Away Co-Founder and CEO Steph Korey has become the latest retail executive to depart from her position, with the announcement made four days after The Verge published a story detailing a “toxic work environment” at the luggage brand. The CEO role will be assumed by lululemon athletica COO Stuart Haselden, effective Jan. 13, 2020.
It is unclear whether The Verge’s piece had an impact on the timing of Korey’s resignation. Away has been seeking a new CEO since the spring, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Former Away employees alleged that they were not allowed to email each other and that direct messages were limited to minor, non-work related subjects like lunch, according to The Verge. Instead, they were expected to use the chat app Slack, where direct messaging was discouraged in favor of transparent channels.
However, former employees claim that managers could oversee people’s conversations in a way that created a “culture of intimidation and constant surveillance,” according to The Verge. They alleged that Korey in particular was known for micromanaging and berating mistakes, often in a public manner.
Reports of a negative internal culture clash wildly with the brand’s consumer perception, which positions Away as a force of positivity. The “What we believe” section of its web site says that “we’re all in this together,” mentions the brand’s partnership with peace-focused nonprofit Peace Direct and says that the company values “access over aspiration.”
Modern shoppers prefer retailers that share their personal values, and the news surrounding Korey could threaten Away’s uplifting message. However, the company may have had another reason for seeking a new executive: maintaining its rapid growth.
Haselden Brings Operational And International Expertise
Away has experienced a landmark year in 2019: the retailer doubled its number of employees to 600, raised $100 million in a Series D funding round and achieved a valuation of $1.4 billion since January. Haselden is the highest-profile leader to join the company this year, but he joins eight vice presidents that were hired this year to keep up the momentum.
Haselden spent five years with lululemon, and during this time the retailer doubled its revenue and grew its market cap from $6 billion to nearly $30 billion. He also spearheaded category expansion, omnichannel development and growth in the retailer’s international footprint, which could be valuable experience for realizing Away’s own goals.
“With the immense growth of the Away brand, the complexities of our business have evolved as well,” said Jennifer Rubio, Co-Founder, President and Chief Brand Officer of Away. “Stuart’s deep experience across our three pillars of growth — product, retail, and international — and his passion for building, leading, and coaching teams will undoubtedly provide Away with the experience and leadership we need for long-term success.”
However, it remains to be seen if Haselden can solve Away’s cultural woes: the retailer he is coming from has come under fire for its own poor working environment. This led to the resignation of former lululemon CEO Laurent Potdevin in February 2018 for an unspecified conduct violation.