Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is facing a new round of criticism regarding his leadership of the firm he founded more than two decades ago.
A Wall Street Journal report today, citing sources “familiar with the matter,” described unusually close ties between Plank and MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle. The publication further reported that Plank has been scrutinized by the Under Armour board of directors for his personal relationship with Ruhle and its impact on the company.
In response to FN’s request for comment, an Under Armour spokesperson said, “Mr. Plank is entirely focused on Under Armour and its success.”
In addition to traveling on a private jet leased by Under Armour from a company Plank owns, Ruhle is reported to have served as an influential adviser to the athletic executive and helped to shape his business decisions. WSJ cited several instances in which Plank allegedly followed Ruhle’s advice over the opinions of others. One occasion was following the 2016 release of an all-white version of the Curry 2 Low, which was panned online and earned the shoe the nickname “Chef Curry.” Sources told WSJ the UA team was delayed from responding online until Ruhle could speak about the shoes on her show.
The publication also suggested Ruhle was influential in Plank’s early involvement in President Donald Trump’s manufacturing advisory council and controversial statements he made seemingly in support of the president’s so-called Muslim ban.
Today’s report comes after a tough stretch for Plank and his team, who have been grappling with soft sales, management turnover and the fallout from a November WSJ article alleging that Under Armour’s staffers engaged in a yearslong practice of expensing strip club visits and that its managers invited women to company events based on their attractiveness.
In an exclusive interview with FN this month, the CEO rejected allegations that the company had a “frat boy” culture and that its management treated women and other minority employees unfairly.
“I always want to understand how people feel, [but] I reject that,” Plank said of the accusations. “I don’t know how to be more clear: I pride myself [on] challenging my children to think first and foremost about being global citizens. I’d like to be a global citizen. I’ve been striving for it my entire life. Diversity of thought is something I welcome more than anything I can imagine. It’s what I want this company to be; it’s the constituency we sell to.”
The leader also struck down claims that he is difficult to work with — describing his current leadership style as one that “has evolved.”
“I’m a leader with a point of view, without question, but the strength of our business can’t be simply reliant on a good idea from one [person]. … I’m not by nature a patient individual, and that’s what it took to get Under Armour built,” he said. “But I recognize that in this next chapter, I can’t say, ‘I have a great idea, and I want this out in six months.’”
In today’s era of heightened transparency, executives are being closely examined for their decisions both personal and professional. Last week, REI president and CEO Jerry Stritzke resigned following the conclusion of an investigation surrounding a “personal and consensual relationship” that he had with the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.
Last year, athletic behemoth Nike Inc. shouldered its own #MeToo moment after approximately 10 executives exited the company amid reports that some of the brand’s managers fostered a “boys club” culture.