There was no way that the December 2013 announcement that Lululemon founder Dennis “Chip” Wilson was stepping down as chairman would be the end of the story.
After voting against the re-election of two Lululemon (LULU) directors almost two weeks ago, Wilson, 59, is now working with Goldman Sachs (GS) to shake up the company’s board, according to the Wall Street Journal. Wilson, who owns 28% of the company, said in a press release that he is concerned that the board is overly focused on short-term results. Wilson declined to be interviewed for this story.
Wilson’s actions are motivated by more than money. As a founder, he has significant emotional ties to Lululemon, which he founded in 1998. In an interview with Fortune last year as part of a broader examination of the company’s woes, Wilson likened Lululemon to an adolescent, saying the company was going through its rebellious teenage years.
“It needs to go through that stage where it’s growing up on its own and the internal management needs to make some of its own mistakes or it won’t get to that healthy company that I want it to be 30 or 40 years own the road,” Wilson told Fortune. Now it seems he has decided that the company needed a more involved parent. The founder clearly cares deeply for Lululemon’s quirky culture; in his press release he claimed that culture is being threatened by the board’s focus on the short term.
Wilson has always struggled to find the right level of participation in the company. He said last year that he stepped down from his executive role in 2012 because he wasn’t getting out of then-CEO Christine Day’s way, and that was creating confusion. Former employees told Fortune then that Wilson had a tendency to zoom in and out of the company and give direction that conflicts with other members of management.
He seems aware of that reputation. In his recent press release, Wilson stressed that he returned to the company last year—to deal with the quality control issue that led to the infamous see-through pants debacle—at the request of the board.
Wilson has clashed with two of three his successors as CEO. As Fortune reported last year, Wilson said former CEO Robert Meers was not a cultural fit. And he also soured on Christine Day, who followed Meers. The feeling, it appeared, was mutual: By the time Day announced her departure, her working relationship with Wilson had deteriorated beyond repair. Day alluded last year to his continued involvement: “You either have to be really in, and in the job as a CEO or another functioning member of management, or ‘peace out.’ The hardest place is someplace in the middle where you try to do parts of other people’s jobs.”
Wilson stepped down from the chairman role just as Day’s replacement, Laurent Potdevin, was announced. Lululemon said Wilson’s decision to relinquish the chairman role at that time was unrelated. But given Wilson’s history with CEOs, it’s hard to believe that Potdevin didn’t need some reassurance that Wilson wouldn’t be calling the shots.
Known for being outspoken, Wilson won’t go quietly—he never has. Clearly he thinks the company needs him. As he told Fortune last year, “Lululemon is a culmination of everything I’ve ever done in my life and I’m here for the long run.”