Each day in June, FN is highlighting female forces in the industry as part of our Women in Power series.
Here, Keds president Gillian Meek talks her biggest breakthrough moment.
What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?
“The obvious answer is becoming the president of Keds, which is a fairly recent breakthrough, but for me, that’s the biggest one I’ve had to date. When I think about my career, I really think of it as a series of breakthroughs — with some bigger than others. Sometimes they were with different companies and with opportunities to try new things. Sometimes they were with expanded responsibilities, and sometimes they were with people. It’s been a journey. The old cliché of hindsight being 20/20 helps inform you of what was a real breakthrough. It’s truly been a build. Each job that I embarked on was a building block to the next experience.”
Is there anything you would have done differently in your career path?
“I’m really proud of all the decisions I’ve made. I would describe myself as a fairly focused person, so I always had this ultimate goal of wanting to run a business. I’m there now with that opportunity right in front of me. So for me it feels like I did all the right things, and for me to have the opportunity to do that with such an iconic and respected brand feels like a pretty good set of choices. I don’t think I would do anything differently.”
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What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year, and how did you overcome it?
“Becoming a new president and a first-time president is ultimately a challenge. At the same time, I’m very fortunate to be a part of this Keds family. Despite the fact of being new in a role and a first-time manager of a global business, having such an amazing brand as a foundation with people who all believe the same thing has been helpful in working through that. I can’t understate the value of team as well as the history and heritage that comes along with this brand and making it something that gives you reason and passage to working through a challenge. Business is not easy. Making your mark in this incredibly competitive environment will be an ongoing challenge for me in this role. I don’t think that goes away.”
Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?
“I answer a big emphatic yes to that, and not just because I happen to work for a brand whose entire platform is female empowerment. The last two brands I worked for, Keds and Stride Rite at Wolverine, are two brands that really have a very high proportion of women in the business. The kinds of consumers we are solving problems for, women gravitate to that. It has created this authentic opportunity for women supporting each other. We have this heritage of making Keds specifically for women and inspiring those women to go where they want to go and be who they want to be, so it’s natural for us. Here at Wolverine, I helped start a women’s resource affinity group, which was something we saw a need for in our community, which offers support services and enrichment programs designed for women of all stages of career. It’s doubled in size year over year, and it’s been well-received by all our brands. It’s natural for me as a product creation person to look around, see what people need and try to solve those problems, so whether it’s doing that through footwear, which was the obvious day job part of it, or doing it through creating opportunities for women in our community to network or share best practices, that’s the same kind of problem solving that led me to that. It’s rewarding to watch it grow.”
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
“Don’t be afraid of tough decisions. Sometimes we shy away from really bold moves, and those are the ones you learn the most from. They don’t always work out, but those are the ones you can take on and grow from. Move with your gut and go for it.”