Jerry Stritzke, the chief executive officer of REI, whom Forbes described as “The Authentic CEO Who Crushed Black Friday,” has resigned over a consensual relationship with the head of another outdoor organization, which the co-op said was a perceived conflict of interest. Chairman of REI’s board Steve Hooper called it “difficult news” and said, “The board formally accepted Jerry’s resignation yesterday, February 11, following an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding a personal and consensual relationship between Jerry and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.”

He will be replaced on an interim basis by Eric Artz, REI chief operating officer.

Here is the statement released by REI, followed by Stritzke’s letter to REI employees:

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SEATTLE – At an employee meeting at REI headquarters, REI Board Chair Steve Hooper announced this morning that Jerry Stritzke, President and CEO, has resigned and will be leaving the co-op on March 15, 2019. REI Chief Operating Officer Eric Artz will take on the role of interim CEO, effective immediately.

The board of directors formally accepted Jerry’s resignation on February 11 following an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding a personal and consensual relationship between the REI CEO and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.

The investigation was conducted by an external law firm and overseen by the board. It also thoroughly evaluated the working relationship between the REI Co-op and the partner organization and found that there was no financial misconduct. The board is otherwise satisfied that their expectations of how the two organizations should work together have been met.

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The board accepted his resignation while recognizing consistently outstanding business performance since Jerry took on the role as President and CEO in October 2013. The board thanked Mr. Stritzke in an open letter to employees for his drive, creativity and many innovative contributions to the co-op, highlighting that he has recruited great talent and made a great number of successes possible.

Eric Artz, REI Chief Operating Officer, will take on the role as interim CEO with REI in an historically strong position, reflecting an established succession plan. He does so at a time of financial strength and positive momentum. The board of directors has great confidence in Eric and the leadership team to manage REI during this transition while continuing to execute a clear and ambitious strategy.

Mr. Hooper said, “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.” He continued, “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. The conclusions of the investigation, however, 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.”

Mr. Stritzke, who has been President and CEO of REI since October 2013, resigned because he acknowledges that the facts led to a perceived conflict of interest, which he should have disclosed under the REI conflict of interest policy, which requires every REI executive to model the highest standard of conduct. He 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.”

Jerry Stritzke’s letter to REI employees:

REI,

This morning, here at our Kent headquarters, our Board Chair, Steve Hooper, announced that the REI board of directors has accepted my resignation as President and CEO of REI. My last day will be March 15. Eric Artz, REI Chief Operating Officer, will take on the role of interim CEO, effective immediately.

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Five years ago, I joined REI as CEO and started a new phase of my life. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of and to have led this organization. I have learned a great deal and while it is hard to leave, it’s the right time. I am grateful that I can transition an organization that I love to a seasoned leader in Eric and a talented team at a time when the co-op has real momentum. That’s a rare privilege as a CEO and this change gives me the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream—to go explore all the places that inspired me to join REI.

I offered my resignation because in recent weeks the board of directors and I have had a series of tough conversations about my decision to keep private a personal and consensual relationship with the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry. The board oversaw a thorough investigation that was conducted by an external law firm. While there was no financial misconduct, I should have told the board because my actions created a perceived conflict of interest to the co-op.

Looking back, I recognize I should have been transparent. REI expects high standards from its leaders. The board and I agree that, in this instance, my decisions did not meet them and the last thing I want is to damage REI. I deeply regret that my actions could impact the co-op. You deserve better.

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Looking ahead, both the board of directors and I are fully committed to ensuring that REI continues to thrive. I am confident that Eric will do a great job. I am grateful for his partnership during my tenure and fully support his stepping into the interim role. We have the right strategy, an excellent leadership team and REI is in a great place financially, so I know the co-op will continue to progress.

I have huge admiration for you all, and I believe fiercely that the work the co-op has done for 80 years has had an unmatched positive impact on the outdoors and on people’s lives. Thank you again for all you do and for the opportunity to lead.

See you outside,

Jerry

Photo by REI


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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.