This Shoe Executive Talks About Steering a Family Business and Mentors Along The Way

Danny Muskat grew up in the shoe business his grandfather founded. However, even in his current role as SVP of strategic business development of Deer Stags Concepts, it continues to be a learning curve.

Here, the executive talks about working with family, creating a strong company culture, and his greatest mentors along the way.

Early moment that shaped me:

“I started my career in 1999 as our e-commerce manager. At the FN Summit that year, my dad, Rick, met Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn. They set a meeting for the December FFANY, where Rick had me work with [their team]. It was my first customer appointment. He suggested I [entertain] them, saying, ‘Who knows? They may be the next billion-dollar company.’ So I took Nick and Fred Mossler to a Knicks game. While his prediction came true, his philosophy was the lesson: Treat everyone respectfully — you just never know where it may lead.”

What it’s like working in a family business:

“Sometimes it’s like [being] a bull in a china shop. The golden rule is, battle it out in the 11 a.m. meeting and then say, ‘OK, what’s for lunch?’ We’re lucky our families share similar life goals outside the office, which keeps us together. It’s key that everyone understands how much is at stake so we all feel accountable.”

My biggest contributions to the company so far:

“I’ve overseen our web sales from the start, and we saw good growth. A few years ago, it became clear that to get ahead, we needed to make digital sales the starting point for our business decisions. It took a year or so to get buy-in. Once we did, we quickly realigned and added resources to serve the rapidly changing market and find new avenues for growth. Also, I successfully lobbied for the men in the company to be    allowed to wear shorts to work on hot days.”

How I gear up for work:

“When I’m not traveling, I have a fairly insane routine to get my kids to school and then myself to work. I arrive at the office around 9 a.m., have a large cup of coffee and toast with peanut butter. I like to read some non-work [material] at my desk such as news and sports before jumping into emails, meetings, etc.”

Creating a strong culture:

“Most [staffers] have been here 15-plus years, so there’s an extended-family feel. [However], we need happy, engaged employees who share a sense of ownership, feel trusted, see a path for growth and push for excellence. We’re not there yet, but what’s cool is that the process is being led collaboratively between senior management — notably my sister, Jeni — and other women employees who’ve worked with us for nearly 20 years.”

Keeping my team motivated:

“I like to keep three overarching goals top of mind, then restate them so we can execute immediate priorities and move quickly to the next ones. We’ve been doing more happy hours and team dinners of late. It’s interesting how sometimes it’s just good decompressing time, and other times, it feels like we’re solving the world’s problems.”

Why I’m committed to the Two Ten Footwear Foundation:

“My grandfather died when I was 3. A core value of his was taking care of family, then your community — and if you’re lucky, the world. The shoe business is my family and one of my closest communities. So joining together to support our industry is of utmost importance to me.”

Lesson Learned:

“When you make mistakes, hold on to them a bit. I once forgot I had a customer appointment with Tom Wargo of Syms. He showed up in our [office] to find me underdressed and unprepared. It never happened again.”

Greatest Mentor:

“My uncle Michael, our CEO. He taught me to look and listen to what’s really going on. He can size up a situation in two seconds in simple and sometimes brash terms.”

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