How Caleres CEO Diane Sullivan Leads a Multibillion-Dollar Business With Compassion

Diane Sullivan 2017 Footwear News Achievement
Diane Sullivan will be awarded the Icon Award for Social Impact at the 2017 FN Achievement Awards.
Mark Mann

For Diane Sullivan, leading a multibillion-dollar footwear firm is about much more than stock prices and hot-selling shoes.

The Caleres Inc. CEO, president and chairman has found a strong platform to help others and make a meaningful difference in the world. “I feel blessed to be in a position where I can do what little I can to help people in need. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job,” said Sullivan, who tonight will be awarded the Icon Award for Social Impact tonight at the 2017 Footwear News Achievement Awards.

St. Louis-based Caleres has a deep history of philanthropy that Sullivan has embraced wholeheartedly. In 1921, founder George Warren Brown created a charitable trust, now named Caleres Cares, and in the past five years alone, the firm has donated tens of millions of dollars to a variety of organizations.

Causes local to St. Louis have been a particular focus. “When you reach out right in your own community, you can see and feel firsthand the impact you’re making,” said Sullivan.

In addition to hometown institutions such as the St. Louis Art Museum and Missouri Botanical Garden, Caleres is a longtime patron of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, donating more than $13 million to the nonprofit in the last 10 years. “Diane has been a true friend to the United Way, lending her time, talent and treasure,” said president and CEO Orvin Kimbrough.

St. Louis’ Siteman Cancer Center credits Sullivan as the rallying force behind its record-breaking 2016 fundraiser. As the event co-chairwoman, she helped garner a staggering $3.2 million in a single evening. “For the St. Louis metropolitan area, this is an extraordinary feat,” said Dr. Timothy Eberlein, the center’s director. “It could not have been done without her hard work and devotion. She inspires us all to strive harder.”

Sullivan also is a steadfast champion of shoe industry charities. As a long-standing special benefactor of FFANY Shoes on Sale, Caleres has contributed more than $8 million worth of shoes to raise funds for breast cancer research. And the firm is a key supporter of the Two Ten Footwear Foundation. “I love our industry, and I don’t know of any other that comes together to help its own people,” said Sullivan, who next month will wrap up a two-year tenure as chairwoman of Two Ten’s board.

“Diane’s ambition for Two Ten has been extraordinary, [particularly at a time when] we’re serving more footwear employees in crisis than ever before,” said president Neal Newman, citing Sullivan’s work on several transformative projects, including a new CRM system, a website revamp and a new membership program. “Two Ten now has the digital capabilities and organizational prowess to galvanize and grow our industry’s philanthropic endeavors for years to come.”

Newman also called out Sullivan’s role in co-founding Two Ten’s Women in Footwear Industry (WIFI) group, which has grown to nine chapters, reaching thousands of female professionals seeking mentoring and networking opportunities.

Outside of her Caleres role, Sullivan also gives generously of her personal time to serve on various boards, including that of BJC Healthcare, where she also chairs the patient care committee. Richard Liekweg, BJC’s CEO-elect, said Sullivan brought to bear her deep expertise in customer service and engagement, combined with a much-needed human touch. “Diane’s business and life experiences — as a CEO, spouse, mother and now grandmother — have helped us maintain a focus and sense of urgency on advancing the quality of our care, ensuring that our patients have an exceptional experience.”

While Sullivan said balancing her philanthropic endeavors and a demanding work schedule is a juggling act, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “You find a way to make time for what really matters.”