Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank has sought business advice from MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle and flown the TV journalist on the private jet he leases to the Baltimore-based sports apparel company, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Citing current and former Under Armour executives, the newspaper said Plank and Ruhle developed a close relationship over the past few years and that Ruhle’s involvement in the company was seen as “unusual” and “problematic.” The company’s board of directors, alerted to the relationship last year, asked Plank whether it involved any company funds and was told by the CEO that it did not and was a private matter, the report said.
Kelley McCormick, an Under Armour spokeswoman, told the Journal that Plank and Ruhle are friends.
“Mr. Plank is entirely focused on Under Armour and its success,” Under Armour said in an email responding to a request Thursday from The Baltimore Sun.
MSNBC declined to comment to The Sun on Thursday.
Neither Plank nor Ruhle, a former finance executive who anchors two MSNBC programs, commented for the Journal story.
It said Plank took Ruhle’s advice over management’s on matters such as engaging with President Donald Trump. Plank had joined a manufacturing advisory panel assembled by Trump that met with him just days after he was inaugurated in 2017. The CEO then faced a backlash for praising Trump’s pro-business philosophy during a February 2017 interview on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” about Under Armour. His praise drew boycott threats and criticism from brand endorser athletes including Stephen Curry and Misty Copeland. Plank shortly after said he answered the interviewer’s question “with a choice of words that did not accurately reflect my intent.”
And after a new Curry signature shoe was ridiculed in 2016, Under Armour workers were told not to react on social media until Ruhle could talk about the shoes on her program, the Journal reported. Under Armour responded in the story that Ruhle and other “influencers” were sent shoes to discuss on TV.
McCormick told the Journal that many of Plank’s friends offer advice, but that management makes decisions about the company.
“The idea that Mr. Plank uniquely listens to any one individual is absurd,” McCormick told the newspaper.
The brand has been working for two years to turn around its faltering business. More recently, the company acknowledged it needs to transform its corporate culture as well, to stand up to scrutiny of the #MeToo movement.
The once predominantly men’s brand with deep roots in football has aggressively courted women in recent years, but found itself the subject of unwanted attention last fall after it was disclosed employees were allowed to charge strip club visits and other adult entertainment to expense accounts. The Journal reported that Under Armour ended that practice only this year and went on to say the company fostered a workplace culture in other ways that was demeaning to female employees.
McCormick said in Thursday’s Journal article that during “media hailstorms,” Plank and management got feedback from many people and that “no one voice had greater influence than the collective view to make the best decisions for Under Armour.”