Lululemon’s Kumbaya Capitalism

Lululemon’s Kumbaya Capitalism

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“I don’t think it’s one size fits all in personal development,” said Mr. Potdevin, known to many of these employees as L.P. “Some people find it through yoga, some people get that through meditation, some people might get that through Buddhism or some through sweaty endeavors.”

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An on-site meditation class.

Credit
Kamil Bialous for The New York Times

And some find it online: Lululemon ambassadors have access to a private social network, or “Commons,” where they can connect and share their experiences, and which Mr. Potdevin hopes to take, in some form, to the general public. “I think we’re incredibly well positioned to develop a curriculum that develops the leadership that we have around the world,” he said.

In the patois of idealized consumerism that has become common in the 21st century, he refers to Lululemon loyalists — employees and customers — as “the collective.”

No longer part of the collective, however, is Ms. Poseley, the chief product officer, who was fired this week, with Mr. Potdevin reorganizing the management structure. On Friday, the company’s stock price closed the week down 9.8 percent.

“I want to kick off with some love,” said Duke Stump, as he stood in a second-floor hall filled with mostly female employees, many decked out in Lululemon.

Mr. Stump, the company’s executive vice president for brand and community, was leading a monthly meeting called “the Brand Bonfire,” two days after the Pants Party.

“There are a lot of good vibrations,” Mr. Stump said, noting that the new line was selling well. Then he moved on to the other agenda items, like giving “gratitude” to “teammates” and asking new employees to introduce themselves.

“Hi, I’m Bill and I’m very happy to be on board,” one said.

“Welcome, Bill!” the team called out in unison.

The gathering had the aura of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but the only discernible thing the people in the room were addicted to was loving their jobs.

Sarah Harvison, Lululemon’s global yogi program manager, came forward to make a presentation about Forlise, an experimental community-building store in Whistler, British Columbia, which came to be after a company executive noticed a “for lease” sign in a local storefront. (“For lease” equals “forlise,” with a fortuitous echo of the Beethoven bagatelle “Für Elise.”) It offers bicycle-tuning clinics and “stretch sessions” to introduce men to the brands.

“ ‘Yoga’ is a little intense for the ‘Whistler’ guy,” Ms. Harvison said.

Mr. Stump thanked her for the presentation. “This decentralized love is part of our special sauce,” he said.

Along with the sauce, Lululemon executives constantly extol their “decentralized” model. The company does not sell to wholesalers; its stores are run as individual endeavors, part of a larger fief. “We have primarily young women in their 20s essentially running $15 million to $20 million stores independently,” Mr. Stump said.

The whole operation has been backed since 2014 by an in-house research and development lab, opened in the center of the Vancouver office and encased in glass walls that frost over to assure the privacy that innovation (formerly known as spitballing) requires. It is run by an internal team of engineers and scientists called Whitespace.

The lab is a Wonkaville for athleisure gear. There is a weather chamber that simulates extreme heat and humidity, letting the company determine the effect of elements on materials, seams and other details. There are washing machines to test how well garments withstand the spin cycle. And there is an enormous treadmill built into the floor, surrounded by video cameras to help map out the stretch of seams and — that bugaboo — coverage of material.

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Testing in the lab’s pool.

Credit
Kamil Bialous for The New York Times

But above all, Mr. Stump emphasized, the company is recommitting to the ideals of vision and goals. To do so it has been leaning on David Ogle, at 29 already a company veteran of more than six years, who has become something of a vision and goals guru in the company’s “people potential” department (a.k.a. human resources).

“We don’t do it to drive business success, and as a result, people feel loved and engaged — and that’s our secret sauce,” said Mr. Ogle, sitting in a third-floor open space against the backdrop of a mural that read, “Stretch Your Head.”

He spends most of his time working as an on-site life coach, training managers on how they should set their own vision and goals and help employees make good on theirs. Once, Mr. Ogle set a goal of being the successor to one longtime Lululemon executive.

“It was a terrible goal,” he said now. “We call them ‘looking-good goals.’ Looking-good goals are goals that are created out of ego.”

But Lululemon encourages employees to embrace failure, and Mr. Ogle did. “I learned something even with my looking-good goal,” he said. “It’s that I love leadership, and as I grow and develop as a human being, it comes back to a conversation of legacy: What is every moment of my life creating and generating that will lead me to where I see myself in years?”

Now Mr. Ogle’s goals include having “completed an education in leadership/neuroscience” by 2018 and becoming “an influencer in the realm of masculine leadership” by 2024.

Mr. Stump, meanwhile, said the company has helped stretch the contours of his masculine leadership, previously honed as a student at Choate Rosemary Hall and with jobs at Nike and Seventh Generation. “I’ve learned that what can appear to be really irrational thought can be beautifully rational,” he said. “I’ve learned that creating a culture of trust creates beautiful magic in abundance.”

He admitted that when he took the job with Lululemon less than a year ago, he was skeptical. The company’s reputation had been battered along with the stock price, and Mr. Stump was prepared for gloom.

“I thought for sure I was going to walk in and it was going to be a morgue,” he said. “And I walked in and it was like walking into Oz. I thought, ‘Do these people not know that Rome is burning?’ But everyone here seemed so vibrant and happy and positive.”

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