By  on May 3, 2007

New Balance is entering its second century with a new chief executive officer.

The family-owned activewear company has brought in an industry outsider to lead an aggressive growth plan with the goal of nearly doubling volume in the next five years.

Robert T. DeMartini assumed the head post at the 101-year-old firm this week, and in the next 60 days intends to present a detailed growth strategy. Although he describes himself as "a jogger more than a runner" — a New Balance spokeswoman joked, "We take all levels" — he said he was "trying to hit the ground running."

DeMartini, 45, said he hadn't been looking for a job when New Balance found him, a new vice president in the consumer products division at Tyson Foods Inc., where he started in September. Before that, he held positions at Procter & Gamble Co. and Gillette Co.

The new ceo comes without any apparel experience, following in the tracks of William Perez, who resigned as Nike Inc.'s ceo in January after just 13 months. But DeMartini thinks New Balance's business requires less fashion acumen than many apparel companies.

"New Balance is as much about functionality and efficacy as fashion," he said. "All brands are is a promise."

De Martini replaces Jim Davis, 62, who bought New Balance 35 years ago, when the company turned out just 30 pairs of shoes a day. Davis said last month that he was ceding the ceo post, but he would stay on as chairman. His wife, Anne Davis, will remain vice chairman, and the couple "will take on a more strategic role at the company," according to Davis.

Davis bought New Balance in 1972 from descendents of William Riley, an English immigrant who founded the running shoe firm in Boston in 1906. The Davis family is ranked No. 488 on the Forbes list of the world's richest people, with an estimated wealth of $2 billion. New Balance remains one of the few large privately held companies in a sector dominated by public firms like Nike, Adidas and Puma (which PPR, owner of Gucci Group, is trying to buy).

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