Q&A With David Chamberlain

BOSTON — Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can lead to unexpected business adventures.

Good timing is partially what ex-Stride Rite Corp. Chairman and CEO David Chamberlain credits with the formation of his new turnaround, restructuring and crisis management consultancy, Eaglepoint Advisors LLC.

Chamberlain, who retired from Stride Rite in 2007 shortly after the firm was acquired by Collective Brands Inc., had moved to the San Francisco area from Massachusetts. He spent the next year working as executive chairman of stationery company Papyrus, followed by what he called “one of the most wonderful periods of my career,” which included biking all over San Francisco, trying his hand at poetry, having leisurely lunches with his wife and lifting weights at the gym.

But it was after having lunch with an old business contact, Peter Harris, who was in town after finishing a consulting gig, that Chamberlain’s life changed. That day, the pair bumped into another contact, Joe Alouf. All three had worked together when Alouf’s former employer, Prudential Capital, had completed the reorganization of Mrs. Fields Cookies, and Harris and Chamberlain were appointed to the Mrs. Fields’ board of directors. Harris’ other professional experiences include running FAO Schwartz, the San Francisco 49ers and West Marine.

“We’d all known each other pretty well through business for about a 20-year span,” said Chamberlain. “This was an interesting [economic] time, and we all had different skills. … We felt it was a good opportunity to see if we could go in and help companies.”

When Chamberlain approached Kurt Salmon Associates with the idea, the retail consultancy decided the new venture would be a good addition to the services already offered to clients.

The three partners launched Eaglepoint Advisors earlier this month, with the goal of helping distressed middle-market firms in the $100 million-to-$2 billion range. Eaglepoint operates as an affiliate of Kurt Salmon.

Footwear News recently caught up with Chamberlain to talk about the founding of Eaglepoint and his outlook for the economy and footwear industry.

FN: What made you and your partners feel compelled to start Eaglepoint?

DC: Absolutely, it was the economy. And I have to say, when we looked out at who is out there in this [consultancy] space, they were more focused on the larger assignments. We thought we could bring a very high level of skill. The other part is scalability. We can scale to the size of the job with the additional resources of Kurt Salmon Associates. If you have a $100 million company, you can’t afford all the resources of a $2 billion firm.

FN: What types of transactions will Eaglepoint focus on?

DC: Underperforming or even stagnant firms. If you look at the work we’ve done [as individuals], it has been rebuilding brands, reinvigorating retail business models. The way we think about it is, what are the three things that can cause a business to fail: One is it’s financially overextended; two is the business model no longer works; and three is they no longer execute well. We can help them develop processes where they can get focused around a few things that will make a difference. … Our goal has been to focus on building things. We can do the downsizing and all that, but what we want to do is help build businesses and help them succeed.

FN: What is your general outlook on the economy?

DC: My sense of it is that because the economy was so bad in 2009, we will see a rebound in 2010. How much up, I don’t know, but it will clearly be up. In fact, anecdotally, when I go into restaurants or shopping centers, I see a lot more people around and a lot more buzz. … Inflation will probably be tame next year. [But] it’s unclear what will happen. When people become highly uncertain, they tend to not take any action and that tends to keep business down.

FN: What’s your view on the future of the footwear business?

DC: I’m optimistic about the shoe industry in 2010. In some of the third-quarter earnings, what you see is almost all of them have downsized in terms of their cost structure, so they’re set to make good money on the level of sales they have now. So if they bounce up [in sales], they’ll probably make some nice money. Some of the companies that are fashion innovators, like Skechers and Steven Madden, have seen sales increases. … The way you have to get out of this [economic downturn] is [through] innovation, where fashion or fresh shoes are the ones that are going to do well next year. There will be some consolidation among firms [that aren’t doing as well].

FN: So you think mergers and acquisitions will increase in light of the tough economy?

DC: I do think that will pick up dramatically as the financial markets loosen. There are a lot of private equity firms and a lot of money that needs to be put to use. And there are a lot of firms that need to find help while they still have a lot of opportunity. …. I’m cautiously optimistic on 2010 because I think there is a pent up demand for innovation and fun fashion products. People felt like they suffered through a lot in 2009 and if they still have their jobs, they feel like they owe themselves a little treat.


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