Early this week, Lululemon Athletica found itself in the news for a very peculiar reason: a news outlet questioned if apparel maker’s longest-serving board member was an actual person.
Spoiler alert: She is. But let’s dive into the back story.
First, in early June, Lululemon (LULU) founder Chip Wilson – who is no longer involved in active management of the company but holds a sizable stake in the Canadian-based company – lamented Lululemon’s financial performance. His argument? Lululemon had failed to reach the potential that other athletic gear players have achieved – most notably Nike (NKE) and Under Armour (UA) – and Wilson in particular took aim at the board.
After that news unfolded, The Street started calling board members, especially angling to chat with the three longest-serving directors at the company. But The Street struggled to get in touch with one board member, Rhoda Pitcher, and even questioned if she was a real person. The publication also raised questions about Pitcher’s education and professional background, noting Pitcher has a thin web trail.
Lululemon’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission provides some information about Pitcher’s background. She has been a director since late 2005, before Lululemon went public, and was paid $217,257 last year for her services. Pitcher serves on the company’s compensation committee. She is again up for re-election in 2018 when her current term expires.
Since 1996 Pitcher has served as managing partner of her own management consulting firm. She also holds a master’s degree from University Associates (more on that in a moment). Lululemon touted her decades of experience as a consultant, as well as her long tenure on the board, in lauding her abilities as a member of the board.
A post on website The Motley Fool confirmed Pitcher isn’t a phantom board member.
Fortune reached out to Lululemon and through the company’s PR agency ICR, both of which confirmed her existence. Here’s the full statement that ICR sent, attributed to Lululemon board co-chairman David Mussafer. “Rhoda M. Pitcher is a valued member of the Lululemon Board of Directors who has contributed to our collective success for more than a decade. With four additions to the Board of Directors in the past two years, we have the right Board in place aligned with management to execute successfully on our five year plan.”
ICR declined to make Pitcher available for comment. Fortune was able to track down her phone number and left several messages, all of which went unanswered.
That’s not completely unheard of.
“There are quite a few board members of public companies who never speak to the media,” says Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of board education and advisory firm The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance. “That level of privacy isn’t unusual.”
What is unusual, according to Bloxham, is Pitcher’s education background. Take that master’s from University Associates; it isn’t a standard, well-established college name you’d expect a board member to have. Fortune couldn’t find a web presence for that school. Outdated information about the program says it provides training programs and helps managers become savvier at consulting and other corporate needs. There doesn’t appear to be any details about the school’s master’s program online. While board members aren’t always expected to attend elite universities, generally they go to well-known, established institutions.
Beyond Lululemon’s word that Pitcher is legit, Fortune did a little more digging. Research that went into a Fortune story in 2013 about some of the company’s missteps at the time found that it was Pitcher who introduced Wilson to Christine Day, who held the CEO title for several years beginning in 2008. Pitcher also reportedly did some consulting work for Starbucks (SBUX).
While it may seem counterintuitive that board members at publicly traded companies can remain so secretive, experts say that isn’t so unusual. Companies generally prefer that their board members don’t speak to the media and it has only been in recent years that publications have named board members in their stories. The level of openness that’s expected today is actually a step forward from what it was like in the past.
Bloxham argues that’s positive momentum, saying the level of scrutiny that individual board members face today doesn’t match up with the level of power those individuals hold over the companies they oversee.
Beth Kowitt contributed to this report.