WSJ: Plank has ‘problematic’ relationship with MSNBC anchor

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Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank in 2016. Photo via Maryland GovPics/Flickr.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is reportedly involved with MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle, and executives at the Baltimore-based apparel company have expressed concerns the journalist has taken on an advisory role that executives find “unusual and problematic,” according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal.

Citing “a number of current and former executives,” the paper said Plank and Ruhle have grown incredibly close in recent years, and the Under Armour founder has become reliant on the journalist’s business advice. Ruhle was a managing director at Deutsche Bank before becoming a journalist.

Employees didn’t know “how to handle her feedback because many people believed she was romantically involved with Mr. Plank,” the paper says. Both are married.

According to the report, Plank took Ruhle’s advice over that of Under Armour executives in a few instances, including the decision to work with President Donald Trump in 2017–a choice that ultimately proved costly.

Some executives urged Plank to keep his distance from the president, but Ruhle gave advice on how to engage in talks with the president, the report says. Plank joined Trump’s American Manufacturing Council and called the president “an asset to the country” during a 2017 television interview.

Plank’s remarks drew intense criticism, most notably from Under Armour-sponsored athletes like basketball star Stephen Curry and ballerina Misty Copeland. Months later, he resigned from the council in the wake of a violent clash between white supremacists and anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, after which Trump remarked there were “some very fine people on both sides.”

In another example, the paper cites the viral infamy of the all-white Chef Curry shoes, which were promptly skewered on social media. The story says employees at Under Armour wanted to respond instantly. Instead, they were asked to hold off for two days so Ruhle could talk about them on TV.

Kelley McCormick, senior vice president of communications at Under Armour, vehemently denied the claims in the story that Plank and Ruhle are romantically together (they’re just friends, she says) and that Plank relies solely on her advice.

“The idea that Mr. Plank uniquely listens to any one individual is absurd,” she told the paper, adding that decisions are ultimately up to the entire management team. Plank and Ruhle declined interview requests from The Wall Street Journal.

Reached by Baltimore Fishbowl for additional comment, a company spokesperson said, “Mr. Plank is entirely focused on Under Armour and its success.”

Word of the relationship reportedly got to Under Armour’s board, leading to an inquiry into whether any company funds were used to finance the pair’s travel. According to the story, Under Armour leases a jet from a company owned by Plank for $166,667 per month.

“Mr. Plank told directors that it was a private matter and that no company funds were spent,” the paper says.

This is the second time in the last five months a story damaging to Plank and Under Armour has landed on the pages of the country’s foremost financial newspaper. 

Last November, the paper ran a story uncovering a culture of sexism and misconduct that included trips to the strip club on the company’s dime.

Brandon Weigel

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