Under Armour and other large organizations have a “massive opportunity … to use this moment in time” to improve the diversity of their workplace cultures, the Baltimore brand’s founder told Washington-area business people Tuesday.
Addressing a meeting of The Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank talked about playing football in high school, trying out his new t-shirt idea on University of Maryland football teammates, signing young athletes with a keen understanding of their market value and how a “gritty” Baltimore attracted him to move his then two-person company away from Washington in 1998.
During a “conversation-style” interview with David M. Rubenstein, president of the club and co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group, Plank touched on the evolution of the brand, connecting to consumers and the progress of the company’s three-year restructuring plan.
Rubenstein asked Plank about the corporate culture, saying the company had been in the news recently “for the nature of inclusion.”
“As the CEO, I am fully responsible for everything that happens in my company,” Plank told the audience at the Marriott Marquis Washington. “What I’m required to do, and what I’m accountable for is the action we take when bad things happen, and I think we’ve been incredibly proactive in terms of issues that arise.”
Under Armour came under fire earlier this month after it was disclosed that employees were allowed to charge strip club visits and other adult entertainment to expense accounts. The Wall Street Journal reported that Under Armour ended that practice only this year and went on to say that the company fostered a workplace culture in other ways that were demeaning to female employees.
The company responded to the report, saying it has addressed “serious allegations of the past,” and will continue to address behavior in the workplace that violates policies.
In response to one question Tuesday, Plank said that half the Under Armour workforce is diverse by some measure and said the brand gets too little credit for its $1.2 billion women’s business.
The brand will continue “to invest into our culture and make sure everything is inclusive and it’s diverse and something that is an equal opportunity for anybody who wants to join our brand,” Plank said. “That’s not just simply a statement. … It’s the best thing for our business.”
Under Armour is one of numerous companies and organizations forced to confront discriminatory polices and inappropriate behavior in the #MeToo era, where more employees feel emboldened to speak out.
On more comfortable ground, Plank described how he and co-founder Kip Fulks decided to relocate the company from Washington two years after its founding in 1998. It now employs about 3,500 in the Baltimore area.
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“There was something about the grit of the city that was appealing to me,” said Plank, adding that as he was looking for a fresh start away from the Washington area where he grew up. “Being the youngest of five boys, I had a lot of history in this city.”
Plank was joined at the Economic Club’s fall lunch meeting by his wife, D.J., his mother and two brothers, including Baltimore developer Scott Plank. The nonprofit works to strengthen ties in the metropolitan Washington area’s business community.
Plank said he originally wanted to name the brand Body Armor or Heart, but those names were taken. His oldest brother inadvertently suggested the current name, mixing it up with the proposed Body Armor when he asked Plank about his plans.
Asked by Rubenstein if he would sell the company, Plank said he would be obligated to shareholders to do so if “anyone ever offered us an amount of money greater than what I believed I would get,” but that that hasn’t happened.
“If you could be a great athlete like ... Curry or Phelps or Tom Brady, or you could be the the CEO of an athletic apparel company, what would you rather be?” Rubenstein asked Plank.