FN CEO Summit: Hot Talk on Hot Issues

The shoe industry's top players shared their winning strategies.

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Tony Hsieh

Photo By Moritz & Co.

Charlotte Olympia Dellal

Photo By Moritz & Co.

Stefani Greenfield

Photo By Moritz & Co.

The FN CEO Summit in Miami brought together the industry’s top vendors, retailers and designers last week to talk about how they are dramatically reshaping the business. And they definitely delivered.

From building innovative brands and making huge acquisitions to changing company cultures and bowing new retail concepts, the executives opened their playbooks and shared insight into their winning strategies.

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Here are some top highlights from the event:

Story Tellers
How do you bring a brand to life? Make sure it has a story behind it, speakers said.

“It’s the small, but very important details that matter to me, such as the title of the collection and the style names of the shoes,” said designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal, who is also CEO of her eponymous firm. “It’s not just about the shoe but the story behind it.”

“Every brand is defined by a story,” said Stefani Greenfield, global creative consultant at The Jones Group Inc. “Jones happens to have talented authors who are writing new chapters every day.”

Building a brand powerhouse doesn’t happen overnight — a firm must make smart, gradual moves.
And Jones is doing just that with its newest names: Stuart Weitzman, Brian Atwood, Rachel Roy and retailer Kurt Geiger, Greenfield said.

But perhaps the most poignant example is Nine West, a $1 billion brand story that continues to evolve.

Greenfield noted that Nine West has a strong connection to culture, thanks to movies and television shows such as “Cinderella” and “Sex & the City.” But for the label to connect with consumers even more, it “needs to be a ‘me’ brand, not a ‘me-too’ brand,” she said.

Part of bringing a hot label to life for the long term means looking to the past, said panelists of “How to Create — and Maintain — Killer Brands.”

“We’ve made [heritage] a huge strength,” said Jim Salzano, president of Clarks Americas. “The Desert Boot and Wallabee, we play them up quite a bit. Outside [Clarks] Originals, we think [heritage] is a major advantage to build the brand and we feed off it.”

But while heritage is an important story, especially today, Steven Tiller, co-founder and CEO of SeaVees, said it doesn’t always lure the consumer.

“SeaVees is the coolest brand you’ve never heard of,” he said. “It was around in the 1960s and even advertised in Playboy, but it was never a household name. Instead, it’s about what it could be.”

Labels also are using innovative collaborations as a way to create buzz.

At Charlotte Olympia, “we often develop projects with a specific target in mind,” said the company’s president, Bonnie Takhar.

The line’s past collaborations have been with Agent Provocateur and Olympia Le Tan, and it introduced a capsule collection with Neiman Marcus tied to last year’s Art Basel festival.

And this week, Charlotte Olympia will debut a punk-themed capsule collection with jewelry designer Tom Binns to coincide with the Met Ball. (The collection will be sold on, which is offering red-carpet looks from the gala and sponsoring the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.)

Collaborations also have been been key for The Webster Miami, said founding partner and CEO Laure Heriard Dubreuil, who noted the shoes on her feet were from her current exclusive partnership with Pierre Hardy (suede peep-toe heels with ankle straps).

Dubreuil also discussed her recent collaboration with Target — The Webster at Target — which launched last year and included more than 270 pieces for men, women and girls. “It was the American dream for me,” she said. “It was my dream wardrobe.”

For the project, Dubreuil made colorful prints inspired by the vintage wallpaper in her store. The result? The collection sold out in three weeks. “The designer Valentino and actress Anne Hathaway even bought pieces from the collection,” said Dubreuil.

Culture Club
For many leaders, creating a unique company culture has been a major priority.

Engaging and empowering employees has been a huge focus for Brown Shoe Co. President and CEO Diane Sullivan since she took the top job two years ago, and her strategy is clearly paying off.

Sullivan told attendees that her leadership mantra is simple: Make it personal. Whether she is rallying her team or connecting with customers, Sullivan takes an intimate approach to every aspect of her job.  
“People don’t work for companies, people work with people,” the executive said. “People will live the vision when leaders make it personal.”

At Reebok, President Uli Becker has transformed the culture by making fitness an internal priority.

While looking to make the brand a leader in the athletic category once again, Becker spoke about how weaving CrossFit into Reebok’s corporate culture transformed the firm’s outlook from the inside out.

“Driving fitness within our headquarters adds purpose to what we’re trying to accomplish as a company,” he said. “Culture is of utmost importance because once everyone participates in the strategy, the company is more likely to succeed.”

The executive noted there are other added benefits to having a CrossFit gym in Reebok’s Canton, Mass., corporate headquarters. “Our employees use fewer sick days and our medical expenses are lower, which drives efficiency in the end,” Becker said.

World View
What is the key to being a global success? Make sure you have the right strategy in place, according to speakers.

Executives from Aldo Group discussed the Canadian firm’s impressive global growth through a franchise model. Norman Jaskolka, president of Aldo Group International, said the company is now in 80 countries around the world, accounting for 800 stores.

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