Chip a Dick…or did he just have a moment of being a lemon?
It’s easy to judge on a single comment… and start screaming; “off with his head!”
Especially when you aren’t the one making the comment.
But take a moment and consider this: How many times have you said stuff that you knew was stupid the moment it fell out of your mouth? Come on, if you are human, you’ve had one of those moments. I’m willing to bet that the second the words left your mouth, you wished you could wind back time and Not say that stupid shit you just said, because you sounded like a complete lemon!
It’s not just the young and foolish who do this. Even high-powered leaders have been known to suffer from foot in mouth in disease. What sets an average leader apart from authentic, empowered leaders is what they do when they find their foot stuffed deep between their jaws.
So let me tell you about a particular day I had…
Like most people I had never met Chip. I’d only heard of him through people we had in common. We were both bundled up pretty good that day, because although it was nice and sunny, it was also a little brisk. He and I crossed the street from Starbucks where we had met up and walked toward the beach for our 45-minute walk/meet up.
We spoke about many things including the coaches and consultants he had brought into his company to assist its growing to the next level. Chip even took the time to ask me what I thought I could bring to the company. We spoke about the fact that he was excited about the new leadership team they had put in place. I asked him what it was like to hand over a company he had birthed to a board of directors since the company had gone public, and he was quite open and frank about his loss of influence and a sensed a slight sadness.
With a background of 30 years in psychology, leadership and the behavioral sciences I consider myself a pretty good judge of character and a profiler of what drives people. (Sometimes it feels like I’m a bit too good at it, because I can I see stuff, I’d rather wasn’t true. Of course, over time what I see in the shadows almost always finds its way into the light).
During our conversation I could feel that Chip was not one of those people who feels instantly comfortable with others. He didn’t strike me as a natural “people person”and maybe even a little socially awkward. However, in all fairness, we had never met before and he didn’t know me from a bar of soap, so why should he had been comfortable?
Although he didn’t come off as a particularly warm and fuzzy guy, he was clearly driven by something bigger than “financial success.” When he spoke of his company there was passion and purpose in his voice, maybe even love. Not so much of the entity itself, but rather of what he felt the company stood for, and certainly for the people and culture that is, by some people’s standards, cult like.
The man I was talking with was Chip Wilson of Lululemon Athletica.
As you are no doubt aware, in a recent Bloomberg interview Chip Wilson had one of those moments, a foot in mouth moment. Bloomberg’s Trish Regan asked Chip about the fact that there had been a lot of talk lately about how Lululemon product had seemed to have gone down in quality and that their Yoga Pants were “pilling” and becoming “see-through.”
Chip responded with: “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, and how much they use it.”
“So not every woman can wear Lululemon yoga pants?” Regan asked.
“I think they can,” Wilson said. “It depends on how you use it.”
There was more to the interview, however, those few sentences created outrage, and in turn sent shock waves out into the business world. In fact an associate of mine, Jeffery Hayzlett, who hosts C-Suite on Bloomberg TV said that Chip Wilson had given a good lesson on how to destroy a brand.
I get it. A lot of people were upset, and I am often the first to say that I think the fashion industry pretty much sucks when it comes to the shitty messages it sends to women about their bodies and how they are not good enough unless they are a size zero, particularly as the average American woman wears size 12-14. Despite the fact that this was clearly Not a great example of Relationship Based Leadership; I have to say I was at a bit of a loss on this one. I didn’t find what he said particularly offensive.
I decided I needed to check if I just missed the point, so I asked my wife (whose thighs do touch) and she said, she was not particularly offended by Chip’s comments, although she did think that the quality of the product had indeed significantly deteriorated.
Fair enough. However, from a business point of view, as a business mentor, here’s where I think Chip went off the rails.
During the interview he said: “We are a technology company and when you push technology [that’s not like software] an actual physical product, there’s a thousand things that could go wrong,” Then later in the interview he added: “We may not be so much of an athletic apparel company as we are a leadership company.”
I truly believe Chip was ill prepared for the question about the product and probably thought the whole thing would be a soft lob for his wife’s new meditation brand. Because his lack of accountability for the brand, he did not come off in the interview as the kind of leader I felt he was during our meeting.
I actually liked Chip’s comment about being a technology company. I just wish I could have whispered where to go next…
You see if he had said in the interview: “…and as such it’s true that the quality of our product has suffered. And I want to say to you–We let you down, and I personally take responsibility, I am genuinely sorry! And I will be meeting with my board to make it right with you. You have been faithful customers, we appreciate you and your belief in Lululemon and we are going to make this right”. If Chip would have said something of this sort, he would have shown himself as a true and authentic leader that I believe he wants to portray. I also believe that this whole thing would have had entirely different outcome. Such a statement may have even built on the previous fierce loyalty of the brand!
That being said; the next day Chip did put out an apology… Sadly it sucked!
I’m sorry, but who ever worked with Chip to prep him did a crappy job! Chip’s apology did not resemble anything I have suggested and was not even slightly aimed at the customer, but rather the Lululemon employees. Big mistake!
I told you earlier that Chip has a genuine love for the culture and I sincerely appreciate that he apologized to those who suffered the backlash of his comments. However, it was the customers, the people who put money in the cash registers of the Lululemon stores that allows the people who work there to keep their jobs. Those are the people who needed the apology.
And so we arrive at the final question: Is Chip Wilson a dick or did he just behave like a lemon?
My vote goes with: Lemon!
Did he put his foot in his mouth?
Oh yeah, big time! However, maybe we should allow him at least this one human moment. (As I said before, we’ve all done that!)
Did he give a crappy apology?
Will he, and for that matter Lululemon survive this PR disaster?
Without doubt, and judging from the time we spent walking on the Kitsilano beach, as the dust settles Chip will be smart enough to bring an outside person in to show him his blind spot and he (and in all likelihood LuluLemon) will grow from there.
And that, my friends, is the hallmark of a true leader… You get knocked down, and you get back up!
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Dov Baron Speaks internationally on leadership in the new economy. He is the Leading expert on The Power of Authentic Vulnerable Leadership and is the world’s Only Corporate Cultural Strategist. To bring Dov in to speak to your group or organization please contact Baron Mastery at +1 778 397 7717
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