Lululemon’s 2015 CFO Change Shows the Shifting Nature of Top Executive Responsibilities


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Lululemon Athletica Inc., arguably one of the more coveted suppliers of athletic gear, began 2015 by announcing that it would be replacing the current company’s chief financial officer, John Currie, with former J. Crew CFO Stuart Haselden. The announcement came as a bit of a surprise to many Canadians, considering that analysts predicted that the company would have a bumpy start to the new year.

The Wall Street Journal even notes that Lululemon “topped expectations” for third-quarter earnings in November 2014, but that the company expected 2014 holiday sales to be lower than usual — a result of multiple factors like West Coast shipping delays, the lowering value of the Canadian dollar, and the rise Gap’s (cheaper) line of athletic clothes.

So why does any of this matter to other Canadian businesses?

To put it as simply as possible, Lululemon’s decision to make a big change with one of the company’s highest executive management jobs — especially during such a shaky time — shows that careers in corporate finance, including top financial management jobs, are changing in terms of expectations and responsibilities. Corporate finance careers are still one of the more lucrative and stable careers to have, and there are plenty of opportunities to advance, but only if the employees, the management teams, and the company as a whole is willing to be flexible and take big risks.

It’s hard enough to serve as the CEO equivalent for a company’s financial department — which is traditionally what chief operating officers are expected to do — and it’s even more difficult to switch to another company entirely, while still managing the same amount of work.

Nevertheless, that’s exactly where the corporate financial industry is headed: to a place where flexibility and fluidity are valued, and where top executive management jobs are inhabited by people who are willing to take risks and jump into potentially messy situations, much like what Lululemon’s new CFO has done.

Individual companies in the industry, in turn, also need to be taking big risks and be willing to admit when a decision, a strategy, or a product line has failed. Most importantly, companies need to realize that the best solutions for their problems might lie with individuals outside of the company.

If Lululemon continues on this path of flexibility, it might just have a great year of sales. And as for other Canadian companies, there’s no reason why they should hesitate to follow suit.

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