REI chief executive resigns over undisclosed ‘personal relationship’

The leader of one of the most ethical companies in retail has stepped down over a perceived conflict of interest.

At an employee meeting at REI headquarters, company chairman Steve Hooper announced that Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO, has resigned and will leave the co-op on March 15, 2019. Eric Artz, COO of REI, will take on the role of interim CEO, effective immediately.

In a statement, the outdoor apparel and gear retailer said that Stritzke resignation’s followed an investigation surrounding a “personal and consensual relationship” between Stritzke and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry. REI said that Stritzke, who has been president and CEO of REI since October 2013, resigned because he acknowledged that the facts led to “a perceived conflict of interest, which he should have disclosed under the REI conflict of interest policy, which requires every REI executive to model the highest standard of conduct.

Stritzke apologized to REI employees in an open letter, saying that, looking back, he recognizes he should have been transparent.

“REI expects high standards from its leaders,” he wrote. “The board and I agree that, in this instance, my decisions did not meet them and the last thing I want is to damage REI. I deeply regret that my actions could impact the co-op. You deserve better.”

REI emphasized that the investigation, conducted by an external law firm and overseen by the board, found that there was no financial misconduct.

“The board is otherwise satisfied that their expectations of how the two organizations should work together have been met,” REI stated.

In accepting Stritzke’s resignation, the board noted REI’s “consistently outstanding” business performance since he became CEO. In an open letter to employees, the board thanked Stritzke for his drive, creativity and many innovative contributions, highlighting that he recruited great talent and made a great number of successes possible.”

REI currently operates 147 stores in 36 states. The company repeatedly appears on “best places to work” listings and is known for its progressive culture and commitment to the environment. In a blog post in January, Stritzke said the company was giving “at least $250,000” to help with the restoration efforts in the nation’s national park from the damage. The $250,000 was in addition to the more than $10 million REI has given to the parks the last five years.