Frank Hugelmeyer, who has brilliantly led and developed the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) for 14 years, announced on Sept. 30 his decision to step down as president and chief executive of the powerful American organization, “in search of that next great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”

“In every organization,” he said in a letter to his friends in the industry, “I believe there is an appropriate lifespan for the tenure of any CEO. Therefore, it is time for me to move on and do what I do best, build and grow another organization into an enterprise that matters.” He said he was anxious to discover “my next corporate mountain to climb.”

He added in an email to The Outdoor Industry Compass: “I think that the main thing I have learned is that I am a builder, and when something moves into a maintenance mode, I'm just not as excited. Right now, I'm feeling very excited to discover what is next.”

Hugelmeyer's resignation became effective on Oct. 3, only a few days before the Oct. 7-9 OIA Rendevous in Ashville, North Carolina, which he is not attending. It was a big surprise to many in the industry, although he had been discussing his departure since last January with Jennifer Mull, who was recently confirmed as the chair of the OIA, and other members of the executive committee. The association said it would immediately work to identify an interim executive director while looking for his successor through a search committee and a national recruitment firm.

Hugelmeyer said that he was leaving the OIA “in very capable hands” and in very good financial shape. Under his leadership, the OIA's revenues have grown in the past ten years at an average annual rate of 14 percent, rising from about $1 million a year to more than $8 million, with more than $7.5 million in total net assets and a reserve fund of more than $4 million.

Under his management, the former ORCA has grown from a staff of six persons to more than 25 employees, and the membership has doubled to 1,300 companies, including many foreign firms.

Serving as an example to other trade associations around the world, it has developed many new services, including market research and a new digital marketing platform that will soon be launched. It has given birth to the Outdoor Foundation and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, it has done a lot of successful lobbying in Washington, and it has come to organize more than 50 seminars and other events each year.

Shortly before his resignation, the OIA announced the appointment of a new vice president of marketing and communications, Jennifer D. Pringle, who was most recently a partner at 4Leaf Partners, an American organization specializing in comprehensive marketing and communications solutions for the apparel and retail industries and in the areas of higher education, public safety, healthcare, finance, nutrition and wellness. She previously worked at Levi Strauss & Co., Qwest Communications, Terabeam, Intrado  and Fresh Produce Sportswear.

In a telephone interview, Hugelmeyer stressed that he was not leaving because of any issues with the board. He said he wanted to take a break from “a very demanding role.” He said he would continue to sit on the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Board and “write a little.” He is discussing participation in various corporate board of directors, but he also wants to spend more time with his wife in the outdoors now that their children are grown up.

He said he would not be able to attend the European Outdoor Summit in Germany next week because of another speaking engagement at a conference of the American Sportfishing Association. He will speak in November at the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, an event that takes place every ten years. He plans to show up at the next Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and at the Ispo Munich show early next year to explore options for his future career.

Hugelmeyer said that he would be particularly interested in working for a European company to help it to enter the U.S. market.

People in the outdoor sector have come to admire Hugelmeyer's contagious enthusiasm, dynamism and self-assurance. The American executive, who is now 55, became president and CEO of the OIA in the year 2000 after working for six years as vice president of sales and marketing an Lowe Alpine's U.S. subsidiary. He previously worked for five years as merchandiser at Paragon Sports and for a couple of years as director of sales and marketing at Bodyguard Fitness, where he opened up more than 12 foreign markets for the company.

In its public statement, the OIA said it was sharpening its strategic focus around the following topics:

- Consumer of the Future, providing greater understanding of the emerging outdoor consumer and how that consumer will impact our business models;

- Recreation of the Future, offering greater understanding of how consumers are defining recreation and increased advocacy efforts for close-to-home recreation infrastructure and access in a more urbanized America;

- Business of the Future, ensuring supply chain resilience, protecting brand reputations, reducing exposure and improving product quality.

Hugelmeyer said he participated in the preparation of the new strategic plan, which was approved by the OIA board in August. He said he will be available for consultation.