Q&A With Finish Line's Glenn Lyon

CEO details fresh initiatives at the chain.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Eleven months into his new role as CEO of Finish Line Inc., Glenn Lyon can pinpoint one major difference between himself and predecessor Alan Cohen.

“He is a quiet Midwesterner, and I’m a passionate and emotional New Yorker,” Lyon said. “We go to the same place — we just get there different ways.”

Lyon is clearly carving out his own leadership style, but he insists he’s not going to veer off the path charted by Cohen, who co-founded the chain in 1976.

For Lyon, that means making sure the 680-door chain maintains its “premium” positioning and offers innovative, trend-right product.

Finish Line carries as many as 750 styles per store, and under the direction of EVP and chief merchandising officer Sam Sato, has brought in five to 10 new brands each year for the past several years.

“Breadth offers me the ability to be sustainable to my customer,” Lyon said. “They don’t want less selection because the economy is tough.” (For more on the product strategy, see page 12.)

While the core mission is the same, Lyon has already made some serious changes to the chain in his first year.

The biggest move was the divestiture of the Man Alive chain in June. With the help of Edward Wilhelm, who was brought in as CFO in March, Lyon also has sharpened Finish Line’s focus on expense reduction and inventory management. (For more on the financial focus, see page 14.)

Analysts said the company is taking the right steps by operating more leanly and focusing on the core business.

“We’re enthusiastic about the changes in management — both Glenn and Ed,” said Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst at B. Riley & Co. “[They are] making some changes in how business is done, and the company will certainly be more profitable.”

Camilo Lyon, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc., characterized Finish Line’s financial performance as among the most impressive in the athletic arena.

“They have been benefiting from having a strong balance sheet in a way that others haven’t, such that they’ve been able to get a better allocation of key marquee products,” the analyst said.

The CEO also has been moving fast to capitalize on other untapped growth opportunities.

Lyon recently created a dedicated Internet division and tapped 21-year company vet Don Courtney to run the segment.

“I see [that business] being one of the real big revenue-building opportunities for us going far into the future,” Lyon said. He noted that online sales, which account for less than 10 percent of the firm’s revenues, are up 8 percent year-to-date.

As for the broader business, Lyon acknowledged that the retail climate will be tough through the end of the year. The company said in its quarterly earnings report in late September that second-quarter comps were down 9.9 percent, compared with a 4.9 percent gain last year, due primarily to traffic declines.

But despite the short-term challenges, Lyon is bullish on the future.

“We have a very strong balance sheet, we have a lot of cash in the bank, we have no outstanding debt and the vendors recognize that.”

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