An entrance to the REI flagship store is shown Friday, March 2, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Outdoor retailer REI had surprising news.
BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

REI’s CEO is stepping down over a personal relationship with another outdoor-industry exec

By Marc Bain

In a surprise announcement, outdoor retailer REI said that Jerry Stritzke, its president and CEO since 2013, is leaving the company.

REI revealed the news at an employee meeting at its Washington headquarters, citing as the reason for Stritzke’s departure a “personal and consensual relationship between the REI CEO and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.” REI didn’t specify which organization the individual is with, or whether it’s a brand REI carries. When contacted for comment, the company pointed Quartz to its blog and said it is not supplying any additional information at this time.

In the announcement, REI said an outside law firm had at its request conducted an investigation, which was overseen by the company’s board. It concluded that no financial misconduct took place. “The board is otherwise satisfied that their expectations of how the two organizations should work together have been met,” REI said in its statement.

In a letter to REI employees, Stritzke said he should have told the board about the relationship, and chose to resign because the relationship created “a perceived conflict of interest.

“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,” Stritzke wrote. “The last thing I want is to damage REI and I deeply regret that any of this could impact the co-op.”

Stritzke will remain with the company until March 15, after which Eric Artz, REI’s executive vice president and COO, will step into the role of interim CEO.

REI’s board chair, Steve Hooper, thanked Stritzke for his time at the company, while acknowledging that there were errors in judgment. “Jerry has been an excellent CEO for REI and together, all of you have delivered outstanding results for the co-op during remarkably challenging times in retail,” Hooper wrote in a letter to employees. “The co-op is stronger today than when Jerry joined.”

REI hired Stritzke because of his extensive experience in retail; he had served in executive roles at Coach and Victoria’s Secret prior to joining the company. At the time, REI also noted that Stritzke was an “outdoor enthusiast” who liked to hike and fly-fish.

In his letter, Stritzke expressed his gratitude to REI, and said the change gives him “the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream—to go explore all the places that inspired me to join REI.”