NKE: In A Rare State of Transition

Takeaway: Don't read this mgmt chg as a precursor to an EPS miss. But as great as NKE is with backfilling talent, it has many roles in transition.

Conclusion: Some things surprised us about Nike's announced management changes, other things did not.  Regardless, we don't think that it was timed such that there'd be a fall guy(s) for disappointing earnings to come next Thursday.   We think that the company will do its best to keep guidance for FYMay14 earnings grounded -- but that has absolutely nothing to do with what we saw after the close today. The bottom line is that most of the job changes make sense and have long-term organizational benefits -- but for the next quarter or two half a dozen key roles will be in transition.

 

 

Plain and simple, Charlie Denson (COO) is retiring. We all knew back in 2006 that this day would come. Back then Bill Perez was fired from the corner office and Mark Parker got the nod to take the CEO role over Denson -- who was then his equal. Denson is 57 and Parker is 56 -- they're both still young, and Parker isn't going anywhere soon.  Denson can't move any higher up the org chart.  He's sticking around until January 2014 -- hardly a time frame for an executive who's running for the door (or being pushed out of it). The press release says Parker is sad to see him go, and we think it's genuine.

 

We're pleased to see that there are no changes to the Finance organization -- notably Don Blair or his team. With Denson transitioning out, we think that Don Blair's stock inside the company will rise given Don's ability to lend expertise to a new incoming COO.  That said, it bugs us to see that Gary DeStefano is retiring. DeStefano is 54 years old, and has been at Nike for 31 years in too many roles to list. He's currently President of Global Operations, and will only be at the company for another five weeks.  Last we checked, that's a pretty important role.  The good news is that Denson will still be there to oversee the team while replacements are groomed. But out of the whole management change, if there was one part that we'd point to as being  potentially disruptive, this would be it.

 

One thing that was put in place at Nike over the past few years is that all employees that have managerial responsibilities have several people identified in their HR file who could easily step into their role in the event that they move on.  What this means is that if there is one higher-profile departure, then it sets off a domino-effect of other movement inside the organization.   Look at past press releases. Try to find an example where only one person leaves or moves to a different role.  You can't find it.

 

Another thing that works for Nike is that the company is not afraid to move its employees around the organization into and around different disciplines. Take for example Eric Sprunk (note: Wall Street universally loves the guy) who started his career at Price Waterhouse, and then after joining Nike in 1994 as Finance Director for the Americas, then Finance Director of Europe, Regional GM of Europe Footwear, GM Global Footwear, VP Global Product, EVP Merchandising and Product, and now COO. We could follow a similar track for almost all of the more successful Nike executives. 

 

In the end, this is all consistent with how we expect Nike to run it's business long-term, and it's what makes it so successful at what it does. We'll keep a closer eye on a few of these areas that are in transition, but over our 15-years covering the company have never been given reason to doubt the company's ability to manage through similar leadership changes without coming out on top.


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