While he’s a master merchant, one of Estepa’s greatest strengths is in developing teams and then rallying them. He is especially fond of telling employees, and almost everyone else he meets, that his company is “in the people business first. We just happen to sell shoes.”
Estepa learned the power of connecting with people early on, working in 1969 first as a salesman at Kinney Shoes. His knack for relating to customers led to a spike in the store’s business, and put the young Estepa on track for promotions to store manager and then district manager.
But after 16 years with Kinney, Estepa had bigger plans. In 1985, the then-struggling Genesco tapped him as regional manager for the West Coast. Months later, he was running the company’s entire retail portfolio, a role that brought him to Nashville.
Today, the Journeys Group, which registers about $1.5 billion in annual sales, has more than 1,300 stores under the Journeys, Journeys Kidz, Underground by Journeys, Shi by Journeys and Schuh banners.
With all the changes in retail — from the pressures of adapting to new technologies to slower mall traffic to brand partners selling direct to consumers — Estepa remains invigorated.
“We’re probably living in the most exciting time that I’ve ever been through in retail,” he said.
Now in its 29th year, the FN Achievement Awards honor rising stars, hot brands, hit shoes and best companies. The Hall of Fame recognizes those who have left a deep and lasting impact on the shoe business. Over the years, prior inductees have included Manolo Blahnik, Salvatore Ferragamo, Phil Knight, Paul Fireman and Stuart Weitzman.
Click through the slideshow below to see highlights from past FNAA ceremonies: