Revamped Nautilus has new leadership

Edward Bramson steps down as CEO, board chairman

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



Having completed its turnaround, Nautilus Inc. announced Thursday it will move forward under the direction of two new leaders: Bruce Cazenave as CEO and M. Carl Johnson III as nonexecutive chairman of the board.

They succeed Edward Bramson, who took command of the Vancouver-based fitness equipment manufacturer more than three years ago. Bramson’s New York-based private investment firm, Sherborne Investors, seized control of Nautilus in a hostile takeover after the company’s stock faltered.

In addition, Craig McKibben, chief financial officer of Sherborne, also has resigned from the Nautilus board, the company said Thursday.

All of Nautilus’ leadership changes are effective immediately, the company stated.

Nautilus — which employs about 330 people — “has achieved a remarkable transformation” despite its economic and consumer-credit difficulties, Bramson said in a news release. He said the two new leaders’ backgrounds “will further strengthen the company’s ability to become a leading global fitness products company.”

Cazenave, the new CEO, brings more than 20 years of senior executive leadership to Nautilus. He has a background in running global consumer products companies, including as vice president and general manager of Black & Decker. Nautilus has a “proud history of innovation, outstanding talent and a strong operational foundation,” Cazenave said in a news release.

Johnson, the new nonexecutive chairman, joined the Nautilus board in 2010 after holding executive positions at Campbell Soup Company and Kraft Foods USA. Johnson is a current member of the company’s compensation committee.

Thursday’s announcement comes on the heels of the company’s positive quarterly earnings report. For the three months ended March 31, Nautilus posted a profit of $1.6 million, returning to profitability after annual losses every year since 2006. That compares with a loss of $7.8 million for the first quarter of 2010.

During the earnings call in April, company officials said several key initiatives are moving Nautilus into positive territory, including its focus on cardio products and its adoption of new consumer credit programs to increase sales.

The company sells its fitness products through two primary channels — its direct business, which reaches consumers through TV and other advertising; and retail, which offers the company’s products through outlets such as Dick’s Sporting Goods.

In late 2007, Bramson used Sherborne Investors to wage a proxy battle to win control of the Nautilus board. By March 2008, Nautilus’ CEO, Robert Falcone, had been removed and Bramson, who had become board chairman, succeeded him.

Bramson took over the company, which had been on a fast growth track, just as the Great Recession hit. Nautilus’ sales depend on consumers who must be willing and able to open their wallets or take on debt to buy the company’s costly fitness equipment.

Under Bramson’s direction, the company moved into cost-cutting mode. It backed out of an agreement to buy a Chinese manufacturer and started shedding jobs. Nautilus also sold Pearl iZumi, which it had bought in an unsuccessful bid to break into fitness apparel. Buyer Shimano American Corp. paid $65.3 million in cash and assumed $4.2 million in long-term debt.

Sherborne remains the company’s largest shareholder with a 33 percent stake.

Founded in 1986, Nautilus develops and sells fitness equipment and accessories, primarily in the U.S. and Canada. Its brand names include Nautilus, Bowflex and Schwinn Fitness.

Nautilus stock, which trades as NLS, closed Thursday at $2.62, down 1 cent.

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