Two Ten: President Neal Newman’s Candid Q&A

Neal Newman spends hundreds of hours on the road. The president of Two Ten Footwear Foundation is often putting in face time with industry executives and spreading the group’s goodwill mission.

But a recent trip to New York amplified everything Two Ten aims to accomplish. At one of the foundation’s events, a man approached Newman with a powerful tale of personal hardships — job loss, sick spouse and, at times, alcoholism. The man said Two Ten helped in a big way with three months of rent money and by providing counseling resources.

“He said to me, ‘Your group saved my life. I put my life back together,’” Newman recalled. “I’m humbled, and it’s a memory I’ll take to my grave.”

Currently under Newman’s leadership, Two Ten is celebrating 75 years of charitable work, raising over $3 million annually. And plans call for even greater growth.

“We want to align and reshape our services and scholarships programs to best suit where the domestic workforce is,” said Newman, who joined the foundation in January 2012 after longtime president Peggy Kim Meill stepped down. “The second goal is in the community space, the Women in the Footwear Industry program, the Young Professionals, the HR Leadership Group and Footwear Cares.”

Newman is banking in particular on WIFI, which was formed in 2008 and has more than 1,000 women participating.

“We are exploring the issue that 70 percent of our calls are from women, so how do we connect that with WIFI? [The group] is in a place to explode in a positive way,” he said.

More effort is also planned for the HR Leadership program, which hosts a yearly conference. In 2013, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh was the keynote speaker.

“The [industry] is looking at us to roll out a comprehensive outreach program — we see that it’s not so much an event but a network. It’s critical we put more energy and time into it,” Newman said.

That’s also part of a bigger strategy to bring together the industry.

“We have a chance to shape corporate responsibility across an entire industry,” Newman said. “Our goal that’s frightening everybody here in the office: I want every single member of the footwear fraternity to know Two Ten is here for them. We want to touch 250,000 people all the time.”

Here, Newman speaks candidly about the joys of lending a helping hand, challenges along the way and why his leadership tactics are working.

How would you describe the Two Ten mission?
NN:
The formal narrative is that Two Ten strengthens and enriches the lives of shoe people. I see this as if we are the guardians of a remarkable tradition of caring in the corporate context. It’s been a remarkable 75-year tradition of being together, coming together, supporting and caring for our own workforce, and that’s pretty darn special.

What does 75 mean to you?
NN:
We have a lot to celebrate in 75 years. We also have an organization that has never been stronger, and that’s something to celebrate. The beauty is, there is no need to convince people in the industry that caring is a good thing.

There were some strong leaders before you. How does it feel to hold the mantle?
NN:
I’m humbled and reminded every day of how blessed I am to hold this position. The chance I have to lead the organization assertively and positively into the future is truly a blessing.

How do you differ from your predecessors?
NN:
When I’m talking to people in the industry or going to a health benefits fair, whatever it is, it’s face-to-face interactions that remind me how important Two Ten is in the lives of folks. There is an energy and dynamism that is different today than before. I move a little differently and faster, and I think our communications are stronger. We are benefitting from the hard work that [predecessors] Michael [Appel] and Peggy did. We’re servicing more people and raising more money.

What milestones are you proud of?
NN:
I’m happy with what we’re doing for Footwear Cares. We test-drove it two years ago, and it has been a transformative moment for Two Ten. If we had more people coordinating it, we could have doubled the impact in the first year. [We’re also] very pleased for a number of different reasons with the launch of the Footwear Warriors scholarship fund, a new scholarship just for veterans who are returning from service to a footwear job. We were able to raise $300,000 with 28 different donors in 10 weeks. We’re going to be raising another $60,000 for that scholarship.

Speaking of raised funds. How are you tracking?
NN:
We’re now raising over $3 million per year. Fundraising in the last three years has increased at an aggregate 23 percent. Call volume has increased about 57 percent [in five years]. Even though we’re doing well in terms of fundraising, we’re not keeping pace with the requests for help. The last couple of years, we’re hearing a lot about college debt. We don’t pay college debt, we just do scholarships, but that might be one of the things we need to look at in the future.

How have the “help” calls changed over the years?
NN:
Seventy percent of the people who call us are women. A very high percentage is single moms. We need to be smart about what Two Ten services and programs look like in the future. It’s very different than it was in the ’40s and ’50s. And the complexity of the calls is vastly different than what it was 50 or 60 years ago. Now, people aren’t only calling because they can’t pay a bill, they are calling because there is an alcohol problem in the house or they can’t afford to buy food. We are getting calls about domestic violence every week. We have people calling us routinely with a chronic health issue, and because health care is getting better, what insurance companies are covering is being shrunk.

What other challenges do you face?
NN:
Running a national organization from one location. We are truly a national organization, and that is a challenge. It means we have to travel a lot. A focus of ours is to have a massive presence on the West Coast. We want to have more events there, more of a presence and more at-home events that will bring together footwear folks who in some cases don’t know each other.

How did you raise money in the down years?
NN:
There’s always this dilemma that people in fundraising have, which is when times are tough, do you stop fundraising? I’d argue the opposite: When times are tough, you have to speak to donors more often and let them know exactly where you’re at. We’ve been able to grow our fundraising 23 percent in that time frame. The secret to our success was getting better at talking about our impact. Donors want to be assured that the organization is run well.

Over the years, who were some large donors?
NN:
Certainly Steve and Wendy Madden with their $1 million gift a couple of years ago. Steve is on the board and Wendy will replace him, it’s just a massive love fest going on with Steve and Wendy. Bobby Campbell and Tim O’Donovan have been extremely generous. From the corporate side, Wolverine, Brown, Nine West, BBC, Clarks and New Balance. People will laugh at this quote, but it’s not only about the money, it’s our relationship with people. By changing the calculus from “I’m asking you for money” to “I’m asking you to get engaged with us,” that’s totally transformed us over the last couple of years.

Why don’t other industries have a Two Ten?
NN:
There is a sense that we’re in this together. I’ve never heard an industry talk that way before. It’s usually more competitive, and that’s where the relationship begins and ends. Here, it’s, “I’m willing to share some secrets with you, but let’s collaborate.” We don’t have to manufacture people in footwear to care — they want to come together

 

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