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North Face CEO resigns

The North Face President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Fifield resigned yesterday after his attempt to buy the company failed.A release from The North Face said William Simon, the company’s vice chairman, has been appointed interim CEO to oversee day-to-day company operations. A company representative would not comment on why an offer by Fifield and Leonard Green & Partners, a private buyout firm, to acquire the company fell through.The partners planned to buy back publicly held shares in the company, but their deadline to arrange the deal was Tuesday.Ashley Devery, director of corporate relations for the outdoor equipment and clothing company, said Simon, former company CEO and president, stepped down when the board of directors appointed Fifield to those posts last year. She said at that time, Simon wanted to follow other interests.Simon has been serving as vice chairman since then. He has been with the company since 1994.Fifield, a major stockholder in The North Face, will remain on the company’s board of directors. Fifield owns a home in Aspen.Devery said she doesn’t see any big changes coming as a result of the conclusion of the attempt to acquire the company. She said the company’s plans to build permanent headquarters in Carbondale have not changed. Its offices are now located there in temporary buildings.But she said company employees would miss Fifield.”Everybody’s really sad that Jim Fifield is leaving,” Devery said. He was well liked in the firm, she said.Devery said because details of the proposed acquisition had not been worked out, it was not known what the deal would have meant to the company financially.Carbondale Mayor Randy Vanderhurst said he believes The North Face is committed to remain in Carbondale. “They put $5 million into moving here,” Vanderhurst said. He pointed out that though Fifield had been one of the forces behind moving the firm to Colorado, the entire board of directors had sanctioned the move.Though North Face Board Chairman Mardy Cason did not return calls from The Aspen Times, both Vanderhurst and Carbondale realtor Mark Wyman said they had spoken with Cason yesterday, and he had reassured them of the company’s commitment to Carbondale.”He said they are remaining in Carbondale, no ifs, ands or buts,” Vanderhurst said.Wyman, owner of Prudential Town and Country Realty, acted as buyer’s agent for The North Face when the company was looking for a place to relocate last year. He said Cason also assured him yesterday that the company will stay in Carbondale.”My personal speculation is that they will remain in Carbondale,” Wyman said. He said he worked with both Fifield and Cason to find a location for the company’s headquarters, and said they felt they had found a place that is representative of what the company stands for.Vanderhurst noted the The North Face has more than just promises to keep them in Carbondale. The company’s board of directors, he said, has just signed a complicated land deal.In buying the 36-acre Smith Ranch property on the south edge of town, Vanderhurst said, the company tied up more cash in land than they really wanted to. So the board recently signed a lease-back arrangement with a Massachusetts corporation that will buy the land and lease it back to The North Face to free up capital needed for product development.But David Rippe, a town trustee, said he’s not certain how deeply committed the firm is to remaining in Carbondale. However, Rippe said he thinks the move made financial sense, because its cost of doing business was actually more expensive in California’s Bay area than in Carbondale. And moving expenses would need to be considered.”It’s only going to cost them more to move back or move somewhere else,” Rippe said.He said he’s sorry the company has had more than its share of difficulties in the last year or so, but some of the problems may be self-inflicted, Rippe speculated.The company is still facing several class-action suits filed on behalf of stockholders who charge the company’s management with falsely reporting the company’s financial results to inflate stock prices earlier this year.And the company will have to search for both a new CEO and a new chief financial officer, because of the recent resignation of CFO Christopher Crawford. Both Crawford and Fifield were named in the suits, along with Simon and the company.In July, a group of North Face shareholders said it was talking to other parties about their interest in acquiring North Face and said it might make a bid. The group, which includes members of Dallas-based Cardinal Investment Co., held 9.4 percent of the shares as of July.Shares of The North Face stock closed at 7 7/8, down 7/8, Wednesday on the Nasdaq stock market.


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