CEO Summit: Wes Card Antes Up

Wes Card is a straight talker.

No wonder, then, that in his opening remarks at the FN summit, the CEO of The Jones Group highlighted the many challenges and opportunities in the footwear industry.

“Mixed signals is the new normal,” he explained.

On one hand, he said, inflationary pressures, rising commodity prices, escalating fuel costs, steadily high unemployment and a still soft housing market are weighing on consumers.

On the other, shoppers continue to spend — possibly due to pent-up demand — and their confidence, though slow to improve, is in fact getting better, Card said.

Card added: “We’re not going to enjoy [a repeat of] the period from the 1970s on, where things constantly had been moving up.”

To combat such global inconsistency, Card urged brand leaders to build a business plan that focuses on hiring talented people, developing exceptional product and then knowing how to execute on all fronts.

“We can’t control what goes on outside our companies — those forces on the outside — but we can control what goes on inside our companies,” he said.

At Jones Group, in particular, Card has focused on bringing in fresh talent, most notably by adding big names to the firm’s ranks. In 2010 alone, Jones acquired Stuart Weitzman, brought in Rafe Totengco to lead its handbags business and appointed Richard Dickson as president and CEO of its branded businesses.

“Great people are inspired by talent,” Card said. “They can inspire others to join the company and inspire those already within it. And great execution is driven by innovation. It’s important to have continuous improvement to everything we do.”

Over the last few years, Card said, executives at Jones Group have been working to transition the company into being a brand builder, as opposed to simply focusing on developing categories.

“Brands over time are going to be more critical,” he said.

“They are not going away and will in fact be the backbone of department stores. Brands grow relationships with consumers. They are the reasons consumers come to their stores and buy.”

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