Jim Gabriel, the president of Global Brands Group Footwear, talks about how he stays on top of his game and finds time to encourage new talent.
My first footwear job: “I was 14 and being paid under the table to stock store shelves while also working at a fast-food restaurant and playing in a rock band. I got into the shoe business because of my big brother Jerry, who was with Wohl Shoe Co. at the time. He’s 17 years older than I am, and I idolized him. If he were in the baking business, I probably would have been a baker.”
Best advice I ever received: “From Day One, Jerry told me to learn the numbers. As passionate as we are about product, it’s all about the numbers on so many levels when running a business. Also, try to have fun. I’m still waiting for that one.”
My leadership style: “Organized chaos. I love action. I like to give our team the freedom and opportunities to make their own decisions while at the same time letting them know I’m there to guide them.”
Hardest part of the job: “Staying on top of my insane schedule. I want to keep everybody happy, but it’s difficult. My executive assistant is a godsend.”
Most rewarding part: “It sounds corny, but giving a promotion. It’s important to show your team hard work pays off. I love when I see someone on our team who started in customer service and is now running a division for us. It may have taken them a couple of years, but to see that arc? You can’t ask for anything better.”
How I motivate my team: “A good look in the eye, a firm handshake and a heartfelt thank you go a long way. I’ve always believed in that. It’s so easy to forget in this day of technology.”
Executive I admire: “[Music mogul] Jimmy Iovine. Can you imagine working with Bruce, Bono and Dr. Dre at the same time and then running a record label that introduced Nine Inch Nails to the world? And after all that success, [launching] Beat headphones? That would have been a great career.”
Biggest challenge facing the shoe industry: “Not knowing what tomorrow is going to bring. Everything is moving so fast. We used to know that if we had a bad day or month, we would figure out a way to be OK for the next six months. Now we have to break it down to the minute. Yet there’s a new opportunity with the web. It’s truly amazing. It’s like being a student all over again.”
Advice to the younger generation: “It’s all about relationships. Even if you’re stuck looking at your phone 12 hours a day, get out of the office and see what your competition is doing. Also, give yourself time to get a little dirt under your nails. You have to lift the car hood and learn what makes the engine run. Learn the trade inside and out. Don’t pretend. If you don’t know something, ask.”
Little-known details about the footwear veteran.
Nightly Worries: “Everything, and I mean everything — even what sneakers I’m going to wear tomorrow.”
Relaxing Method: “Hanging out at my farmhouse in Pennsylvania and grilling for my family, with a Spotify set list and an amazing bottle of wine.”
Career High: “When my father saw my first success at Enzo Angiolini and came up to me and said, ‘I’m proud of you, son. Remind me again what you do.’”