Why Caleres Inc. CEO Diane Sullivan Is FN’s 2018 Person of the Year

Diane Sullivan certainly knows how to multitask.

The Caleres Inc. CEO, president and chairman — who has been named FN’s 2018 Person of the Year — expertly juggles the busy day-to-day running of a multibillion-dollar industry powerhouse while making time for numerous philanthropic endeavors. And if that’s not enough, she has become a powerful voice for female empowerment in an industry that has long been dominated by men.

Under Sullivan’s forward-thinking leadership, Caleres last year broke a major boundary, achieving 55 percent female representation on its board of directors. With the 2017 appointments of Magic Leap chief marketing officer Brenda Freeman and MediaLink vice chairman Wenda Harris Millard, the firm’s board is now composed of six women (including Sullivan) and five men.

“We knew that as board positions opened, we wanted to make a conscious effort to build our board to better reflect our customers’ needs and expectations,” Sullivan said at the time. “A diverse board means diverse perspectives, experiences and approaches, and it just makes good business sense.”

Diane Sullivan walks the red carpet in 2014 with Fergie, whose shoe collection is produced by Caleres.
CREDIT: Neil Rasmus/Shutterstock

Judging by the banner year that Caleres has had, it seems Sullivan’s push to shake up the boardroom is already paying off in a big way. The company pulled off two major acquisitions, snapping up comfort brand Vionic last month and fashion label Blowfish Malibu in July. It also posted strong second-quarter results in September, driven by record sales and profits at Famous Footwear and a robust showing from Sam Edelman.

Amid it all, Sullivan has worked hard to make sure Caleres pays its success forward by giving back to myriad charitable organizations, both industrywide and in Caleres’ hometown of St. Louis. In addition to local institutions such as the St. Louis Art Museum and Missouri Botanical Garden, Caleres is a longtime patron of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, donating more than $13 million to the nonprofit in the last 10 years. The company also is an unwavering supporter of shoe industry causes including FFANY Shoes on Sale and the Two Ten Footwear Foundation.

Sullivan poses with singer Jennifer Hudson in 2014.
CREDIT: Neil Rasmus/Shutterstock

Sullivan will be recognized by her footwear peers at FN’s 2018 Achievement Awards on Dec. 4. Other honorees include Bruce Nordstrom (Lifetime Achievement Award), Rebecca Minkoff (Social Impact Award), Tabitha Simmons (Designer of the Year) and Marc Fisher (Hall of Fame).

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