Highline Aims Higher With Paterno Pick

NEW YORK — Rick Paterno is ready for a new challenge.

After a brief break from the footwear business following his departure from The Jones Group Inc. last summer, the incoming president and CEO of New York-based Highline United Holdings Ltd. said he is eager to dive back into the business.

“I’m excited about working at a small company,” Paterno said. “My last two positions have been pretty high-profile, big company jobs. I’ve had senior positions in public companies my whole career, and as I look at my skill set, I’m entrepreneurial at heart.”

Paterno, whose background also includes leadership roles at Rockport and Easy Spirit, is charged with growing Highline’s roster of brands globally, according to the firm’s chairman, Mark Cocozza.

“We needed to find a CEO who could take us to the next level,” Cocozza said of the newly-created post at the company.

Highline United, which entered the market in 2008 and has built a portfolio of labels that includes Elie Tahari, Ellen Tracy, Ash, French Connection, Jean-Michel Cazabat, Luxury Rebel and Julian Hakes, recently expanded into Europe and Asia, and is seeking to explore new territories in those areas, as well as increase its presence in the U.S. It also will look at completely new areas such as South America.

“There are plenty of opportunities for us to expand,” Cocozza said, although he noted that Paterno’s early focus will be on the U.S. and Europe. “We want to expand French Connection in both the U.S. and Europe. [The] Ash brand is currently a global brand in itself, but it has a lot of potential to expand. We want to grow the retail portion of that business in addition to penetrating more markets.”

In addition, he said, Highline United is mulling over opportunities to add more labels to its mix. “One of the virtues of having Rick on board is that he knows how to manage multiple portfolio brands that serve different segments of the market,” Cocozza said.

As for any further staff changes at Highline United, he noted, “we’ll make some decisions at a later date when Rick comes on board and has a chance to evaluate what we need as an organization.”

Paterno, who plans to move back to New York and commute to his current home in Vermont on the weekends, said his immediate goal is to build a strategic plan for moving forward.

“The company hasn’t really had someone with my experience, both in executive management domestically as well as internationally,” he said. “I think I can bring a lot to the table and really help it grow.”