Kevin Plank is stepping down as CEO of Under Armour, the athletic apparel he founded more than two decades ago and built into a giant with more than $5 billion in revenue, at the end of 2019.
President and COO Patrik Frisk will take over CEO duties on Jan. 1, and Plank will stay on as chairman of the board and “brand chief,” the firm announced this morning.
“Our multi-year, transition approach has ensured purposeful leadership continuity. Patrik is the right person to serve as Under Armour’s next CEO,” Plank said in a statement. “As my partner during the most transformative chapter in our history, he has been exceptional in his ability to translate our brand’s vision into world-class execution by focusing on our long-term strategy and re-engineering our ecosystem through a strategic, operational and cultural transformation.”
Frisk, who joined the company in 2017 after serving as CEO of the footwear conglomerate ALDO Group, said he is “honored to lead this great brand toward the realization of its full potential.”
Appearing on CNBC this morning alongside Frisk, Plank said stepping down was his decision and characterized the move as a shift from defense to offense, with Frisk running day-to-day operations while he continues to develop the long-term vision.
“It’s really divide and conquer, is the way we’re thinking about this,” Plank said. “This really elevates me, it elevates Patrick, and puts us both in a position to really be able to drive this global brand, which we have a massive opportunity with.”
Plank, a University of Maryland graduate and walk-on for the school’s football team, famously designed the moisture-wicking clothing line after being fed up with the sweat-soaked shirts that came from a game or long practice.
He launched the business out of the basement of a house his grandmother owned in Washington, D.C., and started out by sending prototypes to buddies from his football days, like quarterback Jim Druckenmiller and tight end Frank Wycheck. Word began to spread around locker rooms, and eventually Plank was landing contracts with major universities like Georgia Tech and N.C. State.
In 1998, as growth continued, Plank moved the company to Baltimore’s Tide Point. Six years later, following new product launches and more contracts, Under Armour became the official outfitter of Plank’s alma mater.
The company would go on to ink stars like all-world basketball guard Steph Curry, legendary quarterback Tom Brady, golf star Jordan Spieth, decorated skier Lindsey Vonna and ballet dancer Misty Copeland.
To date, the company has more than 14,000 employees and more than 300 retail and outlet stores around the world.
With his considerable wealth, Plank has revived Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County as a horse-training facility and built a highly regarded whiskey distillery and luxury hotel, while also making philanthropic donations and building a community center in East Baltimore.
But the company–and the stature of its leader–has had its struggles in recent years.
A $5.5 billion plan put forth by Plank’s real estate development firm, Sagamore Development Company, in 2016 requested $660 million in tax increment financing from the city to develop the former industrial peninsula Port Covington. The development company’s vision included a new corporate headquarters for Under Armour and a number of other buildings for retail, business and living.
The proposal received considerable pushback, with critics pointing to the city’s many needs and limited dollars, but was eventually approved by the city. As part of the agreement, Sagamore signed a community benefits agreement that would direct millions to improve neighborhoods in South Baltimore that would be affected by the project.
In 2017, Plank was criticized for cozying up to President Donald Trump as a member of the White House’s Manufacturing Council. Appearing on CNBC, Plank referred to Trump as “pro-business” and a “real asset” in the midst of the controversy surrounding an executive order, known as the “Muslim ban,” that halted the admission of people from Muslim-majority countries.
The backlash arrived quickly and even came from Under Armour endorsers such as Curry and Copeland. As Fortune noted at the time, the public relations nightmare caused on analyst to downgrade the company.
Plank took out a full-page ad in The Sun to respond to the criticism, saying his company stands for “equal rights” and that immigration is “a source of strength.” But he remained on the council, and didn’t leave until August, after Trump was part of another controversy, this time in the wake of a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Responding to the questions about a clash between demonstrators and counter-protesters–which included a white supremacist driving a Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people, killing one woman–Trump remarked there were “very fine people on both sides.”
In the years since, Under Armour has withstood dreary earnings reports and criticism from analysts, as well as public relations gaffes strip club outings funded by expense accounts and the board’s questioning of Plank’s relationship with MSNBC journalist Stephanie Ruhle.