The Business On... Manfred Hell, co-founder, Jack Wolfskin
Friday 22 July 2011
Crazy name, crazy guy?
The haircut might suggest otherwise, but he's not so crazy. Mr Hell is the chief executive of the German outdoor clothing and equipment company – and the only one of the original founders still to be involved with its day-to-day management. He's an astute operator who has run the show for 25 years.
But he's moving on we hear?
You obviously have your ear to the ground. Yesterday, Jack Wolfskin's owners, Barclays Private Equity and Quadriga Capital, announced they are selling – to rival private equity shop Blackstone. Mr Hell is stepping down as part of the deal, though his successor is yet to be found.
What will he do next?
He's not said yet, but maybe it's time for him to really hit the trails. Mr Hell, as you might expect, is the outdoors type who has prided himself onroad-testing Jack Wolfskin's gear.
Does he leave with the company in good shape?
Very much so. Sales have doubled over the past five years and there has been an international expansion. It has four stores in this country, for example, having begun with anoutlet in the Lake District in 2005, and even has a partnership with Liverpool Football Club. Around half of its stores are German, but the footprint now extends to China.
Don't you mean paw print?
Very droll. Yes, Jack Wolfskin's logo is a bright yellow wolf's paw and it is a brand that Mr Hell has been very keen to protect during his time at the company. It's had a number of legal spats with people it believed were infringing its trademark – including a bunch of German handicraft designers who had used paws in their designs. That row generated some bad publicity at home.
Any other challenges?
The big issue is one that confronts everyone in this industry: outdoor wear has become more fashionable, even with people who wouldn't dream of walking to the shops, let alone up a mountain. The trick is to ride that trend without alienating the core audience.
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