American billionaire businessman Kevin Plank founded the sportswear brand Under Armour with the goal of designing and developing better undergarments that could control and wick away sweat during intense physical activity on and off the athletic field. Inspired by his college football experience, Plank ran his fledgling business from his grandmother’s townhouse starting in 1996 and sold his first product out of his car. He convinced his college athlete buddies of the quality and uniqueness of his line.
The company launched into mega sales with two big breaks in 1999 and 2000: Signing to supply product for the Oliver Stone movie “Any Given Sunday” and with a $25,000 ad in ESPN Magazine. These ventures boosted sales over the $1 million mark and then to $1 billion over the next 10 years. By 2019, Plank was ready to change direction from his CEO role after developing his vision into the global sportswear brand it is today.
Why Did Kevin Plank Step Down?
Patrik Frisk, Under Armour’s president and chief operating officer since 2017, took over as CEO on January 1, 2020. Reporting to executive chairman and brand chief Kevin Plank, Frisk will continue the close partnership with Plank, and he has succeeded in cleaning up the company’s supply chain, reorganizing management, and creating new product development processes.
Far from retiring, Kevin Plank has stressed that “Under Armour is my heart and full-time job.” He explains that his changing role is part of a well-planned evolution of company leadership that enables him to lead the board of directors and focus on product elevation while developing the team and the brand story. In a letter to employees, he explained that these changes have come out of a three-year strategic plan to improve the company and the brand, strengthening it for the future with the goal of “making Under Armour the best athletic brand in the world.” Plank plans to focus on the company vision, and stepping out of the CEO role will enable him to do that.
Plank’s role change is part of a plan that’s well-prepared for the evolution of the brand, as he’s been working closely with Frisk for over two years on the transition. During that time, the executive and the company have worked through many business challenges and opportunities. Those include opening a huge distribution warehouse, and losing retail floor space from big retail customers.
What Does This Mean for Under Armour?
As 2020 gets underway, investors and consumers alike may be wondering what Plank’s new role as brand chief entails and what it means for the Under Armour brand. It’s nothing new for founding CEOs to step down or step back and take different roles to develop their companies. Plank is in good company as Bill Gates left his CEO role at Microsoft to focus on software strategy and Ralph Lauren left his CEO position but remains executive chairman and creative officer.
In his role as CEO, Frisk is looking forward to the opportunity to lead Under Armour’s team through transitions and improvements. His experience working all over the world is an asset that made him attractive as a candidate for CEO.
With consumers buying athletic apparel and shoes from competitors such as Nike, Adidas, and Puma in recent months, keeping and increasing sales is another industry challenge Under Armour is facing. Sponsoring colleges and universities, partnering with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic to provide commercial space travel apparel and footwear, and opening a huge new distribution warehouse are just some of the initiatives to get and keep sales moving upward.
In Development at Under Armour
While Under Armour has staked its claim on the performance athlete and the brand is consciously positioned around athletic performance, the company’s founder Kevin Plank and its new CEO Frisk say the brand doesn’t separate performance athletics from athleisure. They are hard at work on innovation, great messaging, and a growth mindset.
They are tapping directly into the consumer with apps and data to develop trusting relationships with a visual handshake. Map My Run and My Fitness Pal provide strong raw data about how athletes and everyday people alike view and use fitness support, including apparel and shoes. They explain that nine distinct categories including running, training, and basketball provide the data for Under Armour to compete with rival brands Nike and Adidas by focusing on the consumer with innovations for what’s important to them. Information from consumers and athletes drives the innovation that drives product development.
Plank and Frisk describe data as a super strength for the brand, enabling Under Armour to better understand what will benefit and support the consumer. They see that as a real asset for the company going forward, providing an almost unlimited opportunity to develop the brand through innovative product development and introduction. Focusing on the consumer and solving consumer problems is their strategy to grow the brand and increase sales while keeping its position as one of the top three athletic apparel brands worldwide.
Under Armour Going Forward
Plank and Frisk explain that moving Under Armour forward is not always smooth, but all the groundwork of 2017, 2018, and 2019 is coming together and is future-focused. They both agree that it’s an amazing brand that they want to be eternal. They both have a shared vision for the brand, the company, and the future that includes entrepreneurial drive and understanding the brand with the operational experience for the next stage.
Under Armour has been at the forefront of the trend to put technical qualities in athletic clothing such as sweat wicking and temperature control when the clothing is worn outside on a hot or cold day. Their consumers say you feel like you’re an athlete when you’re wearing Under Armour clothes, which have an athletic look but are also fashionable. The company and its leaders understand this and are hard at work to provide what their customers want and need, now and in the future.