FN: Why was now the right time for a deal?
SW: It wasn’t necessarily the right time or the wrong time for me. It was obviously the right time for Irving Place Capital, and for me, it was the right opportunity and association. It could have happened last year or next year. I don’t look at the timing of it because I plan on being active for a while to come. It was good timing for them, and it was more [Jones and Irving Place’s] decision than mine. … It was always [Irving Place’s] decision whether they wanted to do this.
FN: Why is Jones a good fit?
SW: The reality is that someday, someone would have to buy into my business and eventually buy it all. … I got the impression from the people at Jones that they were really down-to-earth, wanted to work hard and weren’t worried about one-upmanship. … Our company is like a family — my wife is in it, and everyone else here is like family — [and] I wouldn’t have wanted to find myself in a snotty or political atmosphere.
FN: Was this what you always envisioned for your brand?
SW: I never made next year’s plan. I always jumped at opportunities when they came up. I had no restrictions because I never planned that it had to be this way. I just jumped at opportunities every year of my career.
FN: You’ve been looking to hire a new CEO and other top executives. How will this deal affect the search?
SW: If Jones can lead me somewhere, that’s great. I haven’t yet found the [people] I want, and maybe they have resources that can give me more opportunity to choose. … With or without an association with Jones, I have to start passing a lot of this [work] along to talented people. [I’m the CEO, chief creative force and chairman], and I shouldn’t be wearing all these hats. We have the same officers running the major parts of the company as we did many years ago, and we’re [nearly] 20 times bigger. We [have been] stretched thin.
FN: Your brand is now part of a large, public company. What advantages come with the merger?
SW: We are running our business in the same way, [and] I hope it will continue to grow. The operations, the warehousing and accounting — things like that — may be folded in. [Jones] has those systems in place, and that’s a tremendous advantage. … They are also tremendous retailers throughout the U.S. [I’m] guessing they have access to great real estate, [and] that’s another plus. Of course, these aren’t the things that caused this [deal] to happen, but they are advantages that come out of it. If I hadn’t seen those advantages, I would have asked [Irving Place] to talk to [other investors].
FN: How does this affect the plans you had in place for 2010?
SW: [There’s] no effect at all. There may be more opportunities because of our relationship, [but] what is in the works is still in the works. … People are selling the heck out of our shoes on the Internet, [so] we’re going to set up our own in-house [e-commerce] as opposed to farming it out. [We are also] launching sunglasses [for spring ’11], growing the children’s business with Synclaire Brands [and] opening [Stuart Weitzman stores] in Canada and Germany. … We’re expanding the things we’ve already established, certainly, but the biggest goal is solidifying recognition of our product as being very contemporary and hip in a marketplace that we didn’t cater to six or eight years ago. We always catered to the celebrity world and the dressy world, but the urban and cooler city world is a different marketplace.
FN: Your wife, Jane, is a big part of the company. Will the deal affect her role?
SW: Certainly not. She’s EVP and handles special projects, particularly in public relations events and accessories. She’s [also] the best sounding board I could ever have [and] has been totally supportive.
FN: You’ve been one of Spain’s biggest cheerleaders over the years. Will this affect where the line is made?
SW: Not at all. [Most of] our product has to be made mostly in Europe. … In Spain, we have a great position because we have been here many years, own our own factories and employ so many people. Those are things you work so hard to build up, and to walk away from those things would be suicide. Spain has been great to me.
FN: A lot of people in the business look up to you and what you’ve been able to do with your brand. Is it satisfying after all these years to have that kind of admiration?
SW: Of course it’s wonderful if your peers recognize what you think was a good job. What really makes me feel so terrific is [being honored by the people I work with] in Spain. I spend half a year [in Elda] and half of my working career there. I’ve given employment to 3,000 people continually, and they honored me by giving me a key to the city. They call it “The Favorite Son.” I’m the only American to have that. I never would have had all this without their dedication. It’s those guys who make this company.