Brown Looks Ahead After Exec Moves

NEW YORK — The new year will bring some big changes to Brown Shoe Co.’s senior management team.

The St. Louis-based company announced last week that Gary Rich, president of wholesale for the Brown St. Louis division, and Joe Wood, president of retail and Famous Footwear, would retire in 2010.

As a result of the departures, the company has shifted the roles of several of its executives.

Rick Ausick, currently president of wholesale for Brown Shoe’s New York division, will assume the job of division president of Famous Footwear. Ausick previously had worked with Wood at Famous, as SVP and chief merchandising officer.

Mark Lardie will take over as division president of wholesale, with responsibility for the Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl’s and LifeStride brands, as well as the company’s specialty retail stores. Lardie was most recently SVP and GMM.

In another wholesale president appointment, Dan Friedman will assume the role of division president of wholesale, product and sourcing, with oversight for women’s specialty, children’s and celebrity artist brands, including Carlos by Carlos Santana and Fergie. Friedman was most recently SVP of product development and sourcing.

Elsewhere, Jay Schmidt will expand his current role to become SVP of wholesale, better and image brands, adding responsibility for Franco Sarto, Etienne Aigner and Nickels Soft to his oversight of Via Spiga and Vera Wang Lavender Label. Schmidt joined Brown Shoe last year.

Brown President and COO Diane Sullivan told Footwear News last week that the moves had been in the works for some time, and that the company was tapping into its extensive base of internal talent.

“We’ve been working to recruit the best talent to the company at all levels,” Sullivan said. “When the time was right [for Gary and Joe] to step down, we had thought all of this through. We know we have the right leadership team in place.”

Both Rich, 58, and Wood, 62, will remain with the company until early next year to ensure a smooth transition.

“Gary’s and Joe’s leadership, innovation, bold moves and passion for the customer have been instrumental in driving growth at Brown Shoe,” Brown Shoe Chairman and CEO Ron Fromm said in a statement.

Scott Krasik, an analyst with C.L. King & Associates, said he was not overly surprised by the departures.

“Business is good. It’s not like they’re being forced out because something is going on with the business,” said Krasik. On the new appointments, he added, “Generally, they have a lot of bench strength in terms of management.”

Separately, the company released preliminary results for the third quarter last week, which came in higher than Wall Street estimates. The firm officially reports earnings tomorrow.

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