The Weyco Group CEO talks to Footwear News about preserving a footwear legacy and tapping into a new generation of talent.
Family ties: My brother John and I are the fifth generation of Florsheims, and we’d like to see a sixth. There are currently 12 grandchildren, so we’re hoping someone comes into the business. [However], we believe they need to follow their own passions. Three of our children worked at the company this summer, and we gave them fun things to do. [Growing up], I worked in the distribution center, while my kids did social media.
Working with my brother: Our skills complement each other. We decided a long time ago that our relationship as brothers was more important than any business decision. Twenty years ago, we decided if he feels strongly about something, he does what he [feels is right] and [vice versa]. We trust each other.
The hardest part of my job:
Making tough decisions that impact people’s lives — whether it’s a hiring or firing decision. We have a fiduciary responsibility to do things to move the business forward, but in doing so, you may make decisions that can hurt people. My brother and I are both cognizant of that.
Where we find new talent:
There’s a design school nearby — the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, which brings in great talent from all over the country. We’ve cultivated a relationship with the school, hiring interns and a number of graduates. We like to recruit people with fresh perspectives and currently have four designers from MIAD.
Our competitive edge:
We don’t have layers of people or bureaucracy in our company. John and I work closely with our division heads and designers. We’re able to react to what’s going on in the market faster than a lot of our competition since they’re busy with a million meetings.
Biggest challenge in the industry:
Our retail partners are facing a difficult business environment as a result of consumers’ quickly changing buying patterns. Retailers have made a huge investment in brick-and- mortar, and there isn’t a quick fix to adapt to web-based models. It’s much harder for them to differentiate themselves on the web. The online model becomes more price-driven, which challenges both them and us.
Our five-year plan:
We want to expand our portfolio of brands and continue to grow current ones in a sustainable way. We’re also looking [ahead] to see what we can do to better support our customers in a changing [retail] environment. And with more millennials joining the company, we’re studying what we can do to make it a great place to work. For example, a lot of them won’t join companies with set lunch hours. They want to eat when they’re hungry.