REI president and CEO Jerry Stritzke has resigned today following the conclusion of an investigation surrounding a “personal and consensual relationship” between the executive and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry, the company announced today.
Stritzke will exit the co-op on March 15, and REI COO Eric Artz will take on the role of interim CEO, effective immediately.
The investigation into Stritzke’s relationship with the unnamed executive was conducted by an external law firm and overseen by REI’s board. As part of the probe, REI said the law firm also thoroughly evaluated the working relationship between REI and the partner organization and found that there was no financial misconduct.
Despite his untimely exit, REI’s board and other key leaders continued to sing the praises of Stritzke, who has helmed the company since 2013 and helped it become a strong voice on social issues with initiatives like #OptOutside, which encouraged employees and customers to go outdoors during the Thanksgiving weekend as opposed to working or shopping at retail. The retailer also has joined in the highly publicized push for protecting historic monuments.
“Jerry has been an excellent CEO for REI and together with a strong team has consistently delivered outstanding results for our co-op. He has led REI through remarkably challenging times in retail. He has built a great team and the co-op is stronger today than when he joined,” said REI board chair Steve Hooper. “We will always be grateful for Jerry’s drive, his many contributions to the co-op and the successes he and his team have made possible.”
However, he added, “The conclusions of the investigation were clear. Errors of judgment were made and Jerry and the board agree that REI needs a new leader to take the co-op forward from its very strong position. Eric is a seasoned leader and steward of REI. He is deeply committed to the purpose of the co-op and will do a great job as the board considers the longer-term needs for the co-op.”
The company said Stritzke tendered his resignation with an acknowledgement “that the facts led to a perceived conflict of interest, which he should have disclosed under the REI conflict of interest policy.”
To that end, the executive apologized to REI employees in an open letter this morning.
“I love REI and I believe fiercely that the work that the co-op has done for 80 years has had an unmatched positive impact on the outdoors. I feel incredibly fortunate to have led this organization. REI is full of amazing people and I am grateful for the role the co-op has played in my life, even in the toughest times,” said Stritzke. “I regret few things in life, but I am sorry that I did not disclose the relationship, and it’s time for the co-op to have a new leader. The last thing I want is to damage REI and I deeply regret that any of this could impact the co-op. You deserve better. Even so, the co-op is in a great place and I have enormous confidence in Eric and the leadership team and the thousands of employees of REI to get REI to next.”
Industry Moves: February 2018