REI announced Tuesday that President and CEO Jerry Stritzke has resigned and will leave the company on March 15. The move follows an investigation "into the facts and circumstances surrounding a personal and consensual relationship between the REI CEO and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry," according to a company press release.
According to the company's statement, the relationship was not properly disclosed, which is the reason for Stritzke's resignation. The company was also quick to note, however, that the external law firm hired for the investigation found no financial misconduct between the two companies. REI's board also said it was "otherwise satisfied" that its expectations of how the organizations work together have been met.
Stritzke, who has served as REI's president and CEO since 2013, will be succeeded by current COO Eric Artz in the interim as the company searches for a permanent replacement.
Stritzke's surprise resignation is a tough blow to REI, and a letter to employees from Steve Hooper, chair of REI's board of directors, emphasized the bittersweet nature of his departure.
Hooper praised Stritzke for his "tireless work" at REI, along with his "drive, dedication and many contributions to the co-op," which included the launch of REI's now famous #OptOutside campaign. "Jerry has been an excellent CEO for REI and together with a strong team has consistently delivered outstanding results for our co-op," Hooper said in a statement.
Nevertheless, Stritzke's undisclosed relationship "created a perceived conflict of interest to the co-op," Stritzke wrote in a letter to employees, admitting that he should have informed the board and that his lack of transparency did not meet REI's standards for its executives.
While the board claims the investigation revealed no financial or other misconduct, the resignation comes at a time when many retail executives are being held accountable for their actions, whether those be fostering an adverse company culture or individual misconduct. Shedding itself of an executive, even one so valuable, who has stepped out of bounds, may be necessary for REI to maintain a healthy executive environment.
"Errors of judgment were made and Jerry and the board agree that REI needs a new leader to take the co-op forward from its very strong position," Hooper said. Stritzke agreed, in his own statements, that it was time to leave and expressed confidence that Artz could lead the company forward.
"[T]he last thing I want is to damage REI," Stritzke wrote. "I deeply regret that my actions could impact the co-op. You deserve better."