Next week, SG Companies will commence a new chapter in its 121-year history, when industry veteran Matt Feiner takes over as CEO. Feiner, a former Stride Rite and Reebok executive, will succeed Bernie Leifer, who is retiring after 35 years leading the Hackensack, N.J.-based firm.
As he prepares to tackle his new role, Feiner talked to FN about his love for the footwear business and his plans to lead the firm forward.
Footwear News: What first attracted you to SG?
Matt Feiner: Having the opportunity to lead a 120-year-old private company steeped in a history of success is exciting to me. I love SG’s entrepreneurial spirit and that when I come to work every day, I can just attack the opportunities and issues at hand. The breadth of our business also is something I appreciate. We make and sell so many different types of footwear and apparel across a wide range of licenses and retail channels.
What are the top three talents and traits you bring to your new role?
MF: A passion [for the business], a strong background in product, and the ability to foster team-building and collaboration.
What is the first major project you plan to tackle?
MF: Bernie is leaving the company in a very healthy place, so obviously my primary goal is to ensure that we keep our current momentum. We’ve made nice strides in positioning ourselves for growth in the online space, but I believe we can accelerate these efforts as the market landscape continues to shift.
What is the biggest opportunity ahead for SG?
MF: Building more programs with our key customers is a major opportunity — whether it be with our own brands, our customers’ brands or our licenses. We have the best success when storytelling is involved at point-of-sale and when we present a cohesive, curated collection to the consumer. Where we are doing this, we are seeing amazing success.
Which licenses in SG’s portfolio have the most growth potential?
MF: In adult footwear, Dockers continues to be a strong performer, and we are making some nice inroads with Chinese Laundry. Marvel, Izod and Panama Jack also continue to be key for us. In kids’ footwear, “Despicable Me” remains a strong franchise, and “Sesame Street” is always a winner. We also have a few new licenses on the horizon for footwear, including “PJ Masks” and The Elf on the Shelf, which all look very promising. And we’re fired up about our newest license, Hatchimals, the hottest toy in 2016.
In what ways could SG be improved?
MF: Doing fewer things but [doing them] bigger and better is an approach we have begun moving toward. That said, we will continue to aggressively pursue new licensed opportunities as we always have. Our apparel division is experiencing robust growth, so we plan to explore additional brand opportunities to further drive this category. Another area of focus will be placing greater emphasis on e-commerce. Also, I want to infuse a bit more structure into the company — Bernie cringes when I say this — to better position us for long-term growth.
What is the best leadership advice that Bernie gave you?
MF: Most importantly, Bernie has taught me to always make decisions through a ‘company-first’ lens. I have witnessed this while working alongside him over the past year, and it’s something that clearly has served SG well over the many decades. He’s also taught me to ‘trust my swing.’ Being a new CEO carries a lot of responsibility and pressure, but I need to trust myself and do things in a way that is authentic to me.
Who are your most important career mentors?
MF: My father — who spent more than 20 years heading up human resources for Pepsi — taught me his golden rule: “If you care as much about your people’s careers as your own, they will kill for you and make you successful in achieving and exceeding your goals.” During my 19 years at Reebok, I had many standout mentors, including Gary Burris, Gary Marmer, Bill Holmes and Dennis Baldwin. They each took me under their wing at different stages of my early development. Bob Campbell [founder of BBC International] also taught me a great deal about the kids’ business and how to be entrepreneurial.
What do you love most about the shoe industry?
MF: There are so many things: I love the creative and entrepreneurial nature of the business, the fast pace, the product, the people and the camaraderie. I fell in love with our industry 26 years ago when I joined Reebok, and that love has only gotten stronger over time.
How do you like to spend your downtime?
MF: I like to spend quality time with my wife and four kids. I’m also obsessed with golf, the New England Patriots and the NFL.