Plank has been Under Armour’s only chief executive, as well as its public face, since its formation in 1996. He was still a student at the University of Maryland when he began working on performance apparel — gear engineered to keep athletes cool and dry — in his grandmother’s basement. He moved the company to Baltimore two years later, and helped make athleisure a go-to even off the field or court. He took Under Armour public in 2005, and today it is a $9.2 billion company that can hold its own with industry giants Nike and Adidas.
In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Plank said the transition would give Frisk, 56, control of day-to-day operations and allow Plank to ease into the role of executive chairman and brand chief, allowing him to focus on a broader vision for the company.
Plank said he was under no pressure from the board or the rest of the leadership team but that “this is the right time” for a change. Frisk said there had been discussions that he might someday succeed Plank as CEO.
“This was my decision,” said Plank, 47, emphasizing that he wasn’t going into retirement.
Some had been calling for new leadership at Under Armour, in part, because of troubling reports about its work culture. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that visits to strip clubs were allowable work-related expenses. Other reports highlighted some female and minority employees who said they were disregarded for promotions.
In a Tuesday-morning note, analysts at Oppenheimer wrote that “Kevin Plank represents the visionary behind the Under Armour brand” and that, over time, investors could look more favorably on the potential for a seasoned operator to take the helm of the company while Plank stays plugged into product development.
“That said, reading between the lines, we interpret today’s news from Under Armour as a potential signal that the company continues to struggle at least somewhat in its repositioning efforts.”
Plank’s tenure has often been intertwined with pressing social and political issues facing Baltimore and the nation. In July, when President Trump derided the Baltimore congressional district of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) as a “rodent infested mess,” Plank defended Under Armour’s hometown of 21 years.
According to state data, Under Armour is one of Baltimore’s largest employers, with nearly 1,900 workers. In 2016, Plank announced that he had acquired more than 100 acres in the Port Covington industrial area of Baltimore, an expanse slated for a multibillion-dollar development comprising 45 city blocks and more than two miles of riverfront.
In response to Trump’s attacks, Plank shared a video on Instagram showing glimpses of everyday life in Baltimore, classrooms and basketball courts alike. The video made no direct mention of Trump but asked, “What would happen if we rose up together?”
“We grew up in this city, made our name in this city,” the narrator says. “But there’s more we can do. … The world knows better than to count us out.”
After violent protests in Charlottesville in August 2017, Plank left the White House’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, along with Merck chief executive Kenneth C. Frazier and Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich. Many sharply criticized Trump for not explicitly condemning neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan or white nationalist groups from the start of the protests, and for stating that there had been an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
In a statement at the time, Plank said: “We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing. However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”