8 Game-Changing Female Shoe Execs You Need to Know Now — and Their Best Advice for Women in Business

Championing the causes and issues of women is anything but new. From the suffragettes of the late 19th century to the feminist movement of the ‘60s, women’s rights are once again front and center as a new generation takes on a range of challenges at home and the workplace.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, FN highlights eight female industry leaders making waves and breaking new ground. Here, we share their experiences overcoming obstacles on the job and advice for the next generation of footwear leaders.

Diane Sullivan, CEO, president and chairman, Caleres Inc.

Sullivan, as head of the global footwear powerhouse, has a roster of fashion brands that includes popular labels Sam Edelman, Diane Von Furstenberg, Naturalizer and Dr. Scholl’s. Always on the lookout for new talent to propel the company’s growth, in 2016, Sullivan shared her views with FN on importance of supporting newcomers to the industry.

“Lately, I’ve come to the realization it is more about sponsorship than mentoring,” Sullivan said. “Mentoring can be helpful early on in a career, but ultimately, hard work and results will speak for an emerging talent. When you make a connection with someone, and you understand and appreciate the work they are doing and witness positive results from their performance, you support their development. You look for opportunities to talk about their great work with others, and you identify ways to clear a path to support advancement.”

Diane Sullivan caleres
Diane Sullivan
CREDIT: Mark Mann

Kristin Frossmo, EVP and GMM, Nordstrom Shoe Division

As the woman behind the shoes taking up shelf space at one of the most popular department stores in the country, Frossmo is indeed one to know. Nordstrom remains a standout amid industrywide challenges, and Frossmo’s ability to consistently pick trend-right merchandise has certainly had a hand in that success.

“Reach out. Ask questions. Challenge. Seek advice. Never be afraid to ask for more responsibility. It took be a while to gain confidence to do these things in the early stages of my career. I enjoy sharing the advice,” Frossmo told FN in 2017, speaking on advice she’d give her younger self.

Amelia Newton-Varela, president, Steve Madden

With nearly two decades under her belt at one of the most successful fashion footwear companies in the world, Newton has a penchant for climbing the ranks.

When FN caught up with her last year, Newton reflected on her most significant career breakthrough. “The biggest breakthrough moment was when I realized I had a voice and people were actually listening to what I had to say. When I started at Steve Madden, I was in my early 20s. One day, I was in a management meeting with all men, and I was surprised to see that as I was speaking, they were listening. Not only did they listen but they also implemented my suggestions. I remember being surprised. ‘Wow, I have a voice,’ I said to myself, ‘Now what am I going to do with it?’ And I just took it from there and ran with it.”

On advice for her younger self, she said: “Take more time for yourself and don’t be so harsh and demanding — on others or on yourself. Laugh as much as possible — because when you laugh, you are living. Try to find more balance and live life with no regrets.”

Amelia Newton-Varela steve madden
Amelia Newton-Varela
CREDIT: Courtesy

Sue Dooley, SVP of global marketing, The Rockport Group

Rockport may be known for its comfort footwear, but Dooley wasn’t comfortable telling her co-workers she was gay. Nevertheless, after seeking encouragement from mentors in the industry and tapping into her own inner strength, Dooley has overcome setbacks and blazed new paths. Still, she recognizes that there is more to be done.

“I think we could do more,” Dooley told FN last year of the need for women to support other women in the workplace. “People are so concerned with their personal well-being and the limited opportunities [for] women that they look out for themselves versus the greater good. It’s competitive, and I do everything in my power to downplay this in our organization and within my marketing team.”

Connie Rishwain, president, Vionic Group

Having helped catapult Ugg from a small surfer brand from Australia to a must-have among fashionistas and celebrities, Rishwain’s now working on a repeat performance at fellow Aussie brand Vionic. She told FN in a 2017 interview that she has several core rituals that help her maintain balance each day.

“I like to get up early and don’t rush around. I like to enjoy my coffee and get a walk in,” she said. “[On my down time] I love to walk on the beach where we have a home in Santa Barbara, Calif. It’s my time to take it all in.”

Connie Rishwain
Connie X Rishwain.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Susan Itzkowitz, president, Marc Fisher Footwear

In the top spot at the multibrand company that includes comfort label Easy Spirit and fashion monikers Guess and Kendall & Kylie footwear, Itkowitz envisions the impact the next generation of female designers will have on the industry, a vision she shared in a 2016 interview with FN.

“There is so much we can learn from the younger generation — their ideas, their motivations, the way they view the world, the way they shop. All of this is so relevant to the retail/wholesale world we live in. We need to empower the new generation of women to use their ideas, their creativity and problem-solving skills to find new and more efficient ways of doing things.”

Liz Rodbell, president, Lord & Taylor

Steering the legendary retailer, Rodbell remains focused on more than the bottom line. In a 2017, she told FN she’s always mindful of the individuals who contribute to the store’s success, especially when it comes to making sure all employees feel safe on the job.

“I work at a company where there is absolutely no tolerance, and I couldn’t work somewhere that did not have that. We also have an anonymous hotline. There are over 60,000 people that are part of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and [the hotline] is very confidential. If there is anything that is inappropriate, we take action fast. Respect, integrity and authenticity are primary pillars of who we are as a company.”

Wendy Kahn, CEO and brand president, Stuart Weitzman

Designer Stuart Weitzman created an empire that boasts Beyoncé and Taylor Swift among his fans. Now owned by fashion powerhouse Coach, the company has put Kahn in charge, a role she told FN in 2017 she must balance with her personal life as a working mom.

“As a mother of three daughters, I often tell them to be passionate, patient and open-minded as they move through life. Be authentic and work hard in your daily lives. Ultimately, to love what you do is the goal.”

Wendy Kahn Stuart Weitzman
Wendy Kahn, Stuart Weitzman.
CREDIT: Courtesy

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