As president and CEO, it’s Jerry Stritzke’s job to grow REI’s business while ensuring that the company maintains its deep ties to nature. He offers employees two annual “Yay Days” so they can skip work and hit the crag or ski slopes, and leads frequent outdoor excursions with team members. On 2015's Black Friday, the peak holiday of the retail world and arguably the most gluttonous representation of American consumerism, Stritzke championed the idea to shut down REI’s 143 stores across 33 states, encouraging consumers to spend time outdoors—and giving his 12,000 employees a paid day off. Some viewed it as an advertising gimmick, but it symbolized that Stritzke is willing to sacrifice short-term profits in order to keep REI’s mission alive.
Stritzke’s Black Friday gambit went viral under the hashtag #OptOutside, with tens of thousands of people pledging to forgo the post-Thanksgiving insanity in favor of a hike or kayaking expedition, while traffic to REI.com jumped a reported 26%. At the end of 2015, REI reported record annual revenue of $2.4 billion, and had also signed up more than 1 million new co-op members—the largest annual jump in its 78-year history. Most impressively, 72% of company profits will go back to these members, employees, and nonprofit partners (by way of annual dividends and more than 300 grants to organizations nationwide).
Before REI, Stritzke worked at Limited Brands, where he rose through the ranks to become COO of subsidiary Victoria’s Secret. Later, Stritzke joined the board of Lululemon and was appointed president and COO of Coach.