At Nike, alleged misconduct, a circling of wagons, and a leaked memo

The sportswear retailer sent a missive to employees announcing the resignation of Trevor Edwards, its No. 2 executive. It found its way to journalists, but the company stayed reticent.

Nike is playing it close to the swoosh-emblazoned vest regarding misconduct allegations against a top executive.

The sudden retirement of Trevor Edwards was accompanied by an internal memo from current CEO Mark Parker, which referenced improper conduct at the company but offered no specific details.

That memo was leaked to journalists, undercutting the company’s policy of not commenting publicly on employee matters.

So far, Nike has vaguely responded to media requests, perhaps in an effort to distance the brand from its former star marketer.

The New York Times wrote:

Trevor Edwards, a top Nike executive who was seen as a potential successor to the chief executive, is stepping down, the company said on Thursday.

On the same day, the company sent a memo to employees disclosing internal complaints about workplace behavior, Greg Rossiter, a spokesman, confirmed.

“There has been conduct inconsistent with Nike’s core values and against our code of conduct,” he said. “There have been no direct allegations of misconduct against Trevor.”

The company has managed to tamp down inquiries about Edwards by citing a policy of silence on internal employee affairs.

The New York Times continued:

The company did not specify why Mr. Edwards was leaving. His decision to resign was finalized this week, Mr. Rossiter said.

Nike does not disclose details of individual employment actions, said Mr. Rossiter, who would not say how many complaints the company had received, the nature of the complaints or when the first was received. Nike managers have spoken to “a cross-section of employees” about the issue, he said.

Though Nike clearly wants to keep the reasons behind Edwards’ departure under wraps, the internal memo to employees was leaked to reporters. It’s a reminder that all executive communications should be crafted in a manner that could withstand potential external scrutiny.

Excerpts of Parker’s letter to employees were published by Fast Company.

It wrote:


Over the past few weeks, we’ve become aware of reports of behavior occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect, and empowerment at a time when we are accelerating our transition to the next stage of growth and advancing our culture. This disturbs and saddens me . . .

We are going to be doing a comprehensive review of our HR systems and practices along with elevating our complaint process for matter[s] of respect issues. We will increase and invest more heavily in our diversity and inclusion teams and networks and additionally will immediately put in place an enhanced process to encourage our employees to speak up and make their voices heard . . .

Further I want to share with you that in light of my desire to accelerate change, I’ve made the decision to restructure my leadership team into a different alignment that will allow for closer management and a sharper focus on our culture . . . I also want to communicate that I am committed to serve as Chairman, President, and CEO for Nike beyond 2020. Trevor Edwards has decided to resign as Nike Brand President and will retire in August. He will serve as an advisor to me until his retirement as we transition the organization.

I’d like to thank [Edwards] for his significant contributions to Nike over the last 25 years. He has helped us grow and strengthen our brand on a global scale . . .

Nike did not elaborate when reporters followed up.

Bloomberg reported:

“There had been conduct inconsistent with Nike’s principles and we are taking the appropriate actions,” spokesman Greg Rossiter said by phone.

Though the company has tried to spin Edwards’ departure as a retirement, few believe that the split was mutual.

ESPN reported:

Edwards, the No. 2 employee at the world’s largest shoe and apparel company, was responsible for managing Nike’s sales units across the world, its wholesale, retail and e-commerce business. Although he was at the company since 1992, sources say there has been no outward talk that the 55-year-old Edwards was ready to retire and the high position that he holds at the company normally includes a greater wind-down before retirement.

The ouster comes as many companies are responding to allegations of harassment in the workplace, and as the #MeToo movement continues to exert pressure on companies to swiftly crack down on improper behavior.

There could be more bad news on the horizon for Nike.

Bloomberg continued:

The shake-up comes as Nike tries to cope with a sales slump in its key North American market. Adidas AG has been taking market share, and the industry is scrambling to adapt to shifting buying patterns.

With Edwards out as steward of the Nike brand, the turnaround effort now falls to the other executives.

The good news is, his departure doesn’t seem to be a sign of “business deterioration,” Wedbush analyst Christopher Svezia said in a report. “We are also encouraged by Mr. Parker’s extended tenure as CEO, which we argue is good for the company.”

Nike employees have largely refrained from offering public takes on the departure, but some insider sentiment has leaked.

Others were ready to connect the resignation to the #MeToo movement.

What do you think of Nike’s PR response?

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