One of the Top Women in the Shoe Industry on Managing People and Building a Business

Cathy Taylor has been CEO of Millennial Brands (parent company to Rocket Dog, Pour La Victoire and Kelsi Dagger Brooklyn) since 2009, but has had an extensive career in the shoe industry, with firms such as Nike, Cole Haan and Phoenix Footwear.

The executive recently sat down with FN to discuss how she is successfully supporting her team and building a meaningful business portfolio.

My managerial style:
It is anything but corporate formality. I never had that at Cole Haan or Nike. You knew that there were silent guardrails somewhere, but you never felt them. I have worked hard to maintain a lot of that at the company. A lot of my teams would say I’m very clear on direction and strategy. And I work hard to activate talent and leverage anything we’ve got.

First job in the industry:
I worked for a male-only footwear brand. I went in and applied for a sales job, and they all started laughing. They said, “We sell men’s shoes; we only hire men.” I went home, and the next day I went back and said, “I can’t change the way you feel, but if you hire me for this post and I don’t sell more in 30 days than anyone here, you don’t have to pay me.” They thought that was funny. I was the top [sales executive] within a week or two.

Greatest mentors:
I’ve had two major mentors in my life, and both were at Nike: Phil Knight and Dick Donahue. Donahue is a very astute guy. He taught me a lot about the budgeting process and strategy. Phil was the most powerful and oddest mentor I’ve ever had in my life. He’d pop down with a beer at the end of the day, and his questions were so powerful. At that time, I didn’t know how futuristic his questions were. He taught me more about consumer-centric behavior than anybody I know. He taught me about loyalty.

Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight
Nike co-founder and Ducks benefactor Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, at an Oregon basketball game.
CREDIT: Rick Bowmer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Best advice I’ve received:
At the end of the day, you have your people to count on. There is always going to be a strategy for success, but if the starting point and your team is not there, you’ve got nothing. I tell my team, “You might fall, you might trip, but I have got your back, so it’s OK. Go at it as hard as you can.”

Advice for the next generation:
Build trust. Try to be kind. Understand what you want to stand for and stay your course. It doesn’t mean you can’t evolve or change, but stay on the course for what you believe is the right thing.

What excites me now:
I’m excited about how hard we’ve worked to become truly bicoastal and closer to the consumer. We pride ourselves on being a great California brand, but now we’re bicoastal. I love seeing young talent be exposed to all the elements that are working.

Our five-year business plan:
It’s about filling in the blanks. The consumer is my first thought, and my second is the landscape. We want to fill that gap globally and keep growing to have a very rich and meaningful portfolio for that young millennial group.

Rocket Dog’s 20th anniversary:
There have been a lot of good and strong people who have done everything to protect the Dog. We’re still on the chart, so we did something right. [I believe we’ve succeeded because] we’re respectful of the channels we play in the juniors’ grid. It was a pretty busy chart, and it’s not so busy anymore.

Rocket Dog

Rocket Dog Clarita slip-on sneaker, $40.99; Zappos.com

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