Can a hospitality bigwig bring new life to Under Armour?
In a surprise move, Under Armour last week named Stephanie Linnartz, the current president of Marriott International, as its third CEO.
Ms. Linnartz, who has been with Marriott since 1997 and president since 2021, takes over on February 27, 2023. Colin Browne, interim CEO, will return to the COO role.
She replaces Patrik Frisk, who stepped down in June. Mr. Frisk earned credit for executing a multi-year restructuring that culled unprofitable divisions, endorsements and distribution while speeding up its go-to-market approach. Kevin Plank, founder and former long-time CEO of Under Armour, has indicated he’s now looking for the brand to “pivot to offense.”
Ms. Linnartz comes from a much larger organization (more than $20 billion in annual revenue versus about $5.9 billion for Under Armour) with global reach. A female-led management team could better guide Under Armour’s approach to reaching women, an underpenetrated opportunity for most major sports brands outside of Lululemon.
Under Armour is also seeking to be a bigger player in fashion and lifestyle apparel, areas where Nike and Adidas make a significant amount of their sales. Under Armour has refocused on its roots in performance products in recent years.
The younger demographic that first ignited the brand’s success will also have to be won back. In Piper Sandler’s recent fall “Taking Stock With Teens” survey, Under Armour dropped out of the top 10 most popular brands for teenagers.
Mr. Plank, who is executive chairman, told CNBC that Under Armour is prioritizing “digitization, product and brand” following five years of restructuring.
According to Under Armour’s statement, Ms. Linnartz was “responsible for leading Marriott’s multibillion-dollar digital transformation” and helping grow its loyalty program, Bonvoy, to 173 million members. She has also developed multi-year partnerships with the NFL, the NCAA and the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team.
One challenge could be working in sync with Mr. Plank. He told CNBC, “She and I will be partners. We’re not hiding from that.”
Ms. Linnartz has also been on Home Depot’s board since 2018 but doesn’t have direct retail or sports industry experience. Mr. Plank told The New York Times, ”Those fresh eyes are going to be really helpful for Under Armour.”
- Under Armour Announces Stephanie Linnartz As President And CEO – Under Armour
- Under Armour picks Marriott exec Stephanie Linnartz to be new CEO after seven-month search – CNBC
- Struggling Under Armour Hires ‘Fresh Eyes’ From Marriott to Lead It – The New York Times
- Stephanie Linnartz, the incoming president and CEO of Under Armour Inc. – WWD
- Under Armour choice of Marriott exec as CEO surprises, excites analysts – Baltimore Business Journal
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the hiring of Stephanie Linnartz to guide Under Armour’s next phase of growth? What are the advantages and disadvantages of outside CEO hires?