Laurent Potdevin’s swift and lucrative departure as chief executive officer of Lululemon Athletica Inc. has analysts wondering aloud at a possible opening for Stefan Larsson, whose non-compete agreement with Ralph Lauren Corp. just expired.
The still-mysterious exit also underscored growing themes in the c-suite, where ceo’s are being seen as something less than vital in data-driven operations and where, when things go wrong, it has become more important to move quickly.
Lululemon said Monday that Potdevin resigned, with a $5 million exit package, after the ceo “fell short” of its standards requiring employees to “exemplify the highest levels of integrity and respect for one another.”
The vague wording has led to speculation, but no specifics have come to light. Several experts noted that the manner of the departure — a resignation with a hefty payout — suggested that the case against Potdevin was either not extremely serious or not cut-and-dry, or both.
Regardless, analysts and investors seemed ready to move on and the stock rose 1.6 percent to $78.62 Tuesday as the focus moved rapidly from the immediate shock to the question of what’s next. (Helping matters was the company’s affirmation that it remained on track to hit $4 billion in revenue in 2020).
Potdevin’s departure elevated Glenn Murphy, the former Gap Inc. ceo who joined the board in April, to executive chairman, taking on a more operational role until a new ceo is hired.
Despite what many saw as a decidedly checkered performance at Gap Inc., Camilo Lyon, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity Inc., lauded Murphy and said: “We expect him to play an active role in the hiring of the next ceo. In our view, the lead candidate is Stefan Larsson, the former ceo of Ralph Lauren.”
Murphy hired Larsson in 2012 to run Old Navy, where he stayed until being tapped to take the reins at Ralph Lauren. And while he apparently didn’t mix well with Lauren himself, Larsson’s “Way Forward” operational framework was well-received. Larsson, who did not immediately respond to a WWD query, had a non-compete agreement that expired Jan. 27. He left Lauren with a big payout himself and is still receiving his salary from the company, which will total $10 million over two years.
The Lululemon spokeswoman also declined to comment. Contact information for Potdevin was not readily available.
The speed of Potdevin’s transition could make life somewhat easier for whomever ultimately takes his spot.
“To the board’s credit, it appears that it has moved quickly to quarantine any public fallout that could have ensued if details were to have been made public,” Lyon said. “With this swift course of action, it is highly unlikely that Lululemon customers will know of the ceo’s departure and the details surrounding it, and therefore not attach any ill views to the company.”
In general, the board was given kudos for its handling of the situation, which at least so far has played out much smoother than its struggles following the controversial musings of founder Chip Wilson after the brand accidentally produced see-through yoga pants.
“One of the most important factors is the fact that this came from the company, this was proactive,” said Instinet analyst Simeon Siegel. “Generally speaking, the brand value is apparent and I think there is a very strong bench…the people who were running the business still are.
“In this new reality, chief merchants are not the power players behind the company,” Siegel said. “Single people don’t make or break companies, single people make or break headlines. In a world where data and systems are meaningfully important to determining what fashion product will sell, it really is about the team….With the exception of [Amazon’s] Jeff Bezos, the impact the ceo can have on any company is more limited than it used to be, and that’s a good and bad thing.”