Executive Hiring Picks Up

NEW YORK — The pent-up demand for good managers at footwear firms has found some release in recent months as the economy inches its way out of a recession.

Not only are new faces filling key roles but executives are getting promoted at many companies, and new posts are being created to oversee segments such as merchandising and e-commerce.

“The consumer is back, and companies are rebuilding their teams just as they are rebuilding their businesses,” said Les Berglass, founder of executive search firm Berglass & Associates. “Reinventing on a go-forward basis requires a different skill coming out of a recession than going into one.”

For instance, Zigi charged industry veteran Andy Petersen with overseeing the expansion of its retail network in London and driving sales around the world when it appointed him as its new brand president in July.

“Andy [has] more than two decades of experience, [and] the drive and prowess to deliver results on a global scale while providing our team with the planning and structure needed to materialize our aggressive growth plans,” said Zigi CEO Segev Davidson.

Meanwhile, Dansko has hired or created new positions in “just about every area of our business,” said its CFO Jim Fox, as the company just experienced a year of record sales, providing opportunities to enter new businesses. It recently appointed Ann Dittrich as creative director and created the position of director of commercialization and various roles across sales and marketing. (To hear what Dittrich has planned for the brand, turn to page 16.)

Experts note that many firms are also now seeking to promote personnel within the organization, rather than bringing in outsiders. For example, Finish Line Inc. recently moved up Samuel Sato, previously EVP and chief merchandising officer, to president, with additional duties overseeing e-commerce. (He retained the title of chief merchandising officer.)

Christine Rivers, VP of global management consulting firm Hay Group, said that in the past, firms looked everywhere for new talent. “Now they are looking inwardly first to be efficient,” she said. “Plus, many are so lean now that the only way to keep the good talent they have is to provide growth opportunities,” she added.

Wolverine World Wide Inc. is another such company raising up the managers it already has. In June, its Merrell division promoted Greg Glover to key account manager overseeing the outdoor specialty. It also named Tom Stolz, previously key account manager overseeing the outdoor specialty for Merrell and Chaco, to the role of national sales manager for Chaco.

“We hire talented individuals with high potential, train the heck out of them with really robust development programs and then promote from within,” said Seth Cobb, VP and GM of Merrell and Chaco. “We have special brands with complex product lines and business models, so it’s important that our managers have been with us long enough to understand their nuances.”

But those nuances could also change the skill set required to lead footwear companies. Take Craig Storey, who was appointed COO and CFO of Carrollton, Texas-based Heelys Inc. in June. Previously chief accounting officer and VP of finance and operations for Radica Games in the early 2000s, Storey is no stranger to doing double duty and thinks his experience in the toy industry gives him “good perspective on children’s consumer products in general.”

“As Heelys retools and starts trying to head back into a growth pattern, there’s going to be a lot of change,” said Storey. “The combination of operations and finance experience I [have means] I can see things from a broader perspective compared with a pure finance person.”

In fact, experts believe a sea change in retail management is afoot. No longer should leaders be traditional merchants, but “brand-driven general managers,” because today, channels [of distribution] are as important as product, said Berglass. “Leaders need to know not just what to sell but also how to sell it; to know not just how to fill a store but how to empty one.”

Rivers, too, said that retailers are focusing more on “creating selling environments in the stores.” It is important to be able to engage customers at a new level, and these developments now “beg for the creation of new roles,” she added.

In the end, as companies start seeing strong growth again, they are faced with needing to raise compensation levels back to where they were in 2007 and 2008.

“For the last 18 months [or so], companies’ compensation committees didn’t want to hear any discussion about retention,” said Todd Manas, senior executive compensation consultant at Towers Watson, a global talent management firm. “[But] companies are clearly feeling good again and being much more specific with their talent choices, the level of pay and the structure of pay.”

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