipitously, and retail experts describe its brand identity as, at best, muddled.

In the meantime, Plank’s personal and political scandals have continued to make headlines about his business. When I visited the company’s headquarters in August, I was told multiple times about how Plank founded the company in 1996 in his grandmother’s basement, demonstrating that he had remained an indispensable presence at the organization even after stepping down as CEO.

Then, I wrote, “Buildings and apparel lines are numbered either 37 (for the number of KP’s college football jersey) or 96 (for the year he founded Under Armour).”. “One corridor at headquarters is decorated with an enormous photo of that jersey, next to blown-up versions of Plank’s early Under Armour business cards, next to inspo phrases like ‘HUMBLE and HUNGRY BEGINNINGS. “.”.

Under Armour’s founder Kevin Plank is still very much in the company. Pat T. Fallon—Bloomberg Pictured by Getty Images.

According to Neil Saunders, a GlobalData Retail analyst covering Under Armour, a new CEO may run into issues because of the founder’s noticeable and continuous presence. He states, “Kevin Plank is still there even though someone else is the CEO.”. “The company is still heavily founded-led, and most CEOs don’t like having backseat drivers.”. “.

Under Armour’s most recent quarterly revenues decreased 6% from a year ago, despite Linnartz’s efforts to boost customer loyalty through the hiring of multiple new senior executives and the implementation of a rewards program not working as planned.

As Saunders puts it, “she inherited a brand that had a lot of problems.”. “A year is actually not long enough to bring about a change,”. “.

Investors welcomed Plank’s return at first; however, after hours trading saw a decline in the company’s shares. Additionally, Under Armour declared that Plank will take over as CEO in place of Mohamed A. El-Erian, the outgoing CEO of PIMCO, will take on the role of non-executive chairperson on the board.

“The exceptional talent we have brought into the organization is one of the things I am most proud of as I look back on my past year at Under Armour,” Linnartz said in an email addressed to Under Armour staff members. Plank, “the executive leadership team, and all of you much success in the years ahead,” she continued. “.

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