First ascent

Eddie Bauer CEO Michael Egeck is guiding the legendary Seattle outdoor-clothing retailer back to the summit

Michael EgeckOn June 5, 2012, outdoor-clothing company Eddie Bauer named Michael Egeck (MBA 1983) as president and CEO. In the press release, Egeck is noted as a “highly respected industry leader” with “a proven track record of building leading apparel and outdoor brands.” It might seem a strange career path for a guy who accepted a position with Rainier Bank after graduating with his MBA, until you learn he never showed up for his first day on the job.

The weekend before he was supposed to start at the bank, Egeck attended a party hosted by Richard Lentz and Steve Ritchey who had recently launched Union Bay Sportswear. “They were so passionate about what they were doing that they talked me into going to work for them,” says Egeck. “One of the things they said, and I still find it to be true, is ‘there’s a certain thrill in making stuff.’ To see somebody in your jacket, your shoes—making real, tangible consumer products is very gratifying.”

Making stuff

The thrill in making stuff led Egeck on a leadership trajectory that has included oversight of some of world’s most recognizable brands, including 7 For All Mankind, The North Face, Vans, True Religion and Columbia Sportswear. But the thought of leading Eddie Bauer was never too far out of sight.

“In 1992, I wanted to work here. I could see them going off track. I applied for a position and didn’t get it. Then I went to work for Columbia Sportswear. In 2006, I tried to purchase Eddie Bauer with some investors and was turned down again,” says Egeck. A couple of years later, the company filed for bankruptcy and was purchased by Golden Gate Capital. They approached Egeck, then CEO of Hurley International, with the offer. “I wasn’t looking, but I have a long history with this brand. And, I felt I was 0-for-2, so to get the opportunity to finally work with it, I couldn’t resist.”

Bauer from birth

Egeck was born and raised in Seattle. His grandfather, father, and great uncles were all Seattle firefighters and outdoorsmen, and so is his brother. Eddie Bauer was a brand with which he grew up.

“I remember my first Eddie Bauer Skyliner jacket. It was a hand-me-down from my dad. I wore it all the way through college,” says Egeck, smiling. “I also slept in an Eddie Bauer sleeping bag when I lived in a houseboat on Lake Union during college because it had no heat.”

Having accepted the job, Egeck conducted brand research with current and lapsed customers and with people who had never purchased from Eddie Bauer. The results were the same. All viewed it as an authentic, Northwest, outdoor company, something Egeck says the company had veered away from.

Outdoor focus

When asked early on what his turn-around strategy would be, Egeck says it was an easy answer. “I said, ‘We don’t have any choice. We have one strategy available to us. The consumer is giving us one path to walk down and we’re just going to go down it while executing on the highest level possible.’”

That path has included an overhaul of messaging and design, and a concentrated effort to produce cutting-edge new products, all while being consistently and passionately outdoor-focused.

A look at their Facebook page or a glance in a store window is reflective of that spirit. So are the recent product awards and accolades coming from sources like Field & Stream, Men’s Journal and Outside.

When asked about his first year with Eddie Bauer, Egeck is measured. “One of the members of the board was remarking about all of the things going well (profit will more than double this year). I told him that inside the company we say it’s ‘directionally correct.’ We’ve got a long way to go and lots of things to work on, but we’re headed the right way, and we will reach our goals.”

No surprise, that direction has included a reintroduction of the classic Skyliner jacket.