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WWD CEO Summit: Kay Krill on Ann Inc.'s Strategic Beliefs

The company's journey to enlightenment began in 2010, when it changed its name, which Krill saw as an opportunity to create a vision and purpose for the future.

Winning for the sake for winning isn’t enough. In fact, it can be a hollow victory.

That was the message delivered by Kay Krill, president and chief executive officer of Ann Inc., who spoke about how strategic beliefs have helped Ann Inc. develop the character of the company. “Our mission and values support our purpose, which is the very foundation of all we do,” Krill said. “It’s obviously critical for all of us to continue to achieve and exceed financial success in this challenging environment. But I believe, as leaders, that it’s also important to create a clear and differentiating purpose within our companies, a purpose that serves as a rallying point for our associates and provides a distinctive emotional connection to our customers.”

Krill said her goal when she became ceo of Ann Inc. was to run a successful company, but also a caring one. Doing that required that she broaden her definition of success beyond mere financial metrics.

“[I] set about creating a culture that would make our associates proud and focused on a shared goal,” she said. “I wanted to communicate it in a humble yet powerful way, internally and externally.”

Krill said the world — and fashion industry — has changed. There have been seismic shifts in the business landscape and consumer sentiment is altered. Sales are volatile and change from one week to the next. “Our jobs are harder,” she said. “Customers are less loyal to brands today and are focused on compelling value and service.”

Millennials are becoming more of a factor for retailers. The generation expects companies to provide great products, fair and competitive prices and to do business ethically and responsibly.

Companies need the best and brightest to compete. But for many, jobs are about more than just a paycheck. “They want to be inspired and valued,” Krill said. “They want meaning in their work and balance in their lives.”

Ann Inc.’s journey to enlightenment began in 2010, when it changed its name from Ann Taylor to Ann Inc. Krill saw the name change as an opportunity to create a vision and purpose for the future. Choosing causes focused on women was a no-brainer. “As a company of women, we need to fully understand what women want today, what they value and relentlessly focus on it,” the ceo said.

Ann Inc. looked past the demographics and psychographics at individual women and found out what was important to them.

The company developed Ann Cares and Responsibly Ann, two programs that go beyond Ann Inc. products and services. Causes include helping to eradicate breast cancer, helping children in need, helping female factory workers and developing and mentoring the next generation of female leaders.

So far, Ann Cares has raised and donated more than $30 million to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Komen Race for the Cure. Associates and clients have raised and donated more than $14 million since 2005 to BCRF, whose work has resulted in significant breakthroughs toward a cure. Associates and clients across the U.S. get involved in Komen Race for the Cure, and walk or run in races.

Ann Cares since 2007 has raised more than $16 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is searching for a cure for children’s cancers.

Because Ann Inc. products are made by more than 100,000 women around the world, many of them in developing countries, the retailer created a program to help female factory workers, called the HER project, or Health Enables Returns. Ann Inc. funds the HER project in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Vietnam, impacting more than 25,000 women. HER provides in-factory training on maternal health, hygiene, nutrition and financial literacy.

Ann Inc.’s newest program, Annpower, provides leadership training and mentoring to junior and senior high school girls.

For Krill, supporting causes that customers and associates “hold dear” makes good business sense. “We’re seeing a higher level of associate engagement, a greater ability to attract talent and a more resonant connection with our clients, partners and vendors,” she said.