Eric Wiseman Talks Billion-Dollar Footwear Brands, Timberland & Vans

In his decade at the helm of VF Corp., CEO Eric Wiseman has been behind some of the company’s most transformative deals. In a presentation to attendees at the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s executive summit in Washington, D.C., on March 18, Wiseman charted the company’s dramatic evolution.

Today, as VF marks its 115th anniversary, the company is comprised of more than 30 brands, has 60,000 employees and sells products in more than 150 countries.

After his talk, Wiseman sat down with FN to discuss Timberland and Vans — VF’s billion-dollar footwear brands — and future strategy.

How bullish are you on the business right now?

EW: We think we’re going to grow 8 percent in the coming year. A big driver is the international business, where [we forecast that] we’ll be up by low double digits.

We also think our outdoor and action-sports brands collectively will be up by low double digits. Inside [that division], the leader — growing at a mid-teens rate — will be Vans. The second brand in terms of growth rate will be Timberland. The North Face is going to grow at low double-digit rates.

Has VF felt the effects of currency shifts? If so, what’s your strategy for addressing the issue?

EW: [Currency] affects our reported results, but it doesn’t impact our underlying [performance]. We don’t control foreign currencies and what governments do and how all of that moves back and forth. [I was] at VF when the euro traded at 80 cents to the dollar, and I saw the euro trade at more than $1.50. Now, we’re seeing it at $1.06 or $1.07. Our focus is, ‘Are we winning in the markets we’re in?’ We think that if we grow on a constant-currency basis at 8 percent in this environment, and we can grow our international business at a low double-digit rate, that’s winning. So that’s our focus. How it gets reported isn’t.

You have been so successful with Vans, which recently hit $2 billion in revenue. Why does the brand continue to resonate so strongly with consumers? 

EW: Vans is authentic with youth. It’s a good trick — the brand has been around since 1966, yet it’s still an authentic youth-culture brand. Vans does it in a real way, through surf, skate, music and art. They’re beyond celebrities — they don’t need to do that. They need to focus on talking to consumers in the way their youth market talks. And what does that age group talk about? Music and art — and they do it on social media. So that’s where Vans is engaged.

What about Timberland? Where are you with the turnaround since the 2011 acquisition?

EW: We are ahead of the plan we laid out for Wall Street when we acquired the business. We really turned the corner last year. When we buy a business, we always take a year or two to do the heavy lifting and make the changes that need to be made. Those things take a lot of time. Then, as we’ve seen over and over with acquisitions we’ve made, things really get traction. 2014 was the year that Timberland got traction.

What other brands in VF’s portfolio are you excited about?

EW: Our fastest-growing in the last two years has been Kipling, an accessories-and-handbags brand. The biggest transformation is always picking the right businesses to be in and getting there with scale.

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