James Curleigh Departs Keen for Levi’s

The search is under way for a new president at Keen after the surprise departure of President and CEO James Curleigh.

Company owner Rory Fuerst took over the CEO position last Friday, according to a Keen spokeswoman, and will oversee the executive search. Curleigh’s departure was announced to the firm on Tuesday.

Curleigh, who was named president of Keen in 2008 and later added the CEO title, also announced on Tuesday he will become president of the Levi’s brand and EVP of San Francisco-based Levi & Strauss Co. in July.

No timeline for naming Curleigh’s successor has been revealed. Under Fuerst, Keen will be forging ahead with a new five-year plan that prioritizes global growth and new product lines, as well as the move in 2013 to a new headquarters space in Portland, Ore.

Privately held Keen does not disclose exact numbers, but the company confirmed that annual sales are north of $200 million, with average growth of more than 20 percent year over year.

Next month, Keen will open its second branded store, in Tokyo. Modeled after the existing Keen Garage store in Portland, the Tokyo location will feature the brand’s footwear, socks and bags in a small, multifunctional space.

For their part, retailers were generally upbeat about the future of the brand, though uncertain about what changes might occur with the leadership shuffle.

James Brown, owner of a franchised Shoes N Feet in Shoreline, Wash., has been carrying the line for the past five or six years. “It’s always been a solid company, well thought out. I hope whoever takes the reins could continue to do a great job,” Brown said. “When leadership changes, you get a little concerned. The direction could go off in a different way. I hope it stays true to itself.”    

According to Brenda Baril, GM and buyer for Cornblooms in Madison, Wis., Keen has gone through some changes over the years, although she could not connect these changes to a given management team. “They’re still on the path to maintaining a good brand,” said Baril. “They’ve dropped back at different times, but I still have confidence in the brand. Perhaps they stayed on a look too long or [moved to a new one] too quickly, but they’ve always corrected themselves.”

Bob Pearl, owner of J.L. Coombs in Freeport, Maine, said he had never worked directly with James Curleigh, and therefore didn’t know the extent of the former CEO’s influence on the brand. However, he noted, Keen is a player that has come on strong, and he didn’t anticipate any changes in the way business is done. “They’re a pretty dependable brand,” Pearl said. “They have a certain fit, last and look that customers have come to expect.”

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