and hair). Men’s sales have grown over 20% annually in the past three years to roughly $330 million on the strength of products like the chic ABC trousers, designed to be particularly comfortable in the area below a man’s waist. (Its acronym spells out as “anti-ballcrushing.”) At its stores, Potdevin has added more male “educators” (its Orwellian term for its in-store sales force) and recruited more male “ambassadors” (its term for local trainers, coaches and yoga instructors who get gear and support in exchange for promoting Lululemon). But now that the nondisparagement agreement has expired, the 61-year-old Wilson is vocal again. Wall Street, for its part, doesn’t seem to care. “We are starting to see the results of stable management, and we’re going to see what this company can do as a stable company,” says McClintock, the Barclays analyst. The obvious thing for Wilson to do would be to put his money where his mouth is and buy out Lululemon. He’d need to partner with a private equity ﬁrm or some other investor; his $2 billion fortune is well short of Lululemon’s $7.6 billion market cap. But he isn’t keen on launching a takeover attempt. He could also devote all his time to re-creating his Lululemon rocket ride at Kit and Ace, which has sales of an estimated $70 million. Instead, he seems content to just nag. A few months ago Wilson purchased a large ad at a bus stop outside Lululemon headquarters in Vancouver, directing commuters to check out ElevateLululemon.com, where Wilson explains his vision for running the company. “It’s my way of talking to the company, because the type of CEO it has and type of direction it is getting are not long-term-driven,” Wilson says. Launching a startup in a nascent industry, it turns out, is far different from managing a large company in a mature one. Some founders get that; most don’t. Which leaves Wilson facing what haunts the nightmares of parents everywhere: ﬁlial rejection. “Chip’s the founder, a large shareholder, so he’s certainly entitled to his opinion,” Potdevin says with a shrug. “It’s not a distraction—just noise.”
“You can only lose what you cling to.” —BUDDHA 42 | FORBES DECEMBER 30, 2016
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a public relations nightmare,” says Barclays analyst Matt McClintock. In came Potdevin, then 46, who says he found “turmoil about the product, turmoil about the founder.” The board bought Potdevin some breathing room by reining in Wilson. It persuaded the founder to sell some of his stake to a private equity ﬁrm, agree to a two-year nondisparagement agreement and give up his board seat. Wilson eventually retreated to advise a rival clothing company called Kit and Ace, which his wife and son had founded. Meanwhile Potdevin searched for new lieutenants. “I had to rebuild the management team to really be in a position to write the next chapter,” he says. One of his most important additions was Stuart Haselden as chief ﬁnancial officer. Haselden also oversees the supply chain, meaning he guards against any more sheer pants—enforcing more timely orders of materials, a more efficient calendar and stricter testing at factories. Haselden and the other top four executives have all joined Lululemon in the post-Wilson era. Potdevin has created a ﬁercely loyal group with virtually no ties to the founder. The only thing that’s the same: Wilson’s insular culture (Atlas Shrugged still adorns company bookshelves). The new human resources chief, Gina Warren, a whispery-voiced exNike executive, likes to refer to the staff as a “collective.” Incoming employees get indoctrinated during a grueling boot camp lasting as long as 60 days. They learn about a corporate structure that asks managers to wholly trust their direct reports’ ability to achieve success in a relatively ﬂat management structure. “It’s creating the conditions for clarity and then letting people play,” says the new marketing chief, Duke Stump, who acknowledges the similarities to Zappos’ controversial “holacracy.” “It goes sideways at times, but people are creating stuff.” And it’s also working. Analysts expect Lululemon to hit $2.3 billion in revenue in 2016. One of Potdevin’s successes: men’s clothing, an area mostly eschewed by Wilson, who imbued Lululemon with an unmistakable feminine orientation (its “A” logo, for instance, resembles the silhouette of a woman’s head
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