DSW Milestone: Employee Reflections

It’s been known by many names, but through the years DSW has had employees dedicated to turning the fledgling firm into one of the biggest names in shoes. Here, staffers reflect on their memorable moments.

Brooks White
Senior manager of production
Tenure at company:
25 years
Fondest memory: “Working for Steve Nacht, one of the most sincere and generous men I have ever known.”
How has it changed? “When DSW first opened, we had six people in the marketing department. Now we have more than 40. The home office was small and located in the corner of the distribution warehouse. Now we’re in two large buildings with a very open and modern look. I feel that most of the first ideas and decisions were made from the gut or heart, and now they’re based more on facts and results from research and customer feedback.”

Sally Williams
Women’s shoe buyer for leased business division

Tenure at company: 30 years
Fondest memory: “The day that Debbie Ferrée stopped me in the airport in New York and asked me if I would be interested in joining the DSW team. I was thrilled. I have seen the DSW division grow from only a few stores and only a handful of people responsible for the business into a store count now of more than 300.”

Rick Smith
DMM of business development and women’s merchandising
Tenure at company:
35 years
Fondest memory:
“The customer excitement at grand openings. In the early years, when we opened in a new city, customers had no idea what to expect when they walked in the door. Their jaws would drop to the floor when they saw the sea of shoes. They were astounded.”
How has it changed? “Regardless of what senior management team has been here over the past 35 years, there has always been a great passion to grow the business. We have always been open-minded, aggressive and looking for different opportunities within current businesses, and looking for new businesses to establish. Without that aggressive insight, DSW would never have come into existence.”

Chris Bayless
District manager of leased business division
Tenure at company:
34 years
Fondest memory: “Having been blessed to work with such icons as George Nacht, his son Steve Nacht, John Rossler and Ray Blanton, just to name a few, has been an honor.”
How has it changed? “The company grew from Schottenstein’s/Value City to then include Footwear House, Footwear Gallery, Crown Shoes, then DSW and our leased partners Stein Mart, Gordmans and Filene’s. I feel proud just knowing that I contributed to the whole thing.”

Christy Boggs
Tenure at company:
34 years
Fondest memory: “The opening of the first DSW store in Columbus, Ohio. Seeing all that went into that store, so much hard work, the huge grand opening party and the public’s [reaction] was memorable.”

Lynda Berg
Import manager
Tenure at company:
25 years
Fondest memory: “Being part of the growth at DSW for the past 25 years. To imagine that you have been here to see the excitement of the first store as it was opened and to see where we are today is amazing. This 20-year milestone means I am proud to be working for an outstanding company and I can’t wait to see our growth in the years to come.”

Valara Gee
Senior director of store operations

Tenure at company: 22 years
Fondest memory: “I started as a sales associate, so I remember the days of only being open four days a week in a stripped-down warehouse environment, and restocking the floor the other days.”
How has it changed? “We used to be mainly a closeout business, and the brands and styles we offered were not consistent. It took many years for us to convince others of the potential for this brand. The evolution has been extraordinary. Today, we have incredible relationships with all the best vendors in the industry. We operate some of the most well-run retail stores in an environment that speaks to our roots but is very forward in design. And our marketing team has done an incredible job of connecting with our customers in a personal and relevant way that feeds their passion for shoes. The most amazing thing is that even with all this change, at our core, we are still the same company. We just figured out how to do it better.”

Betsy Finelli
Tenure at company:
32 years
Fondest memory: “One memory that stands out to me is when we opened the Bethesda, Md., store, and Rick Smith called to tell me how crazy it was and had never seen anything like it. All the customers had four and five pairs of shoes in their arms, standing in lines out the doors, and that was just the start of DSW’s growth.”

Rita Roberts
Quality assurance — lead
Tenure at company:
28 years
Fondest memory: “Being a part of the IT project team that delivered new POS technology to the DSW stores. It’s very exciting to watch people actually use a system that you helped build. It’s like watching your child grow up and go off to school. It makes you proud. I am thankful that I have been able to be here and to be a part of that success. Also, working at DSW is like being able to be with my family every day. You really get connected with the company and the people after working at the same place for so many years. It becomes a part of you.”
How has it changed? “Processes have changed and things have become much more structured as the company has grown. It has definitely matured over the years. These changes have helped develop the people into very sharp, business-savvy individuals. These talented people are the heart of DSW and they have led the company to the success we have seen over the years.”

Neal Berg
Director of store asset management
Tenure at company:
35 years
Fondest memory: “I’ve always enjoyed the people I work for. We’re just a great team. We do a lot of collaborations, so I’m never working by myself. We work as a group and as a team. My favorite part of my job is meeting people, whether it’s in-house or with vendors or with store personnel. I just enjoy my work. I always have.”

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