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January 19, 2014

New REI chief drops suit and tie

Three months after taking the helm at REI, Jerry Stritzke looks every bit the part of CEO at the Northwest's popular outdoor-equipment retailer.

Stritzke, 53, walks the grounds of REI's Kent, Wash., headquarters sporting a three-day stubble and none of your typical CEO attire. Jeans, flannel shirt and Patagonia vest have replaced the suit and tie he wore as president and chief operating officer at posh New York-based handbag-maker Coach.

The Stillwater, Okla., native describes himself as an avid outdoorsman — a guy who spends his summer vacations fly-fishing and mountain-climbing, skis and snowboards in the winter, and now bikes to work from his new home on Mercer Island.

While his appointment last fall to REI's top post seemed something of a head-scratcher, Stritzke said the opportunity to combine his retail expertise with a passion for the outdoors "was really a dream come true."

He gives off the impression that selling tents and bikes, not pricey purses, is what he was meant to do all along.

"We do a lot of different things for work," he said of REI's core customers. "But our love for the outdoors is a constant through our lives, and that's been true for me."

Stritzke is the seventh CEO in REI's 75-year history, replacing Sally Jewell, who joined the Obama administration as secretary of the interior last spring.

Jewell, a former banker, led REI through the Great Recession as CEO for eight years, nearly doubling its annual sales from $1 billion in 2005 to $1.9 billion in 2012.

Stritzke, a lawyer by training, brings a different background to REI. He was the No. 2 executive of publicly traded Coach for more than five years. Before then, he held a number of top posts at Limited Brands in Columbus, Ohio, including a stint as COO of Victoria's Secret.

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