I have one of those "women's bodies." You know, the ones with thick thighs that rub together. But I do wear lulu. I'm a Wunder Under lover. ( My family even owns stock in the company!) I've lived in my lulus for a long time, despite my thighs. But that's not the point of this piece.
Here's the point: lululemon, please bring back Christine Day!
Ms. Day, 51, who announced in June that she'd be stepping down as soon as a successor was named, is still acting in her capacity as CEO. But she's been rather quiet lately. And her silence has left a void of leadership, a void into which lulu Founder and Chairman of the Board Chip Wilson has stepped (back) in, to his own discredit, and to the detriment of lululemon.
I recognize that his foray into the limelight last week was not an official corporate initiative, but there is no denying that his name and image -- his brand, which he calls "Whil" -- is interchangeable with lululemon.
Wilson's "sad"-puppy-faced apology (presumably to lulu employees, not the public) was pitiful and pathetic. Interestingly, no one from lulu -- certainly not Christine Day -- has commented on the record about this thunder thigh, foot-in-mouth fuck up on Bloomberg TV. Clearly, the company doesn't want to go near that thing with a 10-foot bolt of Luon. They know it's bad (Wilson's been bad, very bad, before). He doesn't take direction from anyone: he acted as lone ranger, consistent with his Ayn Rand-ian philosophy ("The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap"). He probably doesn't take criticism from anyone either.
Since Day announced her resignation, Wilson has been acting spokes-thing for the company. He recently announced, "on behalf of the Board" that the company had hired Tara Poseley as Chief Product Officer after her predecessor took the fall and was fired for the too-sheer yoga pants crisis. In an Oct. 30 lulu press release, Wilson assures shareholders and the public that Poseley will "fit perfectly in the lululemon culture."
It is widely assumed that Day, in "resigning," has been in the hot seat for the same panty problem. And I guess it's true. But, when I first I heard the news about her departure, it seemed really silly to me that CEO Day would go down (her own pants) for this -- someone had already been blamed. And while stock prices did take an immediate dive, share prices have recovered. It doesn't seem that profitability has been affected, nor has the proliferation of new store openings. After all, in the 5-plus years Day has led lulu, its annual revenue quintupled to $1.37 billion. In the quarter leading up to her resignation, gross profit increased 9%. Projected revenue for 2013 is in the range of $1,645 million to $1,665 million, with a per share price expected to be in the range of $1.96 to $2.0 for the year.
As she said in June, "Being a part of lululemon for the past five and a half years has been an incredible journey. I am proud of building a world class team that has produced one of the best growth, brand and profit stories in retail." By almost every measure, the company is doing great -- so what's up? Why can't Christine Day stay?
The answer seems to lie in the "lululemon culture" of which Wilson speaks. What is the lulu culture, anyway? And who else fits in (those pants)? Does Ms. Day? Apparently not. Because, as she said to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, "I am not the culture of lululemon."
It's been well documented that Wilson laid the foundation of the company upon the theosophy of Ayn Rand's "objectivism" -- promoting capitalism, reason, ego and individual rights, above all else. (Aptly, he exhibited all of those values during his Bloomberg appearance.) Less known, but also widely embraced within lulu's corporate culture is the self-help doctrine of The Landmark Forum based on the 70's cult-classics called est. lulu executives and employees at every level, as well as their store "ambassadors," are exposed to the teachings of Landmark Forum, a "breakthrough methodology" intended to empower people to transform their careers, relationships, and communities of interest into greatness in three-day workshops.
Although the Board set a goal of naming Day's successor this fall, one is yet to be appointed. She's promised to stay through January to ensure a smooth transition. Apparently, several prospects have been identified; among them are people who don't want to leave their current executive positions before the holidays, others (from the US, I guess) who don't want to relocate to Canada and even others who "aren't a good cultural fit," as one lulu insider was quoted saying recently in the Wall Street Journal. In commenting on Day's departure, Wilson praised her for being an "exceptional leader" and "successfully embracing the culture." Twice again, reference to "culture."
Last month, CNN Money suggested that perhaps Day's departure stems from a deeper dissatisfaction with lululemon's direction (read "culture"). The news piece included audio clips from a Canadian radio interview. Day said, "I believe in bringing all of yourself to work, and if there's a difference between who you are and your values, and how a company operates, you're always holding something back." Perhaps she and her values are inconsistent with Wilson's "lululemon culture." In the same interview, Day also says, "My values include discretion." Wilson, Whil and lulu don't do discretion. Despite the fact that she's been running the company for more than 5 years, it's clear that the culture continues to be inspired by Wilson's values.
Another one of the company's values. lululemon's "Frequently Asked Questions" website page states that "Quality is one of our core values," and that most of its product line is designed to "withstand five years of intended use." So, for now, I'm gonna assume that Day (like the pants) could only withstand five years of use under the Culture of Wilson. Maybe Day never fully embraced the corporate culture. Maybe she felt the Wilson rub all along. Maybe it's her. She's one of those women, you know, whose" bodies just don't work" for lulu yoga pants. I've never met Christine Day (although I consider her a heroine for leading lululemon), but I have seen pictures of her. I think she might be one of those women -- you know, like me, like one of us -- whose thighs rub together.
I have high hopes that Ms. Poseley will be one of us, too. I haven't met her either, haven't even seen a picture of her, but I know she comes from Kmart. With that background, I bet she understands a thing or two about thighs.
I hope Christine Day stays. I agree with Christine's values. And I want her values in my yoga pants.
(And, yes, even size 4 thighs rub together, I promise you!).